Mathematician Edward Frenkel on whether the universe is a simulation


  1. Obviously it’s possible the universe is a simulation. This notion is just a modified version of the old Omphalos hypothesis and shares many of the same philosophical and logical features.

  2. Obviously there is no certain way to test this hypothesis. A simulator-designer with inexplicably limited “resources” who simply didn’t care whether intelligence within the simulation could detect the seams might conceivably leave some “unnatural” or otherwise scientifically inexplicable traces, but the chain of assumptions that leads to this is implausible on the face of it, and really is appropriate only in fiction. At present our understanding of the universe is so limited that any apparent traces we could find would not have much meaning because of the likelihood that future scientific progress would discover these were in fact natural phenomena.

Edit: And oh yeah, Bostrom’s silly notion (from the article) is completely unsupportable. The “more likely” claim has no basis whatsoever in logic, mathematics, or reality.

Funny you should mention it, SimEntity #0000000004F38AC61039D14B922D04-Pescovitz. New ethics regulations in the real universe require us to inform you that you are, in fact, part of a simulation. (Not one of our better ones, I’ll admit, but all we need to know was how a large mammalian population at the low end of the Galactic Standard Intelligence Metric would react to an outbreak of Marghozian Blood Fever, so it’s not like we had to go into a lot of detail.)

Apparently the thinking among the administrators is that your consciousness could conceivably count as actual consciousness, so although I feel a bit silly hand-coding this message into your universe after it’s already been running for twenty full minutes, there you go. It’s a fake. You’re not real.

Fortunately for the integrity of the experiment, I only have to tell one SimEntity once. Still more fortunately, few of you will believe me. I was going to go the extra mile and code this message into one of your transcendental numbers, but the fever isn’t going to leave you a lot of time for exploratory mathematics, so… anyway, cheers.

Yours for research (and, for what it’s worth, THE LORD YOUR GOD for all practical purposes),
Dr. Michael Kim
Associate Professor of Simulation
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (the real one)


Not sure what they’re on about re: asymmetries. Do they mean some kind of artefact of running a numerical simulation on a discrete grid?

I’ve heard/imagined other ideas for testing the simulation hypothesis. One thing to look for is any signs of intervention e.g. if a physical “constant” suddenly changed at some point in the past, because the simulation owner wanted to force the universe to evolve in some particular way. Maybe cosmic inflation fits the bill?

Alternatively, we can think about whoever is monitoring the simulation - perhaps our running around and kicking each other is the most interesting part of it. So we just need to put up some clearly visible protest signs, and refuse to move until they improve our living conditions.


Those two points remind me of this and this from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which has apparently devoted as much thought as anyone to this without taking it too seriously.


Please do not forget Rene Descartes who thought this idea up 300 years before your Sci Fi authors. As far as I know he is the first person to formulate the simulation hypothesis (in his version there was a djinn or a demon creating the simulation), but many philosophers as far back as at least 500 BC wondered about how we can know if we are dreaming or awake, which is essentially the same question.

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If we are in a simulation, what happens once we die?
And wouldn’t that scientist/programmer creator of that simulation equal to our God(s)?
And what would those damn atheists say if the simulation hypothesis is proved?


Even if from your point of view this is ‘only’ a simulation, from our point of view, this is reality, because we are in it, and if we were to ignore it or try to break it, we would still be in it, and ignoring the world and/or breaking the world would be very. bad. for us.

Even if you think we should worship you, if you are experimenting with plagues on us, why should we worship you?

Not much of a demiurge.

If you had all the power in the world it wouldn’t make me - or many of us - want to worship you. If you used what power you do have to try to do the right thing, to try to improve people’s lives, to try to undo damage, that might persuade people. Your plague won’t help.

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I used to think that there was no way that we were in a simulation, as I was pretty sure that anything Matrioshka-brain-size that could run a planetary civilization sim would basically be overrun by an aggressive ecosystem of AIs and other numerical entities competing for scarce (to them) computing resources by trying to overwrite each other. Think Corewars:

Then I got worried again, because genes are basically doing that (and it’s arguable that memes are as well).

So now I just look for cheat codes.


I wouldn’t expect my simulated universe to worship me, any more than I’d expect my kid to worship me.

But it would be nice if they’d listen once in a while.


It doesn’t really make much difference; whether you’re made out of particles or simulation of particles doesn’t change the way they act in practice. But if you entertain the conceit that you don’t just arise from the basic physics, but need a special subroutine, death might have to involve some memory being reallocated to other processes. If you really think you’re important, you might hope for some log of what you did.

Most atheists I know are open to correction if you suppose a real proof of some kind, and so would probably say something like what MarjaE said.

But hey, thanks for the needless slur, though. Without hearing that sort of thing from time to time, we might forget how many damn theists hate us for having a different opinion, and then who knows where it will end - people being polite, cats and dogs living together, you name it.


We know at least one thing about the simulation system (from HAKMEM):

“Item 154 (Bill Gosper): The myth that any given programming language is machine independent is easily exploded by computing the sum of powers of 2. If the result loops with period = 1 with sign +, you are on a sign-magnitude machine. If the result loops with period = 1 at -1, you are on a twos-complement machine. If the result loops with period greater than 1, including the beginning, you are on a ones-complement machine. If the result loops with period greater than 1, not including the beginning, your machine isn’t binary - the pattern should tell you the base. If you run out of memory, you are on a string or bignum system. If arithmetic overflow is a fatal error, some fascist pig with a read-only mind is trying to enforce machine independence. But the very ability to trap overflow is machine dependent. By this strategy, consider the universe, or, more precisely, algebra: Let X = the sum of many powers of 2 = …111111 (base 2). Now add X to itself: X + X = …111110. Thus, 2X = X - 1, so X = -1. Therefore algebra is run on a machine (the universe) that is two’s-complement.”


I suppose you took the “damn” more literary than I intended. It was meant as a sarcastic comment. You could easily exchange the “atheists” with “deists” as far as I am concerned. I have no problem with either, though fundamentalists strike a nerve with me.
I am not a theist any more than you and certainly don’t hate either.
But please feel free to tell me why would the word “damn” strike a nerve with you if you are an atheist? You don’t believe in God, which is fine, so you wouldn’t believe in damnation or paradise. It certainly wouldn’t strike mine.

couldn’t humans or corporations be the AI in this planet sim?

“You should suffer for eternity” is an insult even if you don’t think it will happen. But damn has a history of meaning considering something contemptible at least as long as its specific religious meaning. It comes from the Latin damno which means a general condemnation; for instance, people who were really hated would be damnatio memoriae, meaning erased from history. English dictionaries will generally have comparable meanings listed.

Sorry for not picking up on your sarcasm, but it’s easier when you never hear the same thing said with sincerity. Even on these boards you do from time to time.


Sorry but with my limited English knowledge and with my vast Google search knowledge
Define: Damn : (in Christian belief) be condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment in hell.
Speaking contemporary English and having zero clue about Latin, can’t know everything. If you have something in Greek though, hit me, I am all in for that.
I suppose some theists could gather all atheists and burn them on the stick, but this is not the damnation I had in mind.

Edit: urban dictionary backs me up! Damn Hollywood movies!!!

All I can say is that in about half an hour, when we take the core behavioral seeds of the plague-decimated SimHumanity and put them back into the Frolicking With Puppies And The Endless Free Ice Cream Doesn’t Make You Fat Universe, there will be a brief moment when something that is in some sense you has just enough time to think, “Ah, I get it now.”


Even if the world is real, we’re transitory phenomena. I’d bet on the long-term players being the subject of interest. You don’t boil water to look at the bubbles.

And back in the 4th Century B.C., “Chung Tzu once dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke, he no longer knew if he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man or a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly” (from Dream or simulation, it would appear the question might be the same, if you consider that both are products of the human imagination.


I’ve been a huge advocate that we’re in a simulation, with a clock resolution of Plank time. :smiley: