Although I don’t really put stock in it as an explanation of our universe, I’ve always been rather interested in the idea that our universe might be a simulation in some giant supercomputer. It’s probably possible, depending on your view of the world. If your belief is that the “soul” is separate from the physical world constructed of atoms, then this is probably not a thought experiment for you. But if your belief is that the correct arrangement of atoms taking the form of a human makes that human sentient, then there’s no reason why a collection of programmed atoms in the same formation should not produce the same result. Of course, if this were the explanation for our universe, that presupposes another universe that requires an explanation. Supercomputer simulation perhaps? A program within a program…
Anyhow, I just found an article and demonstration (http://www.consolelink.com/2011/08/next-gen-visuals-will-be-made-of-tiny-atoms/) describing a new technology that is going to revolutionize the gaming graphics industry. Euclideon (http://www.euclideon.com/home.html), a gaming technology company, has new software that they call “Unlimited Detail” that allows game designers to use an almost infinite amount of tiny “atoms” when creating landscapes and objects. The idea is that you can create (with the right artistic flair) flawless in-game graphics. Unlimited Detail (the Australian company’s only claim to fame) would render polygon-based graphics obsolete.
This is a far cry from a fully functioning artificial world though. All this engine can handle right now is keeping track of where these “atoms” are at a given moment. In order for any truly real simulation to occur, meaning creating “matter” that behaves exactly the way matter in our universe behaves, several more details would have to be added. The obvious one is that the atom isn’t the smallest unit of matter, so the program would have to go smaller than that. Subatomic particles have to be programmed with the same constants as in our universe to give atoms the same properties. Once an atom behaves exactly as an atom should, the only thing left is achieving enough computing power to handle it all. The correct behavior at the atomic level will make everything else right as well.
Obviously this doesn’t mean that in the near future we will see a booming new market of universe synthesis, but this kind of technology (if it works well) would be one step towards a future where we can try. Personally, I think it would be an interesting experiment even if it doesn’t work.
By James Scott Horsfall