Mod+ Information and Reality [Resources] [Information & Consciousness, QM, etc.]



The Physical World as a Virtual Reality
Brian Whitworth
Massey University, Albany, Auckland, New Zealand
This paper explores the idea that the universe is a virtual reality created by information
processing, and relates this strange idea to the findings of modern physics about the physical
world. The virtual reality concept is familiar to us from online worlds, but our world as a virtual
reality is usually a subject for science fiction rather than science. Yet logically the world could be
an information simulation running on a multi-dimensional space-time screen. Indeed, if the
essence of the universe is information, matter, charge, energy and movement could be aspects of
information, and the many conservation laws could be a single law of information conservation.
If the universe were a virtual reality, its creation at the big bang would no longer be paradoxical,
as every virtual system must be booted up. It is suggested that whether the world is an objective
reality or a virtual reality is a matter for science to resolve. Modern information science can
suggest how core physical properties like space, time, light, matter and movement could derive
from information processing. Such an approach could reconcile relativity and quantum theories,
with the former being how information processing creates space-time, and the latter how it
creates energy and matter.​
More on the simulation idea:

Breaking into the Simulated Universe

"We should be looking more at consciousness and consciousness states than we should the domain of spacetime, geometry, matter, and technology. If the universe is a computer simulation then we should look at the player, not the level."

Like everything truly intelligent, the simulation hypothesis demands we have a deep appreciation of paradox—an appreciation that is frequently lacking in simulism dialogs. That paradox is simply this: if this universe is a simulation, that means, quite paradoxically, it is here, but it is also not here. We are here and we are also not here. As Einstein reportedly pressed upon other physicists when they struggled with the information rendering-like nature of wave-particle duality, along with other spooky quantum observations, “Do you really believe the moon isn’t there when you’re not looking?” The authentic simulist answer must patently be, “There is no moon.” This is the inevitable and disturbing thread that simulation theory researchers and philosophers largely fail or refuse to grok, but its logic is sound and obvious.

When you play an MMORPG are any of those objects “real” or “there”? No—They are information. Is that level or map in the MMORPG real? Can your avatars escape it? No, because neither the levels nor the avatars are really there. Mario is not really in the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s all just numbers in a computer. It is digital information. The game universe only seems to be there—but it isn’t, and we aren’t.

Now back to us—why does our physics ruleset permit entanglement, or retrocausality, or wave-particle duality, or quantum erasure, or teleportation, or tunneling? Because all that, along with spacetime, mass, gravity, light, and spin simply isn’t really real in a physical or deterministic sense. It’s not really there in the way we normally assume. They are all just effects in the virtual reality, and experiments have shown that the effects are rendered as needed. Brian Whitworth said it well in his paper Simulating Space and Time:

"VR theory is only on the table because objective reality theory doesn’t explain modern physics. In an objective reality time does not dilate, space doesn’t bend, objects don’t teleport and universes don’t pop into existence from nowhere. We would not doubt the world’s objective reality if only it behaved so physically, but it does not. Adjectives like “strange”, “spooky” and “weird” apply, and common sense concepts like object, location, existence, time and space simply don’t work. The world of modern physics doesn’t behave at all as an objective reality should."


More on the simulation idea:

Breaking into the Simulated Universe

"We should be looking more at consciousness and consciousness states than we should the domain of spacetime, geometry, matter, and technology. If the universe is a computer simulation then we should look at the player, not the level."
Saw this floating around the net ->

A philosophical discussion by email between Tom Campbell, Brian Whitworth and John Ringland

Following is an email discussion on the topic of the nature of reality and consciousness from the perspective of computational metaphysics (virtual / simulated reality). It delved deeply at times; clearly elucidating core features of each of our ways of thinking. The discussion eventually become bogged down by misunderstandings; the differences were so profound that communication became difficult and necessitated constant meta-analysis of why and how the misunderstandings were happening. This process was very informative however it likely also broke the rapport, thus the discussion ended. I feel that important points were raised which were not properly addressed. It wasn't a personal conversation; the topics under discussion were of significant philosophical and scientific interest. Hence in the interests of the broader dialogue I now publish a transcript of the entire discussion (except for irrelevant emails, e.g. about whether some file contains a virus or not, and so on). I do this in the hope that these ideas will not simply lie dormant on an email server, but will spark off further discussions that will eventually lead people to a deeper and clearer understanding of these topics.


Who Makes Our Perfect Universe?

Indeed, from a letter he wrote in 1936 to young student Phyllis Wright, Einstein’s viewpoint holds that “everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.” I would maintain that we are now at a threshold where the next steps in revealing the essence of this great mystery are at last capable of integrating evidence-based and faith-based perspectives.

The growing scientific perception of the informational nature of all that we call physical reality is, at the same time, showing it to be in-formational, literally in-forming in its entirety and encompassing all from its simplest to its most complex forms.

In other words, our Universe is composed not from the all-pervasive presence of merely arbitrarily accumulated data and accidental processes, but ordered, patterned, relational, meaningful, and intelligible in-formation, exquisitely balanced, incredibly co-creative, staggeringly powerful, and yet fundamentally simple.

The in-formation present from the very beginning of space and time, as simple as it could be but no simpler, provided the essential instructions from which our 13.8-billion-year-old Universe has facilitated the evolution of ever greater levels of complexity. The informationally entropic progressions of its nonlocally connected intelligence has and continues to co-creatively express, explore, and experience on all scales of physical existence, as it advances to the embodiment of progressive self-awareness.

As there cannot be an in-formed universe without the existence of an in-former, without anthropomorphizing such creative impetus, the inevitable question that these scientific revelations come to is: Who or what is the ultimate intelligence that makes our perfect Universe?

We’ll now pose this essential query and see how the emerging understanding of the cosmic hologram offers a visionary perspective and new insights, both on this age-old enigma and in answer to it. With the increasing evidence that ours is a finite Universe within an ultimately infinite cosmic plenum, it’s also now an appropriate time for us to address notions of a multiverse of other universes beyond our own.



One of the major reasons for use of equivalence classes is that it enables reliable behaviour to emerge from noisy or unreliable components together with statistical fluctuations and irreducible quantum uncertainty at the bottom levels. A key issue is that there are effective higher level variables (equivalence classes of phenomena) that cannot be obtained by aggregation of lower level variables. These will usually in some sense convey information. Examples are the folding patterns of RNA and proteins, sensory data such as smells and images, information coded in languages, and theories of physics such as the theory of the laser. These underlie top-down causation that clearly cannot be reduced to any lower level functions (although they are based in such functions) for the relevant control variables simply are not expressible in lower level terms, or even in aggregations of lower level variables.

Information control occurs when there is top-down causation that fulfils some higher level purpose or goal: that is, the outcome is causally affected by, and indeed predictable in terms, of that higher level goal. Here goals are by definition conceptual or potential states that control lower level action through feedback control loops. The higher level goals cannot be described in terms of lower level goals or concepts, and indeed often cannot be obtained by coarse graining of lower level variables. It is in this case that it entails a higher level meaning. Attractors of a dynamical system are not goals. A control system has an aim or purpose, whereas attractors in dynamical system do not: they are just probable outcomes of a large variety of initial conditions. There is no associated goal or purpose. Goals entail information use of some kind (needed for the feedback signal).

Information is causally effective view feedback control loops, because without the checks of outcome involved in such loops (taking into account the actual situation) the attainment of desired goals will be unreliable. It has syntactic, semantic and pragmatic aspects (Kuppers 1990, Roederer 2005) A pre-requisite is reliable recognition and classification of information, hence pattern recognition is important. Patterns are by definition abstract classes, not the same as any physical state. They may be realized mathematically (algebraically or geometrically), physically, temporally, or functionally. They underlie coding and language. They are causally effective via pattern recognition mechanisms, used to interpret the pattern in a context of meaning. This is a form of topdown causation from an abstract space of patterns to the physical world. Through abstract characterizations on the one hand (e.g. symmetry classes) and alternative codings or languages on the other, patterns come in equivalence classes, which then define higher level patterns (e.g. symmetric and asymmetric patterns). Thus there are Recursive patterns: one pattern may be an element in a higher order pattern, giving a hierarchical structure. A key ability is to recognize this, treating a whole set of elements as a unit in a higher order pattern. This enables hierarchical complexity to be built up.

Information selection is a key feature of higher level feedback systems: they must ignore what is irrelevant and attend to what is not.78 How this happens is different at each level and each timescale. In simple control systems, it happens because the system only responds to what is relevant and is not affected by the rest (a thermostat responds only to temperature, for example). Lower level processes that select information are acting as filters of signals (they select polarisation angles or energy ranges or frequency ranges, for example). They do not have an explicit goal, but do process signals in a well-defined manner. Signals become information when related to purpose in some context (Roederer 2005). In conscious beings, it is a key component of attention: we discard most of the data coming in and pay attention only to that which is relevant to our immediate safety and purposes. Thus we test it against a matrix of relevance and take notice only of the significant, discarding the rest; in particular the ability to recognize novelty is a key feature of animal brains (Greenspan 2007). In evolutionary history, it is in terms of survival value: we develop genetically-based systems that retain information that will help survival, e.g. a genetic code, plus genes for basic physiological and sensory systems and primary emotional systems. In biochemistry, the binding and recognition of specific molecules is the way molecular information is read (Lehn 1995). This identifies chemical signals as they come along as relevant or not, e.g. specific neuro-modulators and proteins are recognised by specific receptors. But overall in living systems it is via Darwinian processes at all timescales and physical scales, whereby in effect different interpretations of data are tried and most discarded, but the relevant ones (in terms of some higher level selection criteria) are retained and stored in some form or other (Roederer 2005).


An interesting passage from On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Transformations of the Life Sciences

...according to information theory, the measure of a given message's information content is directly proportional to its "surprise value", it's improbability. So, for example, the information value that "it will be cloudy in Seattle" is much lower than, say, "it will snow in Miami". Thus, the quantity of information contained in a message is related to the amount of difference its communicates - Gregory Bateson even defined information as "the difference that makes a difference". And yet, as theorist Mark C. Taylor has pointed out, the unprecedented has the highest information content, and yet is unreadable. A truly singular, unprecedented phenomenon would in some sense make no sense - we would lack the tools of signification necessary to read or interpret it. This marks out the way in which all communication is tied to unspoken precedent, an "unthought thought", a present absence for which there can be no algorithm, insofar as the algorithmic articulation of the necessary preconditions of communication would itself be unprecedented, unreadable.


The world is not a physics engine, or The Death of (Physicalist) Realism

Quantum mechanics might be replaced by a better theory, but the new theory will have to account for non-locality and superpositional states as well, because these have been demonstrated in experiments. In this sense, quantum mechanics is bound to stay, and we better get used to it. That does not mean that the world is suddenly incomprehensible. If we give up our realist intuitions with respect to res extensa, and accept that the world is not computed as a physics engine, does not have a joint global state with respect to all objects in it, and is does not determine all state aspects as long as objects do not interact, we get rid of the apparent enigmas and paradoxes. That means giving up physicalism in favor of computationalism, along with our intuitions of existence and reality, and alienating some of the non-gamers among the philosophers, but that is a small price to pay for inhabiting a comprehensible universe.
From the author but in the comments:

Of course, that argument does not require QM. But before QM, it was still possible to believe in a completely spatially aligned universe, i.e. a "physics engine universe", or "res extensa". Now computationalism seems to be the only remaining answer.

I think computationalism should be agnostic wrt idealism/materialism. Even if everything is mindness, minds will have to process information, and thus be computational.
The post is also a reference to this article:

Quantum state may be a real thing: Physicists summon up their courage and go after the nature of reality.

This paper is one of a series that is starting to reveal that our world is actually a quantum mechanical world at its very heart. Some aspects of it are non-local, some aspects of it are not real, and some aspects of it allow you to perform counterfactual operations.

These have been our observations in a variety of experiments. But it seems that the observations are a close reflection of how the Universe operates.