Are we living in a simulation? It’s a trippy idea that has inspired many classic tales, from Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to The Matrix franchise, but it is also increasingly becoming a subject of genuine scientific debate and inquiry.
A scientist has now proposed that evidence of this so-called “simulation hypothesis” might be hidden in laws that govern information, such as the genetic information in our DNA or digital information stored in computers, according to a new study. The results of the research suggest that different information systems undergo the same process of minimization over time, almost akin to the way a computer compresses and optimizes its data, a finding that could support the idea that the universe is a simulation.
Melvin Vopson, an associate professor of physics at the University of Portsmouth, is an expert on information theory, which is a mathematical field focused on the quantification, compression, storage, and transmission of information. Vopson has previously suggested that information may be a fifth form of matter with an undetected physical mass, alongside solids, liquids, gasses, and plasmas.
In 2022, Vopson and his colleague Serban Lepadatu, a physicist at the University of Central Lancashire, introduced a proposed new law of physics called the second law of infodynamics. The name plays on the second law of thermodynamics, a major rule in physics that is based on the concept of entropy, which is the measure of the disorder of a system. The second law of thermodynamics establishes that entropy of the universe either remains constant, or increases, but never decreases, over time. Vopson and Lepadatu found, to their surprise, that the second law of infodynamics is the exact opposite: Entropy in information systems either remains constant, or decreases over time.
Now, Vopson has built on this discovery by applying the second law of infodynamics to a wide variety of information systems, including digital information, genetic information, atomic physics, mathematical symmetries, and cosmology. The results “provide scientific evidence that appears to underpin the simulated universe hypothesis,” according to a new study by Vopson in the peer-reviewed journal AIP Physics.
“The initial study of 2022 when we first reported this possible new law of physics was deduced only from quasi-phenomenological studies, more precisely on two systems: a digital data storage and a genetic information storage (RNA),” Vopson said in an email to Motherboard. “The prime motivation back in 2022 was to find a predictive algorithm of genetic mutations from an information theory approach.”
“This is when I first observed that genetic mutations take place in such a way that their information entropy decreases all the time, even when the number of nucleotides remains constant,” he added. “This is huge because it challenges Darwin’s evolution theory by stating that genetic mutations are not random processes. This is the backstory of this and how the second law of infodynamics was born.”
In other words, while thermodynamic entropy creates more and more chaotic systems, information entropy actually trends towards “compressing” or discarding information over time in the name of optimization. This could be why, for example, we see so much symmetry in the natural world—these symmetric patterns are a way to minimize and optimize information.
“To state that this is a new universal law of physics would have been an overstatement back in 2022, given that only two systems have been investigated and one was computational,” Vopson noted. “Hence, the objective of this new article was to expand the range of applicability of this new law of physics…In other words to check it against some other systems, as diverse as possible.”
To that end, Vopson applied his law of infodynamics to a series of information systems. He showed that digital information obeys this law by writing the literal word INFORMATION in binary onto a nanoscale magnetic thin film structure that then cycled through iterations over time at room temperature. The data had begun to degrade after several hundred cycles, and was erased after 1,990 cycles, as the second law of infodynamics predicted.
Vopson also studied the genetic code of the SARS-Cov-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, and concluded that the information entropy of its viral variants decreased as they underwent genetic mutations. He then applied the law to atomic physics, and concluded that the way electrons occupy their positions around an atom appears to also minimize their information entropy over time. Last, Vopson turned to cosmology by outlining how infodynamics could account for open questions about the universe’s thermodynamic entropy, and how it might explain the prevalence of symmetries in our universe.
“It is truly remarkable that [the second law of infodynamics] is applicable / valid for so many systems and so diverse to each other, and the extrapolation to universality is rather safe,” Vopson said, adding that the results left him “totally surprised, in a good way.”
“The evidence is there and it needs no proof,” he added. “However, to categorically state that we live in a simulation, based only on this study, is not sufficient. I also make this clear in my recent article and my newly published book: Reality Reloaded: The Scientific Case for a Simulated Universe. My hope is that this work will stimulate more research and very smart scientists will come up with new ways to prove or disprove it.”
Vopson has suggested that his hypothesis could be experimentally tested by slamming particles of matter into antimatter, a rare substance that holds the opposite charge of normal matter. He speculated that this process could produce low-energy photons that were produced by the erasure of information content in the interaction, thereby demonstrating the laws of infodynamics in action.
“The experiment is not performed yet, but if it were performed successfully, by itself it would not definitively confirm that we are in a simulated construct,” Vopson noted. “It would just underpin this hypothesis. However, the second law, plus a confirmed experiment, plus some new research (hopefully) would bring this to the threshold of acceptance based on scientific standards.”
“It is important to remember that the second law of infodynamics is valid regardless of whether the universe is a simulation or not,” he said. “Being a simulation is a possible consequence (or conclusion) of this new law.”
While these hints of a simulated universe are tantalizing, it will take much more interdisciplinary research and sophisticated experimentation to figure out whether we are all virtual constructs in some elaborate iterative program. Until then, Vopson noted that the simulation hypothesis has attracted the interest of many public figures, such as Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson, along with other people from all walks of life, showing that it has a broad appeal.
“We also have a range of very powerful SciFi movies all depicting this in incredible detail,” Vopson concluded. “Finally, I would like to quote the huge number of emails I am receiving from the public. People that feel an urge to email and give me their backing as they also concluded the same thing via various means.”
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