It takes a special gift to write a scientific news story about something so unscientific that the author, Joel N. Shurkin, clearly thinks is stupid as well. And he has a model example for you to read.
A professor—what is going on at UDub anyway?—his graduate students, and someone named Silas Beane of UNH (the story does not reveal what Beane’s CV is) wants to run a test on cosmic rays to see if our universe is in fact real, or is some vast computer simulation.
The restraint Mr. Shurkin shows while shoveling this obvious editor assignment (“Joel, get me 2,000 words on this reality study”) is remarkable. He discusses the test, the theory on which it is based, and even has an easy rebuttal from a more experienced scientist at the University of Minnesota who thinks the whole idea is lunacy.
Basically, the whole thing sounds very scientific: examine high energy cosmic rays to determine any evidence of non-isotropic symmetry. In other words, the real universe will demonstrate consistently distributed cosmic rays; a universe simulated in a computer, in which we all somehow ignorantly live, will demonstrate irregularities based on, well, based on what some British goofball said after seeing The Matrix in 1999. No, that isn’t an exaggeration: that dumbass over-rated movie seems to be the trigger for this whole study.
In fact, that movie tends to be quite popular among nerds who feel they should be much more successful with the opposite sex. “If only we weren’t living in some simulation, because real life would have made me much more social.”
The problem with this theory is that it is ultimately untestable on its face. A simulation, the theory states, would divide its time up among powerful computer processors, resulting in tiny but measurable gaps in the distribution of quantum particles as the simulation runs various parts at different times. Real life, the study contends to show, would show a uniform distribution of quantum particles.
First, let us ignore Heisenberg on this one and say that might be true; but it assumes the universal simulation is run on a terrestrial computer designed by humans—which uses threaded processing to tackle different parts of a simulation at different times and interpolate values between. An analog computer of alien design might easily show no such constraints, invalidating the entire test.
If, of course, you have any problems believing that you live in the real world. Which, it seems, 49% of us might indeed.