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Researchers: The Universe Simulated Itself Into Existence

A recent physics journal paper proposes self-simulation as the origin of the universe, using a quantum gravity model

Yesterday, we looked at “Untitled Earth Sim 64,” a science fiction comedy based on the idea that Earth is a messed up simulation — created by entities that are in themselves simulations. And maybe their simulators were in turn simulated… And so forth. The problem is, where’s the original? Surprisingly, perhaps, there is a physics theory that offers an answer: The universe simulated itself:

A new hypothesis says the universe self-simulates itself in a “strange loop”. A paper from the Quantum Gravity Research institute proposes there is an underlying panconsciousness. The work looks to unify insight from quantum mechanics with a non-materialistic perspective.

How real are you? What if everything you are, everything you know, all the people in your life as well as all the events were not physically there but just a very elaborate simulation? Philosopher Nick Bostrom famously considered this in his seminal paper “Are you living in a computer simulation?,” where he proposed that all of our existence may be just a product of very sophisticated computer simulations ran by advanced beings whose real nature we may never be able to know. Now a new theory has come along that takes it a step further – what if there are no advanced beings either and everything in “reality” is a self-simulation that generates itself from pure thought?

Paul Ratner, “New hypothesis argues the universe simulates itself into existence” at Big Think (April 26, 2020) (A podcast is available.)

The paper, which appeared in Entropy in 2020, is open access.

The most significant element of this new theory is surely that it is explicitly a theory of “panconsciousness” and non-materialism.

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Thus it bears comparison with newer theories of consciousness, which are explicitly panpsychist.

Remarkably, the science world is growing comfortable with non-materialist theories of consciousness. Is that because materialist theories of consciousness are not providing much insight and end in absurdities or for other reasons? It would be hard to say at present.

It will be most interesting to see what sort of reception this self-simulation approach gets. Formulated as a model of quantum gravity, it riffs Nick Bostrom’s simulation approach, with this explicit difference:

One important aspect that differentiates this view relates to the fact that Bostrom’s original hypothesis is materialistic, seeing the universe as inherently physical … Their hypothesis takes a non-materialistic approach, saying that everything is information expressed as thought. As such, the universe “self-actualizes” itself into existence, relying on underlying algorithms and a rule they call “the principle of efficient language.”

Paul Ratner, “New hypothesis argues the universe simulates itself into existence” at Big Think (April 26, 2020) (A podcast is available.)

This is something like John Wheeler’s it from bit principle (information precedes matter). But it is somewhat more radical.

Are the researchers saying that the universe is a thinking being? More or less:

Under this proposal, the entire simulation of everything in existence is just one “grand thought.” How would the simulation itself be originated? It was always there, say the researchers, explaining the concept of “timeless emergentism.” According to this idea, time isn’t there at all. Instead, the all-encompassing thought that is our reality offers a nested semblance of a hierarchical order, full of “sub-thoughts” that reach all the way down the rabbit hole towards the base mathematics and fundamental particles. This is also where the rule of efficient language comes in, suggesting that humans themselves are such “emergent sub-thoughts” and they experience and find meaning in the world through other sub-thoughts (called “code-steps or actions”) in the most economical fashion.

Paul Ratner, “New hypothesis argues the universe simulates itself into existence” at Big Think (April 26, 2020) (A podcast is available.)

This sounds like traditional theism, with the universe as a self-existent God, right down to the creation of humans (as emergent sub-thoughts).

However off-the-beaten-track this QGR hypothesis may seem, it does solve two problems:

First, it offers an account of consciousness that conforms to what we experience. Materialist accounts generally fail at that. Famously, Darwinian philosopher Daniel Dennett describes consciousness as a user illusion. It’s not really there. Which prompts the question, whose illusion is it then? The QGR researchers see human consciousness as a sub-thought of a grand thought. Agree or disagree, that is somewhat closer to what we experience.

Second, the researchers’ approach — that the universe simulates itself into existence — gets rid of the problem of infinite regress (what simulated the universe?), in the same way that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” gets rid of it. Of course, as noted above, anything that simulates itself into existence as “one grand thought” might as well be God. But it is the researchers’ right to prefer their own terminology.

It will be most interesting to see whether further papers on the origin of the universe, arguing along substantially the same lines, come to be accepted in science journals. If so, we may be seeing the same thing happen in cosmology as in consciousness studies: It becomes necessary to take the reality of consciousness seriously.

Note: Here’s a series of videos at YouTube that offers more details. It features Klee Irwin, founder of Quantum Gravity Research.

You may also wish to read: When a simulated world begins to fall apart. In “Untitled Earth Sim 64,” Marie has reason to expect trouble when the simulator who explains reality to her cannot get her name right… If Marie has found God amid strange events, as her friend thinks, the God she has found is highly disorganized one.

New theory of mind offers more information, less materialism First, let’s begin by noting a remarkable fact: Panpsychism seems to have triumphed in the area of theories of consciousness. Are there materialist theories of consciousness out there any more? Yes. But it is unclear how many of them are taken seriously. Except in pop science mags.


The final materialist quest: A war on the reality of the mind Going to war with the very concept is an approach even George Orwell did not think up. When George Orwell wrote 1984, he addressed destroying minds, not denying their possibility and changing the language associated with them.

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Researchers: The Universe Simulated Itself Into Existence