In the first part
of the twentieth century, physicists made a remarkable discovery: the
world operates according to mathematical principles more than it does
according to physical principles. Mathematics had been an important part of
physics since at least the time of Sir Isaac Newton, but Newton had assumed he
was describing something with his equations. It now appears that equations are
more accurate than any concept of "somethings." At the time of this
discovery (c. 1927), there was no model of a world consisting of equations,
and so there was puzzlement.
In the last part of the twentieth century, we humans
began to create worlds out of equations. We did so by building on simple blocks
of logic that can be configured over and over again into a complex description
of experience. The systems which perform these operations are called computers
because they take mathematical equations and compute them endlessly, according
to the symbolic rules of the programming language, to a final result that might
be anything the programmer wishes it to be.
At the end of the century, we had built computers
capable of projecting a visual experience that looks (and sometimes feels)
almost real. This is called "virtual reality," which is to say a
seemingly real experience that is not of first-order reality but instead is
created to simulate experiences for the benefit of the computer's users.
Reputable scientists with a bit of imagination are able to look forward to a
time when we will be able to simulate the entire range of our experience --
visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory, and gustatory -- by programming computers
that will interact with humans. Artists now have created fictional scenarios
whereby humans lie down in a tank or on a table (or in a holodeck) and are fed
data, creating the mental impression of a complete world in which they can romp
and play and kill and be killed.
As we have advanced in
physics and computer science, we have been slow to realize that what we humans
can accomplish in the language of COBOL or LISP or FORTRAN or C++ might have
been more perfectly accomplished before. In particular, we have been slow to
consider that the physicist's puzzlement over a world corresponding to
mathematical formalism might be answered by analogy to our own efforts in
creating worlds through the mathematical formalism of our programming languages.
The world itself might have been created by the Word.
These essays explore the hypothesis that our world is,
in fact, a computer simulation. We try very hard to just stick to the
facts, because the facts are quite impressive. We hope you take away some
food for thought.