“It’s always seemed like a big mystery how nature, seemingly so effortlessly, manages to produce so much that seems to us so complex. Well, I think we found its secret. It’s just sampling what’s out there in the computational universe.” -Stephen Wolfram
In the mid-20th century, computers allowed us to explore a brand new idea: that a discrete space, with a simple set of rules and straightforward initial conditions, could evolve in steps to create a rich, life-like environment. While many of us have played or seen simulations of Conway’s Game of Life, a deeper idea is at the core of such a simulation: that at a fundamental level, the Universe itself may be nothing more than a similar cellular automaton.
Started by Ed Fredkin in the 1960s, a simple idea that digital information could represent reality, and that bits of that information in different states and configurations could correspond to what we perceive as different particles in our physical Universe. Developed further by John Wheeler and David Bekenstein, and later taken to a quantum level to incorporate the full nature of the Universe, it’s conceivable that both matter and energy could be illusions. If the “It from Bit” hypothesis is true, only digital information would truly be real.
Is it possible that this is how our Universe actually works at a fundamental level? That the whole shebang is nothing more than a cellular automaton? Paul Halpern explores, and the rest of us get to find out!