Meditations of a 21st century incarnation of Socrates as composed by Brent Silby
People who know me will know that I have put metaphysics to one side. I found it interesting, to be sure. But I decided to focus my efforts on questions of ethics and living well. That said, articles like this reawaken my interest in metaphysics.
Was this universe made by someone from outside? Back in my day, people thought the universe was eternal. Some people thought that it was a chaotic mess, made up of an infinite number of atoms, and that these were somehow ordered–either by accident or by some organizing force, which was contained within the universe. Then my student, Plato, described an organizing force that sits outside the universe.
This idea caught on and has persisted. In the 13th Century Aquinas developed arguments in support of the idea, notably his second and third way. Recently, philosophers have continued to argue for the existence of an organizational force that sits outside the universe. These days they consider this force to be some sort of super-intelligent godlike civilization that has the ability to produce universes inside sophisticated computer systems. It seems that although the language has changed, the idea has remained much the same. A transcendent entity is needed to explain the existence of the universe.
Is it true? How would we know? Well, some natural philosophers (they are called physicists) have reason to believe that the universe is not the product of an external computer program. Here is a brief outline of their argument: https://cosmosmagazine.com/physics/physicists-find-we-re-not-living-in-a-computer-simulation.
Their argument can be described as a simple syllogism
P1. If it is physically impossible for a computer to store and compute information required to simulate all the particles in the universe, then the universe is not a computer simulation
P2. It is physically impossible for a computer to store and compute information required to simulate all the particles in the universe
C. Therefore, the universe is not a computer simulation
The argument is valid, but is it sound? Take a close look at premise #1. What are they assuming? They are assuming that facts about computers in this universe tell us something about computers in a possible parent universe. If our computers can’t do it, then neither can computers in a parent universe. But this doesn’t follow, does it? Our computers are constrained by the contingent laws of physics of our universe. Is there any reason to assume that the laws of physics in a parent universe will be the same as the laws of physics in our universe? If the answer to that question is “no”, then premise #1 is disarmed and the argument is unsound.
So, if these researchers want to make a solid argument, they need to convince us that the laws of physics in a parent universe are necessarily the same as the laws of physics within our universe. They may indeed have an argument to this effect. But it is not mentioned in the article. Therefore, the it seems to me that the possibility that this universe is a simulation can not yet be discarded. Our transcendent creators survive to appear in another argument.