Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Universe as a Computer

Here is a quote from the latest issue of New Scientist. You can read the part of the article here (or the whole thing if you are a subscriber).

There is, however, another possibility: relinquish the notion of immutable, transcendent laws and try to explain the observed behaviour entirely in terms of processes occurring within the universe. As it happens, there is a growing minority of scientists whose concept of physical law departs radically from the orthodox view and whose ideas offer an ideal model for developing this picture. The burgeoning field of computer science has shifted our view of the physical world from that of a collection of interacting material particles to one of a seething network of information. In this way of looking at nature, the laws of physics are a form of software, or algorithm, while the material world - the hardware - plays the role of a gigantic computer.

This is by no means a new idea. However, it is gaining more traction and I believe it will become prevailing viewpoint in my lifetime or at least that of the generation of physicists  who grow up emerged in worlds such as Second Life.

The problem I have with the article is that it mentions how we need to explain why our universe is so tuned to support life. It is certainly true that life as we understand it could not arise if some of the fundamental constants of nature were altered just a tad. However, it does not follow that these alternate realities would not support complex systems for which we can have little understanding from our vantage point. I think if Stephen Wolfram's work on NKS showed anything at all it showed that complex dynamics can arise from quite simple initial ingredients.

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