In a research project with a distinct vibe of sci-fi, a group of scientists are attempting to discover if we're all simply living in a simluation.
There's a fairly well-known philosophical question which has been rising to prominence over the past few decades: With computers today being able to model more and more complex systems in intricate simulations, is it possible that the universe is no more than a simulation too? Today, we can simulate anything from flight models and the movement of planetary bodies, down to the lives of denizens of small towns in games like The Sims. Is it so unreasonable to think that a civilization such as ours, a few thousand years down the line, could create a simulated universe, so perfect it's indistinguishable from the real thing?
Some scientists have decided that pondering isn't enough, and have set out to find proof of whether this is really the case. Their research project, if it finds results, could indicate we are all virtual beings. The project revolves around the concept of quantum chromodynamics, which deals with how the strong force binds together subatomic particles such as gluons and quarks. This interactions the most basic building blocks of our universe, and everything, from a dog to a star, can be broken down into those basic components, and the strong force interacting between them.
Simulating these interactions is essentially equatable to simulating the universe itself, and our most powerful computers have actually managed to do just that; only on a very small scale. The simulation is actually quite simple, but there are so many interacting parts that it overwhelms computers when doing models on areas on a larger scale than measurable in femtometers (10-15 meters). Again, this means that a powerful enough computer potentially could simulate a far bigger system, but a simulation is still a simulation, and that means it should have some unmistakable characteristics.
Is this what you really look like in the mirror?
Silas Beane at the University of Bonn believes a simulation will reveal itself in the physical phenomenon called Greisen-Zatepin-Kuzmin cut off (GZK): Whereas theoretical physics allow things to happen in any direction, and on any scale, without limit, a computer simulation is restricted to a 3D lattice; a coordinate system upon which the simulation is limited. Nothing in the simulation can be smaller than the size of this lattice, much like an image on a computer monitor cannot be smaller than one pixel in size.