Physical World as Virtual Reality?

The paper of Witworth from 2007 [423]16.1 discusses an interpretation of the physical world as a virtual reality. This idea is not new - as it is also pointed out several times in the paper (c.f.(p.5)) - but Witworth condenses the different ideas under the label of a 'Virtual Reality' in a specific manner.

His arguments depart from several findings of modern physics which he presents in a way that these appear - compared with our 'everyday' thinking - as strange, paradoxical, incomplete, or the like (cf. e.g. 'creation from nothing' (p.3) or 'physical effects without causality' (p.3)).

Witworth introduces then a new conceptual framework called 'virtual reality' (cf. (p.5ff)) with it's own 'logic'. He 're-interprets' then the physical phenomena by applying the virtual-world logic onto these.

Example: He cites from a popular book of Smolin [347] the statement ``There is nothing outside the universe'' as illustrating the position of modern physics, and opposes this statement with the 'prime axiom' of his virtual-reality conceptual framework ``There is nothing in our universe which exists of or by itself'' (p.5).

Thus we as human persons are from the beginning of our individual existence operating in the 'mode' of a virtual reality, which as such is 'our (primary) reality', and 'through' this primary (virtual) reality we are 'perceiving' and 'thinking' of possible realities 'beyond' this primary reality. This basic fact of philosophy (especially related to epistemology) is not explicitly stated from Witworth.

Witworth brings forward another additional statement called the virtual reality (VR) hypothesis: ``That our physical reality is a virtual reality that depends upon information processing to exist, which processing must occur outside of itself''.

  1. The concept of an 'information process' is not explicitly defined. Informally it assumes a 'processing' of 'information' where the processing has to be seen 'outside' of the information 'as such'. The information as such is the 'reality' which is classified as 'virtual' because of the assumed 'processing' which is also called a 'creation'.
  2. Additional requirements postulated are a 'discrete' input/output, 'calculable' algorithmic processes, and 'finite' memory and processing. (cf. p.8)
  3. The only known theoretical concept of calculation until today is the concept of the turing machine (with many formally equivalent concepts) which includes an infinite (!) information space $ W$ with a finite (!) processor as a finite set of distinguishable states $ Q$ operated by a finite transition function $ \Delta$ where the discrete input-output is realized by a finite read-write head which can be placed at any position.
  4. Because no alternative is known we assume here that Witworth understands his 'information processing' as the processing of a device which is formally equivalent to a 'truing machine'.
  5. Compared to an empirical theory $ T$ the 'objects' of a turing equivalent structure are 'information units' (distinguishable discrete units).

To 're-interpret' the empirical objects with the framework of a turing machine equivalent structure one has to (i) map the empirical objects $ O_{T}$ into the set of information units $ W$ and has (ii) to make plausible that all observable changes of the empirical objects $ O_{T}$ can be interpreted as finite calculable processes.

But even if one would not be able to observe a discrepancy between these two assumptions (i) + (ii) this would not 'prove' that 'beyond' the observable changes there 'exists' such a processor as a 'real' entity. Changes can have many possible 'causes'.

Whether assumptions (i) + (ii) are empirically sound is a question which I cannot decide because I am not an expert in physics. That the 'basic units' of matter are 'discrete' is an often written statement. That the observable changes shall represent 'finite processes' is not clearly to decide. What is a 'finite process' in the 'empirical world'? The fact that one can determine a 'beginning' of all measurable processes from where all other observable phenomena can be computed (as far as we can understand today) points in the direction that the empirical universe represent a 'finite process' until now. But there is no formal reason why this process should stop.

Gerd Doeben-Henisch 2013-01-14