The Mysteries of Instagram, IABC, Tron, The Matrix and the Universe Not Explained

While every good social media blogger worth their salt is writing this week about Instagram’s terms of service fiasco, I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. There are plenty of other people covering that topic for you.

There’s also a bit of kerfuffle going on this week within my professional association (that hosts this blog as a member benefit) the International Association of Business Communciators. But, while I will join the member conversation happening on LinkedIn, I’m only lightly tweeting and not blogging about it because it feels a bit like discussing family matters in public.

Instead, what brings me here today is something far removed from the machinations of social networks or professional networks. It’s a much larger philosophical pondering. As big as the universe.

You see, yesterday morning I read a post on MIT Technology Review about “Why The Universe Is Not a Computer After All.” Then just a few hours later, I saw someone tweet a link to a story titled “Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?” on Discovery News.

So which is it? Are we or aren’t we living TRON in real life?

According to the Discovery column by Ray Villard, aka @cosmic_ray, a team of physicists at the University of Washington recently announced that there is a potential test to see if we actually live in “The Lattice.” Not to be confused with The Matrix.  The Lattice is the idea of Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom that the universe we live in might be a numerical computer simulation – possibly created by distant descendants who constructed it to simulate the past and recreate how their remote ancestors lived.

So Villard asks, “is our ‘God’ really a computer programmer rather than a bearded old man living in the sky?”

The idea of the universe as a computer is, according to Ken Wharton at San Jose State University in California, just a popular assumption. And, it “is the least-questioned (and most fundamental) assumptions that have the greatest potential to lead us astray,” he says.

Wharton’s essay argues that only by dropping our assumption that the universe is a computer can we fully develop alternate models, explain quantum phenomena, and understand the workings of our universe.

Me? I rather like this point of view from Albert Einstein:

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”
― Albert Einstein


Einstein may not have believed in a personal god, as I do, so his “mysterious force” could conceivably be Bostrom’s “distant descendants ” But, to think of my progeny essentially coming back in time to create, ultimately, themselves by creating a computer simulation of the world I live in today just seems a bit too much for me.

As someone who spends most of their day working on a computer for a company that makes computers, the thought that I’m only simulated by a computer doesn’t excite me. It makes for engaging science fiction, though!