Thursday, April 25, 2024

Ontology 501: Are we just a simulation?

| December 1, 2020 1:00 AM

Ages ago, the most advanced civilizations had so little grasp of the whys and wherefores of the world, they imagined it all under the control of thoughtless deities. We were just pawns; reality happened in the heavens.

The passing centuries deepened our understanding of the physical world, and broadened our pursuit of ontology — metaphysics and the nature of being. Zeus and his ilk faded under the bright dawn of knowledge. Hailstorms result not from Hadad’s revenge but changing temperatures. Wars are won and lost not on Athena’s favor but strategy and resources.

But what if the next level of physics brings us full circle — what if none of this is real? A theoretical physics paper published in the journal Entropy in February 2020 suggests this — us, the earth and universe, everything — is just simulated. Not by deities or some alien beings, but by thought. Our thoughts.

Far out, man.

Theoretical physicists at the Quantum Gravity Research Institute in Los Angeles describe the physical universe as a "strange loop" of synergistically interdependent parts in their paper titled "The Self-Simulation Hypothesis Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics." Taking Swedish scientist Nick Bostrom's simulation hypothesis from 2003, which suggested reality could be an extremely detailed computer program run by other advanced life forms, the QGR team expanded on the idea, starting with removing the aliens.

Doesn’t it seem more likely, says this paper, that the physical universe itself is a "mental self-simulation?" That would mean physical reality is actually information expressed as thought. And it was always there, “timelessly emergent.”

By “timeless” they mean time doesn’t exist. Time is just our perception of hierarchical thought, like sub-thoughts seen in the most economical or logical way. Layers upon layers of thought, which by their definition give meaning. Meaning, which they define as relational. This thought-created self-simulation would exists outside non-existent time (making the chicken-or-egg question irrelevant), creating all reality.

Instead of space-time, think thought-space.

To start to prove it, they use quantum mechanics, describing the universe as one of many possible quantum gravity models, couched in emergence theory — a kind of blend of quantum mechanics, relativity, and mainstream physics explaining a self-actualizing universe.

In this theory of the universe its only components are the information contained in our thoughts.

As a non-physicist I can neither fully fathom nor accurately describe the quantum gravity and equations they use to explain it. So the paper’s authors say just think of dreams, especially the most lucid kind. Ever dream knowing you’re dreaming? Able to manipulate the dream, maybe even feel like it’s an out-of-body experience, so you "witness" things that you can confirm upon waking? They call dreams “primitive self-simulation.”

A self-simulation reality is kind of like the next level, but like our lack of awareness in most dreams, we aren’t usually aware we’re simulating. They theorize that as we evolve, we may become aware.

All of this is very close to panpsychism — the philosophy that everything is simply thought or consciousness — but takes it up a notch with the creation of a quantum physical reality by thought. I think.

Read the paper a, or more about emergence theory at

“It is implied that, in some sense, a rudimentary consciousness is present even at the level of particle physics.” — David Bohm (1917-1992), scientist and quantum spiritualist


Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network whose thought-reality wasn’t advanced enough to make her a theoretical physicist. Contact her at