Either this universe always existed, emerged without an intelligent cause or it was created by an advanced civilisation. If an intelligent civilisation created us, it most likely is humanoid. This is the simulation argument. Sadly, it is not possible to do an experiment that will show which option is true. Some people nevertheless believe they can prove that this universe is a virtual reality by demonstrating that underlying properties are digital, meaning that the lowest level of reality is just numbers that can be represented in a computer memory.
How might that work? For instance, a television screen consists of more than a million tiny dots. Every dot has a number. Every dot has a colour. The colour is selected out of a list of colours. Every colour has a unique number too. So every dot has a number and every colour has a number. For example, dot 759,214 might have colour 124,117. From a distance you may see a person, but the lowest level of the television screen is just numbers. You can apply this idea to represent a universe.
The problem with this is that being digital is a property, not a cause of existence. Perhaps universes that are not created are digital too. The argument of using properties to prove that this universe is a virtual reality comes in different forms. For example, some people claim that in quantum physics reality is a sequence of states with nothing existing or happening between the states. This may signify that reality is generated by a computer. Only, there is no way of knowing whether or not this applies to universes that aren’t generated by a computer.
Other people claim that it is unlikely that this universe emerged by chance. For instance, there is an argument stating that this universe is designed for life because the laws of physics and the values of physical constants seem just right for life to exist. Even if that were true, there may be an unlimited number of universes with different physical laws and constants, and this universe may just be one of them that accidentally is just right.
A more interesting argument is the Fermi Paradox. It seems likely that there are extraterrestrial civilisations in our universe but there is no evidence for them. “Where is everybody?” the physicist Fermi once asked. Perhaps humankind is the only advanced civilisation in the universe, which might indicate that we are living inside a simulation as there might be no point in simulating others. But that is not the only possible explanation. Perhaps civilisations tend to die out before they become advanced. Or maybe we just overestimate the probability of advanced civilisations contacting us.
Quantum entanglement means that particles interact directly with each other regardless of the distance between them. If one particle is at one end of the universe, while the other is at the other end, they can still interact directly as if there is no distance between them. This mocks our idea of distance. It can also raise questions about the age of the universe as these estimates are based on the size of our universe.
The observer effect is often seen as evidence of this universe being a virtual reality. The argument is that several types of small particles normally don’t exist and only come into being when someone observes them. If this universe is a virtual reality it would be a waste of memory and processing power to represent them all the time. If this universe isn’t a virtual reality, these particles might, or even should, always exist even when no-one is watching. This might be a misconception about these particles. They do not really disappear when they are not observed. They become waves instead. And there is no way of knowing whether the observer effect only exists in virtual reality universes.
Featured image: Tunnel of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of the European Organization for Nuclear Research. Julian Herzog (2008). Wikimedia Commons.