Our world isn’t necessarily a computer program designed by parasitic futuristic robots like in the movie “The Matrix.” But it does bear a striking resemblance to a digital simulation or computer program, according to engineer Jim Elvidge.
Elvidge has worked with cutting-edge digital technology for decades. He holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from Cornell University as well as multiple patents in digital signal processing, and he has published papers about remote sensing and other related topics in peer-reviewed journals. Combining his knowledge of digital systems with quantum mechanics, Elvidge has found that we may be living in something like a computer program.
The matter, the “stuff” we seem to touch and feel, is actually mostly empty space. Our senses deceive us.
Early physicists pictured atoms as pin-ball-like particles piled up tightly together to form molecules. Scientists later discovered that there’s a whole lot of space between those atoms. And within the atoms, there’s a whole lot of space too. The further we delve into the subatomic world, the more space we find, and the less material everything seems. The solid and tangible become ethereal.
As to what that space is exactly, there are various understandings or theories. Elvidge understands it to be data. Elvidge believes that, as trends in particle physics progress, we will ultimately find that there is no “stuff” at all; matter is just data. And what’s behind that data is something like the binary code of a computer program. Furthermore, human consciousness may live in a sort of cosmic Internet, only to be accessed through the interface of our brain-computers.
A World of Data
Elvidge builds on the ideas of influential theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler (1911-2008) who wrote in his book “Geons, Black Holes and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics”: “It is not unreasonable to imagine that information sits at the core of physics, just as it sits at the core of a computer.”
Wheeler summed up his theory in the words “It from bit.”
Everything is made up of bits; the word “bit” is defined as a basic unit of information, also called a binary digit, used in connection with computers.
In his paper “Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links,” Wheeler wrote: “Every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely (even if in some contexts indirectly) from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes-no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses.”
In the binary choices, the yes-or-no questions, human consciousness may assert its free will. Wheeler called it a “participatory universe.” Elvidge called it a “consciousness-driven digital reality.”
Quantum physicists have shown that matter exists in an indeterminate or oscillating state until an observer fixes it in a particular form. For example, photons can exist in either wave or particle form, but it is the act of observing that determines which form they take; it is human consciousness that drives the change.
Here’s a thought experiment to illustrate how Elvidge applies these observations in quantum physics to our daily reality in a “digital system.”
A Trippy Thought Experiment
Pretend your surroundings right now are part of a digital virtual reality. The pen on the table or the flower in the garden may exist in an essentially indeterminate form. All that’s necessary is information, or bits, that determine its outward appearance. Only when you break open that pen or look at that flower’s petals under a microscope does the program needs to fill in more data.
Only when someone observes something does it become “real.” Otherwise, the inside of the pen or the molecular structure of the flower exist as a sort of indeterminate potential. Elvidge compares this to the way subatomic particles seem to fix themselves from an indeterminate or oscillating form into a more stable form upon observation.
How Your Brain Is Like a Computer
Elvidge doesn’t think consciousness originates in the brain. It is, rather, accessed through the brain. The consciousness could exist in something like an Internet network. He said you can call this network, this place of origin, God or the divine if you want, though he doesn’t use those words.
“The brain is like a cache,” he said. “[In our] browsers, we have caches of the most recently surfed websites … A cache is an efficient way to process information and our brains may be doing the same thing.”
Furthermore, if the consciousness exists in a network out there, it can access information beyond the brain, beyond a person’s individual experience. He urges others to listen more to intuition.
“We no longer have the ability to analyze the heck out of everything,” he said. If you take too long to think about solving a problem, that problem will have changed by the time you find a solution in this fast-paced world. “You have to use your intuition,” he said.
“Some of the answers to that problem may be packed away in your brain somewhere, maybe not,” Elvidge said. “If you meditate and ask for help to solve a problem, often you get that help.” This inspiration may come from other people or even other entities in this cosmic Internet where the consciousness resides.
His understanding of the universe as a digital system doesn’t mean he sees existence as hard, cold, and mechanical. There’s still lots of beauty in “this digital learning lab we call life here on Earth,” Elvidge said. There’s room for the spiritual and the divine in this concept of a digital reality.
It May Be Digital, But It Can Also Be ‘Spiritual’
Elvidge cited evidence of reincarnation, including the statement by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1975 concerning the work of reincarnation researcher Dr. Ian Stevenson: “In regard to reincarnation he has painstakingly and unemotionally collected a detailed series of cases … in which the evidence is difficult to explain on any other grounds.”
“There’s really no such thing as dying, it’s just ending this simulation,” Elvidge said, noting that “simulation” has certain connotations he’d rather avoid, but to simplify the concept he uses the word. “Spiritual” is also a word with certain connotations, he said, though his digital theory incorporates many phenomena people consider spiritual.
Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, found in the ancient Chinese science of Taoism true principles of duality and interconnectedness. Whether you call it yin and yang or binary code, you’re attempting to describe the deep and fundamental nature of reality.
Concerning the wisdom of ancient spiritual practices, Elvidge said, “These things didn’t come from nowhere, they came from people’s experiences.” They may certainly have truth to them and shouldn’t be so easily dismissed as out-dated.
The Elusive Theory of Everything?
Elvidge hopes the theory of a consciousness-driven digital reality may be embraced as the long sought-after Theory of Everything. Physicists have searched for a Theory of Everything to reconcile apparent disagreements between classical physics and quantum physics. Elvidge said this digital theory allows for the phenomena observed in both.
Looking at the history of science and plotting its potential future course, Elvide said we can expect a major shift soon. In the distant past, he said, humans viewed the world within tribal boundaries. Later, people realized there were multiple continents, a whole planet, other planets and solar systems, other galaxies. Now, physicists theorize about other universes. If you plot these expansions in understanding on logarithmic paper, said Elvidge, it forms a straight line. He said we are “exponentially extending the boundaries of our thinking.”
Update: Elvidge elaborated that there are two different types of data. The data that describes our bodies or a tree, for example, could be compared to the data that describes a picture (JPEG) file or a song (MP3) file. This kind of data is never referred to as code. “However, the word ‘code’ can also be used as ‘that which encodes,’ so in some sense the ‘digital code’ of a tree would be using the word this way,” he said. Binary code in a computer program refers to data that is executed by a computer. In this sense, our consciousness may emerge from the data in the greater system, and the “stuff” of our world would be determined by and worked on by this binary code.