Neo may or may not be ‘The One,’ but we may very well be living in the Matrix.
Physicist Hong Qin from the U.S. Department of Energy’s, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory has developed an algorithm that predicts the orbit of planets in our solar system.
Qin created a computer program into which he fed data from past observations of the orbits of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and the dwarf planet Ceres. This program, along with an additional program known as a “serving algorithm,” then made accurate predictions of the orbits of other planets in the solar system without using Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation.
“Usually in physics, you make observations, create a theory based on those observations, and then use that theory to predict new observations,” said Qin detailing the concept in Scientific Reports. “What I’m doing is replacing this process with a type of black box that can produce accurate predictions without using a traditional theory or law.”
“Essentially, I bypassed all the fundamental ingredients of physics. I go directly from data to data,” Qin said. “There is no law of physics in the middle.”
The process is very similar to the philosophical thought experiments like John Searle’s Chinese Room, where a person who did not know Chinese could nevertheless “translate” a Chinese sentence into English or any other language by using a set of instructions, or rules, that would substitute for understanding. The thought experiment raises questions about what, at root, it means to understand anything at all, and whether understanding implies that something else is happening in the mind besides following rules.
Qin was inspired in part by Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom’s philosophical thought experiment that the universe is a computer simulation, reports Science Daily. If that were true, then fundamental physical laws should reveal that the universe consists of individual chunks of space-time, like pixels in a video game. “If we live in a simulation, our world has to be discrete,” Qin said. The black box technique Qin devised does not require that physicists believe the simulation conjecture literally, though it builds on this idea to create a program that makes accurate physical predictions.
The resulting pixelated view of the world, which is similar to what is portrayed in the movie The Matrix, is known as a discrete field theory, which views the universe as composed of individual bits and differs from the theories that people normally create. While scientists typically devise overarching concepts of how the physical world behaves, computers just assemble a collection of data points.
While scenarios like reality being a simulation has been widely talked about and considered conspiracy theories, Qin’s research may hint at a predictive scenario for more than just planets, but all living things, in a much broader context.