George Berkeley and God’s Xbox

Recently, Elon Musk aka “The Real Tony Stark” came out and said that we are almost certainty living in a simulation.You can find him talking about it here:

So he, in effect, said what many theoretical physicists have been saying for years. Since it is now trendy and cool, I thought it was good time to blog about it, since there’s no more burning free thinkers at the stake of materialism for such heresy, at least not at the moment.

In my introductions to the philosophy of mind, I offered what I felt is enough to cast serious doubt upon philosophical materialism, and quantum mechanics is causing us to doubt many sorts of dualism as well. The common view towards objective reality (the view that reality is physical and can be explained by physical processes) is consistently being called into question by new scientific data. So much, in fact, that we have brand new fields of research emerging from the appearance that reality is quantized, such as digital physics and quantum biology. Information seems to be the basis of everything, from space-time to DNA. The hard sciences are beginning to make more sense from a computer engineering perspective.

You might have heard of “The Simulation Hypotheses”, which states that reality seems to be information based and operating outside of the space-time manifold. It sounds ludicrous, right? Let’s try to keep it simple and look at the data.

For example, the Big Bang is one of the most firm scientific theories we have found in physics. It claims that space, time, and matter all came into existence at a point in the finite past. But how does space-time emerge from a philosophical nothing?

Einstein discovered that nothing travels faster than the speed of light, and it is supposed to be traveling through empty space. But why and how can empty space have properties? Also, this light is made up of extremely small photons, which we now know are both particles and waves. These particles can be in different places and their position isn’t definite (this is called superposition) and can be caught up with one another in what is called “quantum particle entanglement”.

But here’s the messed up part: even if they’re light years apart, what happens to one particle alters the other and these particles technically do not exist until they are “measured”. Which is a way of saying we don’t know where the hell they are until we look at them. In other words, matter seems to act like pixels. And guess what pixels require? A processing limit, which requires a limited number of components.

Over 40 years ago, physicist John Belle put forth a thought experiment trying to debunk the wacky world of quantum mechanics, and place it back into a classical objectively realist setting. “In his thought experiment, a source fires entangled pairs of linearly-polarized photons in opposite directions towards two polarizers, which can be changed in orientation. Quantum mechanics says that there should be a high correlation between results at the polarizers because the photons instantaneously “decide” together which polarization to assume at the moment of measurement, even though they are separated in space. Hidden variables, however, says that such instantaneous decisions are not necessary, because the same strong correlation could be achieved if the photons were somehow informed of the orientation of the polarizers beforehand. Bell’s trick, therefore, was to decide how to orient the polarizers only after the photons have left the source. If hidden variables did exist, they would be unable to know the orientation, and so the results would only be correlated half of the time. On the other hand, if quantum mechanics was right, the results would be much more correlated – in other words, Bell’s inequality would be violated.

Many realizations of the thought experiment have indeed verified the violation of Bell’s inequality. These have ruled out all hidden-variables theories based on joint assumptions of realism, meaning that reality exists when we are not observing it; and locality, meaning that separated events cannot influence one another instantaneously.”[1]

In “Quantum information and randomness”, multiple award prize winning physicist and overall badass Anton Zeilinger summarized his research on the matter, writing, “Bell mathematically proved that the combination of these three assumptions, denoted as local realism, is at variance with quantum mechanics. He derived an inequality, which is satisfied by all local realistic theories but which can be violated by entangled quantum states. Starting in the 1970s, a series of ground-breaking experiments disproved local realism (the view that quantum states have properties when they are not being observed) and showed perfect agreement with the predictions from quantum theory . . . In the last decades, it has turned out that foundational aspects of quantum physics are not only of philosophical interest but have opened up striking new possibilities of a new quantum information technology. Features like superposition and entanglement can be exploited to solve certain tasks which cannot be solved – or at least can-not be solved that efficiently – by purely classical machines. Among the most famous developments in this new field of quantum information . . . In retrospect, regarding the notion of causality, the framework of physics has undergone a paradigmatic change with the advent of quantum mechanics about 80 years ago. The deterministic character of physics has been abandoned and knowledge and information have become central concepts. The foundations of quantum theory have not only shone new light on one of the deepest philosophical questions, namely the nature of reality, but have in the past decades also led to the possibility of new technologies.”[2]

Or as one of Zeilinger’s lead researchers Andrew Truscott said, “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it”.[3]

And what do we make of The Holographic Principle, which is now almost universally accepted among physicists? This “mathematical principle that the total information contained in a volume of space corresponds to an equal amount of information contained on the boundary of that space. This dependence of information on surface area, rather than volume”[4]. In other words, the 3D universe seems to be built upon a 2D surface.

Add that to the fact that most physicists are in agreement that conscious observers cause indeterminate and possible particles to “materialize”, which is, again, the notion that when you’re not looking at something, as far as quantum physics is concerned, it doesn’t exist, and life is starting to look like we live in an Xbox.

Everywhere we look, information appears to be the most fundamental element of reality. So let’s take what we’ve discussed thus far (which is a miniscule amount of evidence) and compare it to if we were in a simulation . . .

Dr. Brian Whitworth, in his exhaustive peer-reviewed paper “Emergence of the Physical World from Information Processing”, writes, “What is usually the subject of science fiction is here proposed as a scientific theory open to empirical evaluation. We know from physics how the world behaves, and from computing how information behaves, so whether the physical world arises from ongoing information processing is a question science can evaluate. A prima facie case for the virtual reality conjecture is presented. If a photon is a pixel on a multi-dimensional grid that gives rise to space, the speed of light could reflect its refresh rate. If mass, charge and energy all arise from processing, the many conservation laws of physics could reduce to a single law of dynamic information conservation. If the universe is a virtual reality, then its big bang creation could be simply when the system was booted up. Deriving core physics from information processing could reconcile relativity and quantum theory, with the former how processing creates the space-time operating system and the latter how it creates energy and matter applications . . . Still, the usual straw man objective realists attack is Bishop Berkeley’s solipsism, that the physical world is a hallucination, where a tree falling in a wood makes no sound if no-one is there to hear it. Dr Johnson is said to have reacted to the idea of the world as a dream by stubbing his toe on a stone and saying “I disprove it thus” . . .That the physical world is a virtual reality doesn’t make it an illusion, and that the physical world is not objectively real doesn’t mean that nothing is.”[5]

So, do we live in a virtual reality? Let’s think about. There are many different ways of approaching this idea. Some say that we are being simulated by future humans or even aliens, but if that were the case, then those that simulated by us would be also be limited to the same physical laws that limit us. A simulation of a simulation, so on and so forth. It’s a textbook example of an infinite regress and a blatant violation of Ockham’s Razor. If we’re living in a simulation based on classical physics, then the universe would have to be based upon a computer larger the entire universe itself. So, what’s left?

The universe is a simulation in a necessarily existing mind.

This is a much simpler explanation. A mind doesn’t require material, can process information, and is required for the collapse of a wave function to form matter. So, let’s go back to George Berkeley’s treatise on God and the senses we covered in part 2 of our Mind-Body series, when he writes, “ . . .it is evident, that God is known as certainty and immediately as any other mind or spirit whatsoever, distinct from ourselves. We may even assert, that the existence of God is far more evidently perceived than the existence of men . . . There is not any one mark that denotes a man, or effect produced by him, which does not more strongly evince the being of that spirit who is the Author of Nature . . . He alone it is who upholding all things by the word of his power, maintains that intercourse between spirits, whereby they are able to perceive the existence of each other. And yet this pure and invisible light which enlightens everyone is itself invisible.” [6]

Now, let’s go back to Whitworth’s comment I cited earlier, when he wrote, “Still, the usual straw man objective realists attack is Bishop Berkeley’s solipsism, that the physical world is a hallucination.”

Berkeley did not advocate Solipsism. He escaped the view of Solipsism by stating that the world was real, that we all exist, just real and existing as an idea in the mind of God. It’s not a hallucination, it’s just not matter. It’s actually happening, just happening in his own consciousness. God’s conscious perception is collapsing all wave functions in the universe. So here it comes, the Digital Physics Argument for God:

P1. Simulations can only be simulated in a computer or in a mind.

P2. The universe is a simulation.

P3. A simulation on a computer still must be simulated in a mind (avoiding infinite regress and not a violation of Ockham’s Razor).

P4. Therefore, the universe is a simulation in a mind.

P5. This mind is what we call God.

Conclusion: Therefore God exists.

“As a man who has devoted his whole life to the most clearheaded science, to the study of matter, I can tell you as a result of my research about the atoms this much: There is no matter as such! All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particles of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. . . . We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent Mind. This Mind is the matrix of all matter.” – Max Planck[7]

Not only is the universe queerer than we imagine, it is queerer than we can imagine.” –J.B.S. Haldane[8]

“I, at any rate, am convinced that He (God) does not throw dice”. –Albert Einstein, in a letter written to Max Born[9]

Don’t tell God what to do.” –Max Born, in response to Einstein[10].


[1] Cartwright, J. “Quantum Physics Says Goodbye to Reality”. Nature. Ed. 446-871. 20 April 2007. Ret. 1 July 2016. Web.

[2] Kofler, J and Zeilinger, A. “Quantum Information and Randomness”. Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI), Austrian Academy of Sciences, University of Vienna. Ret. 1 July 2016. Web.

[3] This statement was made at a press release on 27 May 2015.

[4] Ret. 1 July, 1016. Web

[5] Whitworth, B.The emergence of the physical world from information processing.” Quantum Biosystems. 2010 (2) 1. Pg 242. Massey University, Albany, New Zealand. Ret. 1 June 2016. Web.

[6] Berkeley, George. “A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge” Classics of Western Philosophy, 8th Edition. Ed. Steven M Cahn. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 2012. Pg. 784. Print.

[7] “The Nature of All Matter”. Honorary speech in Florence, Italy, circa 1944.

[8] Haldane, J.B.S. “Possible Worlds and Other Papers”. Pg. 286. 1927. Print.

[9] Letter to Max Born, 4. December 1926, Einstein Archive 8-180. Ret. 1 July 2016. Web.

[10] This response is attributed to Born, but not a firm quotation.

6 thoughts on “George Berkeley and God’s Xbox

  1. Wow, this is perhaps the best, most informed, and all around deepest post of yours I’ve read so far. There’s so much in here that I’ll definitely have to read it through several times. I must admit that my scientific training/literacy is limited, and although I’m very interested in physics and quantum mechanics, I haven’t yet been able to do much research in it yet. I’m going to read this through several more times and then post comments/questions. Thanks for posting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, man! There are many objections to the argument, such naive realism and many worlds hypothesis, but they all fail..if it becomes a point of debate here I will post a list of refutations to objections. But the most important aspects to this evidence are actually not scientific but philosophical and Theological. The main objections actually come from theologians who are left with only a few options such as pantheism, panentheism, or weak panentheism (weak versions are not in conflict with Orthodox Christianity). Dualism is also hard to maintain under the simulation hypothesis but it’s no problem for a dual aspect idealist. I was concerned about making this post it all because it will definitely take away from my time to write more introductions to the mind and body problem but they are obviously very closely related.


  2. Ok, here are the first few comments and questions I have after reading it through again:
    1. First, I should be up front that my knowledge of both quantum physics and computer science are limited, so much of this probably goes over my head. I need to do a lot more research on it, because I find it very interesting
    2. I should also be open and honest in saying that I’m not exactly comfortable with some of the implications of the ideas discussed here. Besides the fact that you could use some of these ideas for possible arguments for theism (as you provided an example of), I must admit that I have an a priori preference for realism (referring to the real, objective existence of the external world). Of course, this is not to say that I can’t be persuaded otherwise, as a value of truth must always be placed above preferences, but that is just my starting position.
    3. Some of the points you made raised questions for me about the very definition of “physical” and “simulation.” If, in the end, it is true that all of the reality we perceive is a “simulation” in the mind of God, then, relative to us, could we not still say that it is “physical reality”? Meaning that relative to God it is a simulation, but relative to us and our existence it is physically and objectively real? Also, I’m having trouble grasping how a simulation could be “in a mind.” Does that just mean that God is “thinking” or “imagining” these things?
    4. You mentioned several times that “information is the basis of everything.” I’m not sure where you stand on Intelligent Design, but this might pose a challenge to their theories, because they take it that we never see information in the “material” world except as a result of intelligence, and since dna is information, it must be the result of intelligence. But if the basis of all reality is information after all, then there’s nothing really special about DNA specifically. But then again, you could just argue, as you do, that all of a reality is actually a result of intelligence. This actually might correspond nicely with the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical tradition (which I am sympathetic to), which holds that everything that exists can point towards or be directed towards some end/purpose/goal (which is what information does), and that is actually the basis of Aquinas’s Fifth Way, which states that there must be an Intellect and Will directing all of this.
    5. I’m having trouble understanding the claim that particles don’t actually EXIST until measured. I’ve heard this before in my limited experience with quantum physics, but could you spell this out a bit more, or point me to some resources for understanding it better?
    Thanks again for the great and thought provoking article!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 1. Don’t worry, it’s probably the most confusing subject in any human endeavor. Whoever thinks they know the most about QM is probably the most ignorant of it.
      2. Not many are comfortable with the notion. I certainly wasn’t. I, like you, wanted to cling to a realist perspective. But I’m following the evidence where it leads. Remember: if we rejected an idea based on how well it aligned with our common sense view of experience, then we wouldn’t have accepted relativity theory, quarks, black holes, etc. I get it. Einstein felt the same way, actually.
      3. When we use the word “simulation”, it can be held as synonymous with “bringing about”, or “actualized”. It is being made so by God’s constant perception upon what we perceive to be “Physically real”. There are many ways we can go with this in respect to natural theology and the way that God interacts with his creatures. He is not dreaming us, but we are genuinely upheld as actual in his mind, as he is the utmost observer of the cosmos. “In him we live and move and have our being” Acts. 17:28 and “He is before all, things, and in him all things held together” Colossians 1:17 become literal.
      4. I am not opposed to ID as a philosophical position via abductive logic, nor am I opposed to it as an a priori approach to hard sciences. But remember that QM studies the most base of reality (which has pretty much become metaphysics), then physics, then biology, and so on. So to say that it might make nothing special of the info in DNA is not in accordance with the approach that we take to QM as a discipline, namely, as the deepest study of reality. DNA info is very special! It’s just better explained by following physics to QM to its natural conclusion. After all, we look in biological systems and see it works identically to computer systems in so many ways (self-correction, a “good info in” and the passing of the “junk DNA” theory). These are all best explained by VR, so much in fact that its opened a new a new door in the study of biology: quantum biology. As far as Aquinas is concerned, absolutely, there is an intellect and will directing all motion. What’s fundamentally different is how this agent’s intellect interacts with “material” and “souls”.
      5. Particles are matter. But since the advent of QM, we have found that they act in weird ways and are not actually matter as we would understand them in, say, chemistry or biology. One “particle” is broken down into smaller elements (protons, neutrons, electrons, hypothetical quarks, etc) and these elements can be all over the place, sometimes even more than one place at the same time. Einstein described it as a “spooky action at a distance”. But these elements suddenly become one particle (matter) when observed (measured). So, when I’m not looking at something, QM says that it shouldn’t be there. But it is there!! They do exist!! That’s why I feel that God is the best explanation because it is among his attributes to be omnipresent and personal.
      Also, I would like to take this opportunity to further my Xbox analogy. QM tells us that life is like a computer, and we are participants. So imagine when you play a video game. You control to your left or right, and what was on the screen is fluidly pixelated, but it wasn’t on the screen until you controlled your character into that direction. That is how wave functions and observations work.
      Now (and this is just but one way of looking at it), consider that your character is not actually you, but a representation controlled by you. God is watching YOU (your soul) control “you” (your body), and the room YOU are in is the universe, all upheld by his own fundamental consciousness. The “you” (the body) is the least real of the whole experience.
      QM, in my experience, has turned a lot of atheists into deists, pantheists or theists, and I would be happy to explain why Christianity best explains it. But, for now, I hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I forgot to add that the smaller elements are predicted by mathematical models, since many are too small to measure. Whichever model best predicts, hence, confirms their location is considered most valid. Models that deliver idealistic baggage, over and again, perform best in a repeatable and testable way. Also, my Xbox analogy was from a dual-aspect idealist perspective. I offered this analogy out of sympathy for your understandable bias to some sort of realism. Berkeley would say there is no body, nor matter, as such. I lean towards his view now, but, who knows. Wait a bit LOL. Some would also say that the universe would be the computer itself, and God its programmer, separate from it.. some would say the screen is the universe.. sheesh I’m just peeling back an onion for you…


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