Ep 22: Waking Up Inside The Cave [Pt 2]: Simulation Theory & The Holographic Universe
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Welcome back to The UFO Rabbit Hole Podcast. I’m your host Kelly Chase.
Today we’re diving into Part 2 of the Waking Up Inside The Cave series. If you haven’t listened to that part 1 yet (linked above), I highly recommend that you do so first. It’s linked in the episode brief.
For many who take the trip down the UFO rabbit hole, there comes a point where you find yourself asking much bigger questions about reality. It boils down to this:
The UFO phenomenon is impossible by every single measure that we use to determine such things, and yet it is. And the existence of the impossible posits that the models that we use to determine what is possible and what isn’t are irretrievably flawed. There is no other logical explanation. Frankly, if UFOs don’t make you question the nature of your reality, you haven’t understood them.
In part 1 of this series, we took a closer look at the most fundamental mean-making models that we have starting with the very origins of the universe. And I made the case that very little about this narrative makes any kind of rational sense, and that its only real utility lies in explaining things away without actually explaining them at all. When exposed to the harsh light of objective interrogation, the consensus view of reality quickly dissipates like morning fog.
Plato’s Cave has become a touchstone in this podcast because it provides the perfect framework for discussing the process of pursuing this line of questioning. And as we begin to recognize that consensus reality is little more than a shadowplay on the wall, the inevitable questions arise:
Where are we? What is this place? And what is the shadowplay meant to conceal?
We discussed back in episode 18 in my first interview with James Madden that humans are natural cave builders. All of the greatest achievements of civilization have required that we be able to create shared worldviews and agreed upon meanings for things. It’s our superpower every bit as much as it is our weakness. And I think it’s important to keep in mind that just because we find ourselves in a cave doesn’t necessarily mean that someone put us there. The walls of the cave could be entirely self-created.
And yet, when you find yourself tied up in a cave and recognize that the very nature of your reality has been concealed, seemingly intentionally, it’s impossible not to wonder about who your potential captors might be–and about what strange new world might be waiting for you outside its walls.
Over the past several years a strange and disturbing idea has been popularized by everyone from futurists to tech billionaires–namely that we are living in a simulation. Could this be the explanation for the strange position in which we find ourselves? Could Plato’s Cave be more than just an allegory? Could what we perceive as our reality actually be our prison?
It sounds like the plot of The Matrix, but the more we learn, the more likely this unsettling scenario becomes. Buckle up, because this rabbit hole is going to be a wild ride.
What Are The Chances That We’re In a Simulation?
So what are the chances that we are actually living in a simulation?
According to some, including Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson, the probability that we live in a fabricated reality is pretty high. The argument goes like this:
If you think about the earliest video games like Pong and compare them to video games now, you can see that this kind of technology is evolving exponentially, and as it does so, it gets closer and closer to replicating actual reality. If you’ve ever played a game with a virtual reality headset you know that, even though you wouldn’t mistake the world of the video game for real life, it can still trick your brain into processing that visual information as though it were real. If you stand on the edge of a cliff in the game, your stomach drops. If you ride a roller coaster you can practically feel the wind in your hair. If something jumps out at you, you get startled–and if you’re like me, make a very undignified squealing noise.
So if you assume that any rate of progress continues, it is inevitable that at some point in the future that we will be able to create simulated environments that are indistinguishable from reality. And when you combine that with the idea of massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and Fortnight, it seems not just possible, but likely, that someday playing a video game could literally feel like stepping into a different reality that feels just as real.
And the issue with that is that once you introduce the potential for realistic, fully immersive, simulated environments, then suddenly the chances that the reality that you find yourself in is base reality drops significantly. And if you imagine the proliferation of these simulations on a long enough timeline, then the chances that you are in base reality becomes something more like getting struck by lightning while holding the winning Powerball ticket–twice.
In fact, the only real way for us to be certain that we aren’t in a simulation would be if we were somehow the very first intelligence to create simulated realities. But given the fact that the Universe is nearly 10 billion years older than the Earth it seems pretty unlikely that we could be the first to reach that milestone.
In an influential paper on this topic, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom made the case that at least one of the following things must be true:
- All human-like civilizations in the universe go extinct before they develop the technological capacity to create simulated realities;
- If any civilizations do reach this phase of technological maturity, none of them will bother to run simulations; or
- Advanced civilizations would have the ability to create many, many simulations, and that means there are far more simulated worlds than non-simulated ones.
And that makes sense, right? There aren’t any plausible scenarios that we can think of that fall outside of those three buckets. So then the question becomes, which of these three possibilities is the most likely to be true?
The first possibility–that all human-like civilizations in the universe go extinct before they develop the technological capacity to create simulated realities–functions a lot The Great Filter that we discussed in episode three with regard to the Fermi Paradox. And given the fact that our modern technological society has created a world where we’re constantly flirting with a variety of plausible apocalyptic scenarios in the form of nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, viruses, and climatological disasters, this possibility can certainly give one pause. It’s easy to imagine countless scenarios, just based on the last 100 years of human history, whereby a civilization having reached a certain level of technological advancement could pretty quickly eradicate itself.
But I’d argue that we have more than sufficient data to dispatch this particular scenario. Because, sure–it’s altogether possible, and perhaps even likely, that a certain percentage of civilizations that reach a certain level of advancement end up destroying themselves. However, for this scenario to be true, all human-like civilizations that reach that point would have to destroy themselves. And it seems pretty clear that that is not the case.
The fact that we have highly advanced technological objects in our skies and underwater are clear evidence that humanity does not represent the pinnacle of technological progress even on our own planet. So if there is some kind of filtering event that happens at a certain level of technological advancement, we at least have confirmation that some civilizations have made it past that point.
We ourselves are perhaps only a few decades from creating fully immersive simulated environments. So we have to assume that whatever intelligence is behind, for example, the TicTac from the infamous Nimitz incident that was tracked going 80,000 ft in less than a second, passed that milestone a long time ago.
So we can safely rule out scenario #1.
The second scenario–that if any civilizations do reach this phase of technological maturity, none of them will bother to run simulations–is a little more complicated. After all, there are plenty of very logical reasons why a civilization would choose not to exercise the full scope of its technological ability. It is not in the best interest of any species to create technological objects that could potentially destroy or in some way enslave them. Creating fully immersive simulated environments would present that level of threat. So maybe it’s the case that civilizations that are smart enough to create such things choose not to.
However, just like in scenario #1, it’s not enough that some, or even most, of the civilizations who get to that point choose not to create simulations. All of them need to make that choice. And in the case of humanity, it’s pretty clear that that is just not how we operate. As we’ve discussed in previous episodes, particularly in my most recent interview with James Madden, we seem to be almost bewitched by our technology. How else can we explain the creation of nuclear weapons whose only purpose is our destruction?
And despite the fact that the existential horror of that creation has reshaped world politics and unleashed potential futures that are so bleak and terrifying that most of us just do our best not to think about it, we didn’t learn our lesson. Just a few weeks ago, on May 1, 2023, The New York Times published an article about Geoffrey Hinton, the 75-year-old godfather of AI who just left his position at Google and is sounding the alarm about his concerns about the very types of AI that he helped bring into being. He sees the rise of chatbot AIs as a very real and rapidly advancing threat for which we have no answer. Of his role in creating the very thing that he thinks could be the ultimate downfall of humanity as we know it he said, “I console myself with the normal excuse: If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would have.”
And we can see this over and over again. The “father of the atomic bomb”, J. Robert Oppenheimer famously said upon its detonation, “Now I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” And that quote seems to echo throughout history with the appended usual excuse, “If I hadn’t done it somebody else would have.” And although that kind of logic is chilling on its face, it’s hard to argue that it’s wrong. If they hadn’t, somebody else would have.
So if we look to human civilization as a guide, it seems pretty clear that we can rule out scenario #2. Unless humanity’s toxic relationship with potentially civilization-ending technology is some sort of wild outlier that is rarely replicated across the universe, it seems likely that some, if not most, humanlike civilizations that were capable of creating simulations would do so–regardless of the threat.
So that leaves us with scenario #3–that advanced civilizations who had the ability to create simulations would do so. And that means there are far more simulated worlds than non-simulated ones.
So are we living in a simulation? I don’t know. But if we’re just playing the odds, I wouldn’t bet against it.
Signs We’re In a Simulation
But maybe we don’t need to rely on probabilities to figure this one out. Afterall, if we’re in a simulation, there should be signs right? Hypothetically, we should be able to take what we know about simulations and extrapolate some kind of testable set of assumptions that would help us determine whether what we experience as reality is actually real or only simulated.
And, eerily, when we do this thought exercise, we find that our reality does, in fact, look and behave much like we would expect it to if it were a simulation.
Limits & Boundaries
First of all, if we’re living in a simulation, we’d expect that simulation to be self-contained, and this containment would reveal itself as limits in our knowledge about where we are. Just like you can’t find the edge of the world in World of Warcraft and then climb out of the server, there would be boundaries past which we would have no access. And past that boundary we’d have no ability to have knowledge of the outside conditions.
As we discussed in the last episode, these sorts of limits and boundaries at the edges of our reality do seem to exist. We’re taught that the fabric of our reality is space-time. But space and time can only exist in relation to matter. So before the Big Bang there was no space-time, and, therefore, no reality to speak of. This is why scientists tell us that asking what happened before the Big Bang is meaningless. And yet, it seems inconceivable that all of existence could spring out of true nothingness–which in and of itself is as impossible to conceptualize as it is to prove.
So we have this hint that, surely, something must have existed “before” the Big Bang, even if our particular Universe didn’t. But we have no way of accessing knowledge of what happened “before” the Big Bang. Beyond that point the very fabric of our own reality ceases to be, so whatever reality may exist beyond that horizon is utterly unknowable.
And not only do we know that the space-time we experience hasn’t always existed, we also know that it can break down. At the center of a blackhole, matter is compressed down into an infinitely tiny point, obliterating our concepts of space and time.
So we find ourselves embedded in space-time, a substrate of reality that appears to be able to be both created and destroyed. And from what we can tell mathematically, it seems that our particular instantiation of space-time has a definitive beginning around 13.8 billion years ago.
Basically, we find ourselves in a self-contained system, the boundaries of which are entirely opaque to us. We have no way of knowing what conditions, if any, exist outside of our known Universe. Which is exactly what we’d expect to see if we were in a simulation.
But that’s just one example. There are certainly other potential reasons for why we don’t know what happened “before” the Big Bang. And considering how much of the story of the Big Bang doesn’t make sense, it seems reasonable to allow that we might know more about what happened “before” the beginning of time at some point in the future. Or, more likely, we might learn something about the nature of our reality that will render all of these questions moot.
So there’s no need to jump to conclusions. For us to seriously consider this possibility we’d need more supporting evidence. But you might be surprised at how much supporting evidence there is.
Rules & Calibration
For example, another characteristic of reality that we’d expect to find if we were in a simulation is that it would be perfectly calibrated to support the particular conditions it was programmed to be simulating. Right? It’s so obvious that that would be true that it’s almost meaningless to say it. The whole point of a simulation is that it simulates a very particular set of conditions.
So if we assume that we’re in a simulation where we live on Earth, then everything in that simulation would be perfectly calibrated to create the conditions on Earth. Once again, this is super obvious to the point of being meaningless.
So why do I bring it up?
Well, as you’ll recall from our last episode, the Universe in which we find ourselves seems to be uncannily well-suited to support the existence of life. For example, if the Big Bang had been one-part-in-a-million more powerful, it would have expanded too quickly for the galaxies, and therefore life, to develop. If the strong nuclear force were decreased by just 2 percent, atomic nuclei wouldn’t hold together, and the universe would be filled with nothing but hydrogen. If the gravitational force were decreased by just a hair, stars (including the Sun) would not ignite.
These are just a couple of the more than 200 physical parameters within the universe that had to be precisely calibrated for life to be possible. If even one of these parameters were off even slightly, the likely result would have been a Universe devoid of life. The chances that the Big Bang would result in a Universe that is suitable to life are so vanishingly small that it becomes very difficult to posit any sort of rational explanation for how it actually happened.
Some would argue that the fact that we exist and are here to ask the question of why the Universe is perfectly calibrated to support life presupposes that life exists and so the question is moot. But that kind of circular logic doesn’t actually explain anything. The only thing it accomplishes is taking the very legitimate question of how we managed such a lucky roll of the cosmic dice and makes it out of bounds.
But if the Universe is a simulation, then suddenly we have a very straightforward explanation for why it’s so perfectly calibrated to support life–it was created to be. And it would suggest that the purpose of the simulation is deeply tied to life itself. Perhaps it’s to study how life evolves over eons. We don’t know, and without access to knowledge outside of the system it would be impossible to prove. But as far-fetched as the simulation hypothesis may sound, we have to admit that it does have at least some explanatory power in realms where we’d previously had only questions.
Now admittedly those first two examples are interesting, but they’re hardly the smoking gun in our investigation into whether or not we’re living in a simulation. With both examples we have no real way to verify or falsify the hypothesis, so we’re left with only conjecture.
One of the main problems with proving whether or not we’re in a simulation is that anything that we can observe, by definition, would be a part of the simulation. And without access to information from outside of the system, we have no way to say decisively whether we are in a simulation or not.
However, some have argued that there would be one artifact from the outside world that would be discoverable within a simulation–and that artifact is the simulation’s processing speed.
“Processing speed” refers to how quickly a computer can process data or instructions. So if, hypothetically, our reality is being simulated and is being hosted on something like a server somewhere, then the hardware that it’s running on would leave an artifact within the world of the simulation in the form of how fast it can process data. In other words, all the other laws and rules of the simulation would be a result of the simulation itself–or the software–but processing speed is a result of the hardware on which the software runs.
So if you were a character in a video game, all of the laws of the game would be part of the simulation. But no matter how complete and perfect the simulation was, anything you did within the game would be constrained by the processor speed because the hardware on which it’s running, by its very nature, can only process so much information at once. So it would be impossible for you to do anything faster than the time it took the hardware to process that information.
It follows then that if we live in a simulation, our universe should also have such an artifact. But what would that look like? By reverse engineering what the artifact would look like to us from inside the simulation, we have a starting point to determine if such an artifact exists in our reality.
First of all, the artifact would be unaffected by anything going on in the simulation and would be basically irrelevant within the simulated reality until you tried to do something that required the hardware to process information more quickly than it is able to. The way that we’d experience that inside of the simulation would be as an upper limit of some kind.
Another property of the artifact is that it would not be able to be explained by the underlying laws of the simulation because it’s separate from those laws. Again, the artifact is a result of the hardware, all of the other laws are a result of the software. As a result, this artifact would be taken as a “given” within the simulation. We wouldn’t be able to explain why it existed, we’d just know that it did exist when we bumped up against its upper limit.
And finally, the artifact would be absolute. There would be no exceptions, because there would be no situation in which the hardware would be able to process more information than it can process.
So when we put all of this together, the artifact would be an inviolable law of the universe, the cause for which we can’t explain but which operates as a basic underlying law of physics and which only reveals itself as an upper limit.
And when we consider the artifact in this way, it becomes clear that there is something within our reality that has all of these properties–the speed of light. The speed of light acts as the ultimate speed limit of the universe. As far as we know, it’s not possible for anything to move faster than that. And there’s nothing within the laws of physics that explains why this is the case, but we know that it is because it serves as an upper limit that is absolute and can’t be violated.
So could the speed of light be an artifact of the hardware on which the simulation of our reality is run? There’s no way to know for sure, but there are many that would argue that this is proof positive that we are living in a simulation.
And as we move on to examine other evidence that we may be living in a simulation, things only get spookier.
Let’s talk about rendering. If we use the example of a video game, rendering is the process of generating an image from a 2D or 3D model by means of a computer program. As you move through the world of the video game, it renders the world of the game in front of you from the underlying code of the game.
And for the purposes of this conversation, it’s important to recognize that the video game only renders what is in front of you. And that makes a lot of sense, because if the game had to continually render the entire world of the game it would waste a ton of resources and be extremely inefficient. So the world of the video game only exists as a programmed possibility within the game until it comes into your character’s field of vision.
And if this reminds you of the implications of the double-slit experiment, then you see where I’m going with this. We’ve already discussed the double-slit experiment and quantum mechanics in episodes 5 and 19, so if you need a refresher I’ll have those linked up with the appropriate time stamps in the episode brief so that you can listen to those sections again. I’m going to move forward here assuming that you already have a handle on those ideas.
For many people, myself included, the clear implication of the double slit experiment is that everything that we experience in our reality exists in a probabilistic state of superposition until it is observed. The very act of observation causes those probabilistic outcomes to resolve themselves into one definite reality.
Now granted, there are plenty of scientists out there who do not agree with that interpretation of quantum mechanics. And the reason for that is that it breaks everything that we thought we knew about what the world is and how it works. At around 7 or 8 months of age a baby begins to develop an understanding of object permanence. In this important developmental stage, a baby learns that something that is hidden out of their view still exists even if they can’t see it. This is why there is such a sharp drop off in how much you can blow a baby’s mind with a game of peek-a-boo. After a certain age, they understand that you’re still there behind your hands and the jig is up.
The understanding that things are still there even if we can’t see them is fundamental to the ways that we model the world as we learn and grow into adulthood. Without object permanence, you’d never know where you left your keys or how to get to the grocery store. The concept that objects are objectively still there even when we aren’t looking at them is one of our most basic meaning-making constructs.
And so it’s easy to understand why so many outright reject the idea that nothing objectively exists until it is observed. The implications of quantum mechanics turn our most basic assumptions about the nature of our reality on its head.
But despite their protestations, the nay-sayers aren’t able to offer any kind of a tenable alternative. Some simply throw up their hands and claim that quantum mechanics is impossible to understand and doesn’t make sense. And yet, quantum mechanics is one of the most successful quantitative theories ever produced. Not a single one of the untold thousands of experiments done to test it has ever found the basic principles to be in error. So how could something that can’t possibly be right work so well?
Perhaps the answer is that the nature of our reality isn’t what we think it is. We expect that things objectively exist whether or not someone is there to observe them. But quantum mechanics suggests that at the most fundamental atomic level that’s not the way it works. And the way it actually works, ends up looking a lot like the way the world is rendered in a video game.
Reality Is Pixelated
Another clue that we might be living in a simulation is that, much like in the world of a video game, reality is pixelated. Now to be clear, I’m not saying that reality is literally made out of pixels. But rather, I’m pointing to the concept that, just like an image that is rendered on a screen, when you zoom in close enough, you see that reality isn’t one continuous whole in the way we perceive it.
Reality, as we know it, is actually composed of countless tiny particles, from atoms to quarks to electrons, which make up everything in the universe. The behavior of these particles is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics.
One of the most remarkable aspects of quantum mechanics is that it reveals that reality is quantized. This means that energy, momentum, and other physical quantities can only exist in discrete, indivisible units that come together to form the whole–much like how individual pixels on a screen come together to form an image.
If we lived in a simulation, we’d expect to see much the same thing. Any simulation would ultimately have a finite resolution that would reveal itself as discrete, indivisible units much like pixels. Which is exactly what we see.
Glitches In The Matrix
Another potential sign that we’re living in a simulation would be the appearance of “glitches in the Matrix”. If our reality operates in a way similar to a video game, we’d expect that, occasionally, we’d encounter bugs or errors that disrupt the game’s continuity or consistency. If we’re in a simulation, small inconsistencies could be the result of changes or errors made by whoever is running it. These “glitches” may result in alterations to our shared histories, creating discrepancies between our collective memories and the reality presented to us.
And strangely, there is some significant evidence to support this–in particular, the Mandela Effect. The Mandela Effect is a term that was coined by paranormal consultant Fiona Broome in 2010 to describe a collective false memory she discovered at a convention, where many people, including herself, “remembered” Nelson Mandela dying in prison during the 1980s, even though he actually passed away in 2013. The phenomenon is marked by a large number of people sharing what appears to be an incorrect memory, which raises major questions about both the nature of our reality and our perception of it.
And this phenomenon is not isolated to the case of Nelson Mandela. One instance of the Mandela effect that I have always found particularly maddening involves Ed McMahon and Publisher’s Clearing House. Many people, myself included, distinctly remember McMahon delivering oversized checks to winners’ homes as part of the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. In my case, if anyone had asked me who Ed McMahon was, that would have been the first thing I said about him, and I would have bet any amount of money that I was right. I mean, I saw that. I know I did.
And yet, in actuality, McMahon was never associated with Publisher’s Clearing House. He actually worked for a different sweepstakes company called American Family Publishers. But he never went to anyone’s house. He never held a giant check. So why do so many of us remember it that way?
For me though, perhaps the most disturbing example of the Mandela Effect is The Berenstein Bears. I grew up with shelves full of Berenstein Bear books. I watched the show everyday. Both were very central to my early childhood memories. And I was a kid who was obsessed with words and with spelling. It’s virtually impossible for me to believe that this whole time it wasn’t The Berenstein Bears, but The Berenstain Bears. And yet, every shred of available evidence seems to indicate that that is the case. When I’m in a used book store I always make sure I swing by the kids section because I still have this irrational feeling that one day I’ll be able to find a copy of a book that says Berenstein instead of Berenstain. I never have. But the uncomfortable dissonance of this impossible memory means that I’ll probably never stop trying.
There are plenty of other examples of The Mandela Effect that you can explore. I’ll be sure to include some links in the episode brief if you’d like to take a deeper dive. If you’ve never looked into it before, it’s definitely a fun rabbit hole to go down. There are tons of examples, and if the ones I shared didn’t resonate, and you found yourself thinking, “Uh oh, Kelly’s lost it,” I’d encourage you to look up some other examples. Most people seem to share at least a few of these seemingly false memories, and it’s trippy when you realize that something that you were so certain of turns out to not be real–especially when millions of other people around the world remember it that way, as well.
And yet, as intriguing as the Mandela Effect is, especially in the context of this conversation about the possibility that we live in a simulation, it’s important to recognize there are plenty of other plausible explanations for the Mandela Effect that don’t rely on simulation theory. These explanations include false memories, confabulation, parallel universes, and even time travel. And obviously, we have no real way to confirm the cause of this phenomenon one way or another. But when we stack it up alongside the other evidence that we may be living in a simulation, it’s certainly eerie.
And there’s one final piece of evidence that we might be living in a simulation that’s worth mentioning. It’s a relatively recent idea that links the simulation hypothesis to our awareness of multiple plausible apocalypse scenarios by suggesting that we live in some kind of an ancestor simulator.
It goes like this: perhaps the point of this simulation is to explore how civilization copes with the growing existential risks we face. From nuclear annihilation to the rise of AI, we find ourselves on the brink of potential self-destruction. So could this convergence of potential apocalyptic scenarios be the very thing that this simulation was created to study?
The idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem at first glance. Simulations are often used for testing scenarios and predicting outcomes. For instance, we routinely use flight simulators to train pilots, simulating various possible scenarios and problems that they may encounter while flying a plane. Similarly, could our universe be a massive “civilization simulator,” where an advanced society tests how we handle existential threats?
In this context, each potential apocalyptic scenario represents a significant challenge that we must navigate to ensure our survival. A nuclear holocaust, a climate disaster, the devastating potential of artificial superintelligence, or even a deadly pandemic could each be seen as “tests” within the simulation.
An advanced civilization might be interested in running these scenarios for several reasons. They could be examining historical possibilities, exploring different outcomes to learn from past mistakes, or testing how a society similar to their own might handle various existential threats. It’s even been suggested that it could have been created by some version of us in the future trying to understand what happened to their ancestors in the distant past.
The Verdict: Do We Live In A Simulation?
So, having looked at all the evidence, what is the verdict? Do we, in fact, live in a simulation?
As compelling as some of the arguments for the simulation hypothesis are, the reality is that we can’t know for sure because the hypothesis isn’t falsifiable.
If we’re living in a simulation, there’s no definitive test we could perform that could potentially prove it false because any evidence we could collect is also part of the supposed simulation and can be manipulated or explained away by it.
Non-falsifiable hypotheses aren’t necessarily wrong or meaningless, but they aren’t scientifically valid because they can’t be tested and potentially proven wrong. So when it comes to whether or not we live in a simulation, there’s just no real way for us to know for sure.
And yet, when we look at the evidence that has presented itself, and when we look at our own history with advanced and potentially dangerous technology, it’s hard not to wonder if the reality in which we find ourselves might be much different, and much spookier, than we’ve been led to believe.
But perhaps there is another possibility that we can consider. What if the universe isn’t a simulation per se, but a hologram? Now, before your mind leaps to Star Trek-style holograms or even the ones you’ve seen on a credit card, remember this: the theory is a bit more complex and abstract than those examples, but I’ll do my best to keep it digestible.
What Is A Hologram?
Let’s start with talking about what a hologram is and how it works.
A hologram is a three-dimensional image produced through a process called holography. Unlike traditional photography, which captures a two-dimensional representation of a scene, holography records the light scattered from an object and then presents it in such a way that it appears as if the object is still there, giving the viewer a 3D experience.
Let’s dig a bit deeper into how this works.
First, let’s talk about the key ingredient: light. When you look at an apple, you’re seeing the light that bounces off the apple and enters your eyes. A traditional photograph captures this light on a 2D surface, but it loses the “depth” of the image. This is because it doesn’t capture the light’s phase information, which is about the waves’ position in their oscillation cycle.
Holography, on the other hand, captures both the intensity and the phase of the light wave. It does this by splitting a laser beam into two separate beams: the reference beam, which remains untouched, and the object beam, which bounces off the object we’re making a hologram of. When these two beams meet again on a piece of photographic film, they create an interference pattern that records the phase and amplitude of the light waves, thus preserving the 3D information of the object.
Now, imagine you’re looking at a holographic sticker on a credit card. As you tilt the card back and forth, you see the image change as if you’re viewing it from different angles. That’s because the hologram has recorded the light’s 3D information, allowing you to experience different perspectives just as you would with a real object.
Yet, despite their 3D appearance, holograms are physically 2D structures. The “depth” you see doesn’t come from actual physical depth in the image, but from the way your brain interprets the recorded light waves.
And if that doesn’t totally make sense or if you’re having a hard time visualizing how that works, don’t stress about it. The most important thing to remember is that a hologram is created by recording 3D information onto a 2D surface.
The Holographic Universe
OK. So now that we (more or less) understand how a hologram works, what does it mean to say that the universe itself might be a hologram?
The concept of the holographic universe, also known as the holographic principle, was initially proposed by physicist Leonard Susskind in the late 20th century based on the work of fellow physicists who were attempting to reconcile the theories of quantum mechanics and gravity.
The seed of the idea actually came from research into black holes. Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist, discovered that black holes aren’t completely black; they emit what’s now known as “Hawking radiation” and can eventually evaporate away. This leads to a paradox: if a black hole evaporates, what happens to the information about the matter it swallowed? According to the principles of quantum mechanics, this information can’t be destroyed.
To resolve this black hole information paradox, Susskind proposed the idea that all the information swallowed by a black hole is actually stored in a two-dimensional form on its surface area, its event horizon. If the information about everything that falls into a black hole is stored in 2D on its surface, then it’s possible the same could be true for the whole universe. This implies our 3D reality is a projection of information stored on a distant 2D surface, kind of like a hologram. It’s a pretty wild idea, right?
The key point here is not to think about the universe as a physical hologram, but rather as a mathematical one. It’s a new way to mathematically describe the universe and its workings at the most fundamental level. Even if the holographic principle is correct, we wouldn’t necessarily “feel” the universe as a 2D surface. We would still perceive our reality as 3D, much like we see a holograph on a credit card as 3D even though it’s flat.
To make things even weirder, the holographic principle implies that gravity and spacetime itself could be emergent properties coming out of the underlying quantum information. That idea in and of itself represents a profound paradigm shift in how we understand the universe. And it’s one we’ll keep coming back to as we move into part 3 of this series.
The Implications Of The Holographic Universe
The holographic principle is, frankly, mind-blowing. And the deeper you dive into this possibility, the more profound the implications become. It’s worth taking a quick tour through what the reality of a holographic universe could mean for the nature of reality as we know it.
And, if you find these ideas intriguing, a lot of what I’m about to discuss is drawn from a phenomenal book by Michael Talbot called The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality. It’s a super-fun read and does a great job of breaking down some of the more challenging concepts. I’ll link to it in the episode brief.
So let’s get into it.
No Need For A Programmer
First of all, one major difference between the holographic principle and various simulation theories is that it eliminates the need for a programmer.
As we’ve discussed, simulation theory suggests that our entire reality, including the universe itself, is an artificial construct—an advanced computer simulation created by a more sophisticated, technologically advanced civilization. Basically in this model, there is a puppeteer (or rather, a super-advanced programmer). The simulation theory implies intentionality and design behind our reality.
However, the holographic universe hypothesis, as we’ve discussed, suggests our 3D reality is a kind of projection from a 2D surface at the edge of the universe. But here’s the crucial point: in the holographic universe hypothesis, there’s no puppeteer pulling the strings. The projection happens naturally, as a result of the way the universe fundamentally works. It’s a natural process. It’s just how the universe operates and doesn’t necessarily require any intentionality or creator–though I’d argue that it doesn’t preclude one either.
Everything Is Everything
Another stunning implication of the holographic universe model is that everything that exists is interconnected on a deep and profound level, and that any divisions between things are illusions created by our limited perspective. To understand why this is, we need to return briefly to how a hologram works.
In a hologram, all the information necessary to create the entire holographic projection is contained within each individual part or region of the hologram. This means that every piece of the hologram holds the complete blueprint or encoding for the entire holographic image.
Similarly, in the holographic universe model, the information that makes up our reality is encoded throughout the fabric of the universe, much like the interference pattern on the holographic plate. Each individual part or region of the universe contains the complete information necessary to reconstruct the entire holographic projection.
Once again, if you’re having trouble visualizing that, don’t worry. Here’s another way to think about it. Imagine a holographic image of a flower. If you were to cut the hologram into smaller pieces, each fragment would still contain the encoding for the entire flower. Each fragment, when illuminated, would reconstruct the full image of the flower, albeit with reduced clarity due to the loss of some information.
In the same way, if we were to zoom in on a specific part of the universe, such as a single atom or a human being, that localized region would contain the information necessary to describe the entirety of the universe. The holographic model suggests that the universe is fundamentally interconnected, and every part reflects the whole in its encoded information.
This fascinating aspect of the holographic model of the universe brings to mind the words of the 13th century Persian Poet Rumi: “You are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.”
The Non-Local Universe
Another intriguing aspect of the interconnectedness implied by the holographic universe hypothesis is that it further implies a non-local universe. What’s so intriguing about this is that it could provide an explanation for some of the spookier and seemingly impossible aspects of quantum mechanics.
Let’s start with the idea of non-locality because it’s not super intuitive if you haven’t explored this idea before.
When we say that the universe is nonlocal, what we mean is that it operates beyond the limitations of locality or physical distance. In other words, events and phenomena in the universe can be connected and influence each other instantaneously, regardless of the spatial separation between them.
This is so counterintuitive to us because it flies in the face of everything we think we know about our reality and how it works. In our everyday experience, we tend to think of cause and effect as a linear progression. If event A happens in one location, its influence can only reach neighboring locations over time. Think of how the light from the sun takes 8 minutes to reach the Earth or how if you throw a rock into a lake, it will take a few moments for those ripples to reach the shore. This is the principle of local causality, where causes and effects are limited by the speed of light, and information can only travel at or below this speed.
However, the concept of nonlocality challenges this conventional understanding. In the realm of quantum physics, nonlocality refers to the instantaneous connection between particles or systems, even when they are separated by vast distances–or what Einstein famously referred to as “spooky action at a distance”. This means that changes in one particle can instantaneously affect the state of another, regardless of how much distance is between them.
One of the most famous examples of nonlocality is quantum entanglement. When two particles become entangled, their properties, such as spin or polarization, become correlated. This correlation remains even when the particles are physically separated by large distances. If the state of one entangled particle is measured or manipulated, the other entangled particle instantaneously “knows” and adjusts its state accordingly, irrespective of the spatial separation.
This instantaneous communication between entangled particles is a direct challenge to everything that we know about cause and effect. And it suggests a deeper underlying interconnectedness that transcends space and time. It implies that information is shared between the entangled particles faster than the speed of light, which as we’ve discussed, shouldn’t be possible. And yet it is.
The concept of nonlocality is baked into the holographic universe hypothesis. It suggests that this interconnectedness isn’t just a weird feature of quantum mechanics, but is a reflection of the very nature and fabric of reality, as a whole. Because just like in our example of the hologram of a flower that can be cut into tiny pieces and each piece can still generate the entire hologram, the holographic model proposes that the information that makes up our reality is distributed throughout the entirety of the universe. And therefore, any changes or influences on that information can have nonlocal effects.
To visualize this, imagine a hologram projected into space. If you were to modify a specific part of the holographic plate, it would instantaneously affect the entire holographic projection. Similarly, in the holographic universe hypothesis, any changes or interactions with the underlying holographic information would have the potential to ripple throughout the entire fabric of reality, transcending the limitations of space and time.
What’s so attractive, to me at least, about this model is that it proposes a view of reality wherein the strangest and most seemingly impossible features of quantum mechanics aren’t bizarre anomalies that we have to accept without having any way to understand or account for them. In this model, those things become obvious and integral parts of the fabric of reality itself. Frankly, it’s exactly the sort of paradigm shift that we’ve needed for the past century. That’s not enough to prove that it’s necessarily true, but at the very least it bodes well for the durability of this theory.
The Holographic Mind
And this idea has even more profound implications when we consider the implications for consciousness and the mind.
Again we come back to Rumi’s words, reminding us that we are “not a drop in the ocean, but the ocean in a drop.” What the holographic model suggests is the possibility that the mind itself is a holographic processor that is inextricably linked to the hologram itself.
Encoding & Decoding Information
For example, while a hologram is created by encoding information onto a two-dimensional surface, such as a holographic plate, the mind also encodes information through our senses, which capture and transmit sensory data to the brain. This sensory information is then processed and interpreted by the brain. Your experience of reality isn’t a direct experience, but rather the translation of coded information.
When you see a flower, the visual information is encoded through the sensory input of your eyes. This information is then transmitted to the brain, where it is decoded and interpreted, allowing you to perceive the flower as a three-dimensional object with specific colors, shapes, and textures.
As you’ll recall from part one of this series, we don’t currently have a great explanation for how that perception of our environment actually works. And while the holographic model of the mind doesn’t solve all of our problems with regard to our experience of consciousness, it at least helps us make some considerable progress.
Non-Local Information Exchange
And perhaps the most profound and challenging aspect of the holographic model is that it also suggests that the mind is not limited by physical boundaries, allowing for non-local information exchange. This means that the mind can access information beyond its immediate surroundings or even beyond the confines of space and time.
For instance, consider experiences like intuition or sudden insights. These often involve the mind accessing information or making connections that go beyond the linear thought process. The holographic nature of the mind suggests that this non-local information exchange is possible because consciousness is interconnected with the holographic fabric of the universe, allowing for the integration of information from a broader field of consciousness.
A New Paradigm of Reality Emerges
But that’s not all that the holographic model of the mind allows for. If it turns out that the mind and universe behave in the same manner as a hologram, then suddenly we have to completely rethink what is possible and what is impossible. And we quickly find that many of the things that we’ve written off and relegated to the realm of the “woo” suddenly make perfect sense.
In the holographic view, consciousness is not confined to the boundaries of the individual brain but is interconnected with the holographic fabric of reality. In that paradigm, things like telepathy, precognition, and other psi phenomena cease to be “spooky” and become logical and natural results of the cosmic order.
These experiences can be explained by non-local information exchange–something that quantum mechanics has already shown us to be possible. In the same way that two entangled particles can share information instantaneously regardless of whether they are right next to each other or on opposite sides of the galaxy, this model suggests that the mind may also be able to access non-local information in ways that are considered to be impossible under our current paradigm.
And that’s where we’ll leave it until next time. Because, frankly, from here the ideas only get more challenging and more profound. And as I’m hoping you can sense–this line of questioning
has led us, inexorably, to a tipping point.
We’ve dismantled our old ways of viewing the world. And through the process of interrogating our most fundamental assumptions we’ve stumbled upon some tantalizing clues hinting at a profound new way of thinking. We find ourselves on the precipice of a radical paradigm shift that has the potential to integrate the most impossible aspects of our reality from quantum mechanics to anomalous experiences–and yes, even UFOs.
Until next time.