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Janie B. Cheaney: Through a snow globe dimly

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WORLD Radio - Janie B. Cheaney: Through a snow globe dimly

New theories drawn from computer science help us see reality and our place in it


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MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Up next: WORLD commentator Janie B. Cheaney on man’s search for the nature of reality.

JANIE B. CHEANEY, COMMENTATOR: The human brain is a mysterious thing. As my husband’s dementia progresses, I’m saddened and distressed—but also intrigued. What disturbs his placid disposition and makes him ask over and over, “Where am I?” This is normal for Alzheimer’s sufferers, but he’s touching a question common to humanity.

Plato famously speculated that we all live in the equivalent of a cave, viewing projections of an ideal world beyond our comprehension. Later philosophers played with variations on the theme that “reality” (however they define it) is a projection of our minds. Some said reality may not even exist at all.

How do we explain this odd sense of displacement? Maybe it shouldn’t surprise us when today’s techno-philosophers say the universe is a giant computer simulation. Elon Musk may be the most prominent true believer, but noted scientists have glommed on to the theory, as well as science popularizers like Neil deGrasse Tyson. In 2003, a ground-breaking essay by Nick Bostrum asked, “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” Moviegoing fans of The Matrix had already taken that red pill.

What’s the evidence? Fouad Khan, in Scientific American, draws his conclusion from computer science. Digital processing requires one constant, and that’s processor speed. In our universe, the speed of light is the one constant; Khan sees that behind a giant computer simulation we call “reality.” Physics professor Melvin Vopson proposes a “second law of infodynamics,” which seems to support the “simulated universe theory.” He theorizes that the loss of information, or energy, in the universe must be balanced by a surplus outside it.

That’s the best I can summarize what these men think; no doubt their theories sound much more convincing when they explain themselves. But haven’t we had a better explanation all along?

In a playful but serious Wired essay, Jason Kehe quotes Australian philosopher David J. Chalmers. “I’ve considered myself an atheist for as long as I can remember,” Chalmers wrote. “Still, the simulation hypothesis has made me take the existence of a god more seriously than I ever had before.” Of course, Kehe’s superbeing may not be moral, or righteous. “For all we know,” he writes, “it’s some little xeno-kid banging away at their parents’ keyboard.”

But Scripture tells us this: The reality of atomic bonds and molecular structures is no illusion, for Colossians 1:17 says that “in him all things hold together.” Our universe is as real as a snow globe, but a greater Reality holds it, and He will one day shake it. Now we see from inside the globe as through smoked glass, but then as face to face. Then me and my husband and our brothers and sisters in Christ will finally know ourselves and our place in the world, as we are fully known.

I’m Janie B. Cheaney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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