Neil deGrasse Tyson is pretty sure the universe is a hologram

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City is widely recognized as one of the smarter people on the planet. Or at least in terms of cosmology, anyway. (Even though he’s still sticking with that whole dark matter theory, but that’s a subject for another day.) Tyson tends to veer out of his lane quite a bit though, sharing his opinions on all manner of subjects with some interesting results. For one example, when it comes to climate change, he’s not satisfied with berating the usual suspects and warning of greenhouse gas concentrations. He’d rather scare your children with visions of Santa Claus clinging to a chunk of ice like an anemic polar bear.

Also, for all of you nasty, dirty carbon burners out there, Tyson has big plans for renewable energy which leave boring (and insufficient) sources like wind and solar in the dust. He believes we should be tapping the wasted potential of hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanoes, and earth quakes to power the world. (No… I’m not making that one up.)

Of course, it turns out that none of that may matter anyway. You see, Tyson is now on record as believing that there’s a probability – perhaps even a high probability – that the entire universe is just a simulation running on somebody else’s computer. (Though not all of his colleagues agree.)

Physicist Lisa Randall, for example, said she thought the odds that the universe isn’t “real” are so low as to be “effectively zero.”

A satisfying answer for those who don’t want to sit there puzzling out what it would mean for the universe not to be real, to be sure.

But on the other hand, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was hosting the debate, said that he thinks the likelihood of the universe being a simulation “may be very high.”

Uh oh?

Tyson’s explanation is based on the premise that the universe is probably populated by more intelligent species than just us. (Fair enough.) And if any of them have been around for considerably longer than we have, they may be vastly more intelligent, ranking so far beyond our capabilities that they would think of us the same way we think of chimps or dogs in terms of brain power. I’m not sure how good of an analogy that is since I’d match some dogs I’ve had against quite a few people any day of the week, but still, it’s not a possibility we can rule out entirely.

So if they are that smart, the theory goes, they could very well have the capacity to fully simulate an entire universe right down to the last planet, continent, person and paramecium. And if it’s possible for them to do it, why wouldn’t they? And if we assume that they not only can do it, but have done it, then why wouldn’t our universe be some sort of hologram?

I suppose that’s one theory. But even if it were true we could never prove it. So much like anything else in the realm of philosophy, theorizing that the programmer might come along any day now and switch off the machine is no different than believing that the world may end tomorrow. You might be right, but what if it doesn’t? You still need to go on living your life and doing the best you can. But there’s one other possibility which Dr. Tyson and his colleagues might want to consider. What if everything in the universe is exactly as it seems? I realize what a boring idea that is, but it’s just possible that our five senses work just fine and everything we see is all that there is to see within the range of our telescopes and there’s a finite set of physical laws governing the universe. (We just haven’t figured them all out yet.)

Boring, sure. But also rather likely, don’t you think?


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