The Case for a Computational Universe


Unsplash image of massive parallelism

What do you think the universe is made of? What can explain not only the stuff you see, but also the fact that it is described by math and logic? What must it be made of that it intrigues or annoys you to be asked these questions–that you have a subjective experience seemingly separate?


The case for matter is overblown just by percentages–it makes up less than 5 percent of the known mass/energy balance of the observable universe–even if we precisely know this little bit. The rest of the balance is made of dark matter–which at least acts like matter–and dark energy, which doesn’t.


I would be shocked if scientists even 200 years from now considered matter more than an effect of a more fundamental constituent.


Materialism’s ontological nemesis is none other than consciousness–the ghost in the machine. The first universal consciousness was God, but worshipping a specific tribal deity and dogma seems like an arcane way of answering a scientific question. Unfortunately, we know so little about how to investigate our consciousness, that considering the experience of other creatures–especially one as grand as the whole universe–is also at present only a metaphysical question.


What do you think the universe is made of? What can explain not only the stuff you see, but also the fact that it is described by math and logic?

Let us leave briefly a conscious universe and consider a computational universe. While metaphysics has considered the universe to be in turns geometric, mechanical, and even steam-powered while these technologies were preeminent, the computer is different in that it is already a universal machine. Computers are simply vessels for the important universal processes or computations that exist in relationship with information, matter, and other processes.


Write a system of processes–an algorithm–that represents the known laws of Newtonian physics and run it on a classical computer inside a VR headset, and you get a reality that approximates reality. The universe can be recompiled from the Algorithms of Nature. The higher the fidelity the code has to the fundamental equations (the Standard Model and relativity) and the closer the hardware is to a quantum computer, the more you will be able to simulate our universe. We haven’t ingeniously developed the math; instead the universe works as a compilation of the source code, which is describable in what we call math.


Computations in our terrestrial landscape require storage and source code, the tape and instructions in the Turing machine. As we have discussed, the Laws of Physics are our source code, but what of the storage. Here we look to the solution for the apparent loss of entropy in a black hole.


First, let us consider a system of 1,000 dimes arranged in a neat circle so each dime is just touching each dime around it. We don’t have to know the heads or tails state of any of the dimes to know the amount of information they contain. Our dimes are a binary system, they can only answer a question as heads or tails, and there are 1,000 of them… so we have 1,000 bits of information, 1,000 distinct answers to the question “heads or tails?”


But what if we added an unknown number of dimes to our dime-circle? We could correlate the amount of information added to the surface area of our circle. This is the same response we see in a black hole when we throw anything from dimes to entire galaxies into them, they increase in surface area, creating a database on the surface of the blackhole, between the event horizon.

The surface of the universe may store information in the same way as the surface area within the event horizon of a black hole–this is called the Holographic principle. The storage node of our computational universe may be the fabric of the universe, operating on quantum principles, projecting us and our spacetime 4-D world as a matter hologram into the bulk. Experiments and further development of the holographic principle are underway as they have been very useful and seem to describe the translation of the information contained in quantum process to material in the bulk… and visa versa.


We haven’t ingeniously developed the math; instead the universe works as a compilation of the source code, which is describable in what we call math.

The only snag is that, even given the massive amount of information theorized to be available on the surface of the visible universe, it is not enough to calculate even the smallest number of entangled particles in a quantum system. A stack dump is not possible for the universe, and neither is a continuous sheet of information (there has to be a distinction in bits), the only solution is one used to great effect in your computer right now–parallelism.

Unlike your parallel processing computer, additional cores cannot be placed on the motherboard of our universe–instead we count on something far better–full parallel universes with storage and processes nearly matched to ours.


Parallel universes, like those theorized in the Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, are the best explanation for the quantum superposition of states in a single particle, dual-slit experiment and for the fact of high orders of quantum entanglement given the limited computational time and storage of a single universe. The quantum computers that are under development are able to efficiently compute prime factors for encryption because they utilize the massive parallelism of many worlds–our computational universe is extraordinarily efficient at utilizing this parallelism.


It is a paradigm to think about the universe as more a system of processes than as a collection of point particles and fields and energies. Where a material universe has to separate brains from mind, a computational universe offers a means by which consciousness could be another parallel process–one just not yet understood and so not yet describable by humans.


A strong case can be made that our universe is a massively parallel computational universe. This is a hypothesis that describes much of the nature of both existence (processes, information, and both light and dark matter/energy) and experience (consciousness) and why the universe is describable. Experimentation and further quantum computational development will ultimately determine the truth-value of this claim, but there is value in developing such speculations as they give us a glimpse into a possible future of science–a path which might grant our posterity a foothold against the existential problems of the day or to appreciate greater well-being than we can even imagine.