For those who enjoy computer lingo, a bit is a fundamental unit of information. If we apply the concept to the universe we would have to expect trillions upon trillions of them running it in a simulation.

Simulation Theory is popular today with laymen and pundits alike. What does the universe consist of? We could find out by examining a simulation that yields roughly 6 x 10^{80} bits of information, at least according to a recent estimate. This type of sci-fi speculation revolves around the amazing possibility that the universe could actually be a gigantic computer simulation.

The Simulation Hypothesis, as it is also known, is rather mind-boggling. Perhaps a trip to the past will help. Rolf Landauer was a German-American physicist in the past or mid-twentieth century.

He proposed about six decades ago that there is a possible equivalence between information and energy. He came to this conclusion while observing that erasing a digital bit in a computer produces heat (albeit a tiny amount) in the form of energy.

It smacks of Albert Einstein’s famous equation E = mc^{2}, which asserts that energy and matter are different forms of one another. Then Melvin Vopson, a physicist at the University of Portsmouth in England surmised that a relationship could in fact exist between information, energy and mass. “Using the mass-energy-information equivalence principle, I speculated that information could be a dominant form of matter in the universe.”

The concept behind this statement is that information may account for dark matter or the “mysterious substance” of cosmic matter. Vopson wanted to determine the amount of information in one single subatomic particle – proton or neutron. They are known by three basic characteristics: mass, charge, and spin. “These properties make elementary particles distinguishable [from] each other, and they could be regarded as ‘information’”

Enter Claude Shannon. His groundbreaking paper, A Mathematical Theory of Communication, turned heads in 1948. The American mathematician and engineer was looking at the maximum efficiency for transmitting information. The concept of the bit was born with value of either 0 or 1. It serves to measure units of information just as distance is measured in feet or meters or temperature is measured in degrees.

With Shannon’s equations stored in his memory, in the journal, AIP Advances, Vopson calculated that a proton or neutron should contain the equivalent of 1.509 bits of encoded information. He was able to estimate the total number of particles in the observable universe. It came to around 10^{80}. This rings a bell. It is the total information content of the cosmos as mentioned above and is a rather enormous number.

But does it account for all the dark matter in the universe? This was a question that came to Vopson soon after. Yes, the number of ten trillion times his equation could do it. “The number I calculated is smaller than I expected ” but apparently he was unsure of the cause. Something could have been lacking in the calculations of protons and neutrons, perhaps missing the import of electrons, neutrinos and quarks. He assumed that only protons and neutrons store information about their nature.

This assumption could be wrong. Vopson even admits it. Other particles could store such information too. His calculations are thus unlike others, mostly lower in number. So say Greg Laughlin, an astronomer at Yale University. “It’s sort of ignoring not the elephant in the room, but the 10 billion elephants in the room.” He is referring to the many particles not considered in Vopson’s new estimate.

The application of such work has yet to be fully realized. We are still busy speculating about the cosmos and its resemblance to a gigantic computer simulation. We have been heavily involved in AI and VR obviously!

Per Laughlin, the so-called Simulation Hypothesis is “a really fascinating idea…calculating the information content, basically the number of bits of memory that would be required to run [the universe], is interesting.”

Yes it is, and there is more to come. Already Nir Ziso of The Global Architect Institute has added his model of Simulation Creationism to the mix. Is it another hypothesis? It depends on how you view the concept of an observer of human life and creation recording his emotional reactions to what is being observed in the simulation.

“There’s no way to know whether that’s true,” said Laughlin.