(TMU) – Physics professor Vitaly Vanchurin has an idea that he openly admits is “crazy.” But, crazy or not, he thinks it just might be true.
His new paper posits an incredible and controversial hypothesis: “the entire universe on its most fundamental level is a neural network.”
Fundamentally, he argues, the idea can be considered a “theory of everything,” a way to reconcile the two most successful models of the physical universe – general relativity (the big stuff) and quantum mechanics (the small stuff) – into a unified framework.
Up until this point, this elusive theory of quantum gravity has eluded cosmologists and physicists.
Along with the conundrums of dark energy and dark matter, the friction between the relativistic and quantum worlds of science has contributed a steadily rising anxiety to what some scientists believe is a full-blown crisis in cosmology.
How can there be one theory that works perfectly for the macroscopic world and one theory that works perfectly for the microscopic world and yet the two theories contradict each other and cannot both be true as currently constructed?
This is where Professor Vanchurin, who teaches physics at the University of Minnesota Duluth, says his idea of the universe as a neural network may be able to better explain a more fundamental reality from which other properties and forces emerge.
In an interview with Futurism, Vanchurin discusses the crisis in cosmology and then describes how his idea contributes to a resolution:
“One might argue that there are not two, but three phenomena that need to be unified: quantum mechanics, general relativity, and observers. 99% of physicists would tell you that quantum mechanics is the main one and everything else should somehow emerge from it, but nobody knows exactly how that can be done. In this paper, I consider another possibility that a microscopic neural network is a fundamental structure and everything else, i.e. quantum mechanics, general relativity, and macroscopic observers, emerges from it.”
Many scientists dismiss the idea on its face, claiming it smacks too much of biocentrism and theories like John Wheeler’s “participatory universe,” in which consciousness establishes the physical reality of the universe.
But Vanchurin says his theory should be easy to disprove and thus has value as an experimental model.
“We are not just saying that the artificial neural networks can be useful for analyzing physical systems or for discovering physical laws, we are saying that this is how the world around us actually works,” he writes in a section of his paper. “With this respect, it could be considered as a proposal for the theory of everything, and as such, it should be easy to prove it wrong.”
His interviewer point blank asks him if this means we are living in a simulation and Vanchurin offers an interesting answer:
“No, we live in a neural network, but we might never know the difference.”
Scientists have been marveling over the similarities between the cosmic web and neurons in the brain for years. Some argue there’s an eeriness in how the self-similar structure of the universe is so similar to the brain’s neural networks.
In 2017, an astrophysicist and neuroscientist teamed up to write a paper about this phenomenon, which essentially argues that careful, comprehensive analysis seems to suggest that galaxy clusters do mirror the structure and behavior of neuron networks.