The universe is a simulation; every kid learns that in high school. It is just part of pop culture. As much surprising this discovery was, with all its deep philosophical and moral implications, it never really caused much commotion. The discovery itself was never a state secret: it quickly made the news before any silly bureaucrat could think of quarantining it.
Paul O. tried to put himself together. Still shaking and sweating, he rambled nervously around the living room, avoiding looking back at the naked blond woman on the sofa. Her sweet and delicate perfume was, however, a wearing remind of her presence.
With his heart pounding, he breathed deeply and slowly to calm down. He tried to take his mind out of the room by invoking elements of the Simulation theory. These routine thoughts have always helped him relax in stressful situations. They were his comfort zone: for years he had been teaching the topic in his introduction to quantum sciences for senior high school. Moreover, he enjoyed the pleasant feeling that someone else was ultimately responsible for his actions; even knowing well that it was only a self-deception.
These were soothing thoughts, but not so much this time. His mind was flooded with recalls of the woman’s warm silky skin in his hands and her inquisitive blue eyes reaching deep into him. And those feelings overpowered any silly mind exercise.
The universe overflow was discovered right after the release of the third generation of quantum computers. Mathematicians aimed at breaking a new record for the number of computed digits of π, when they stumbled across something disturbingly unexpected: after a very long sequence of uniformly-distributed digits, π digits flowed in periodic sequences, over and over again, with a strongly skewed distribution.
They quickly realized that the problem was not on π itself, this exact feature was found in every tested irrational. The problem was on the underlying mathematical operations to compute extremely large numbers. After certain limit in the quantum memory, every addition operation returned the same periodic sequence of digits. The universe was in overflow. It was just like when an old four-digit mechanical counter reached 9999 and then started over with 0000.
When this discovery reached the public, it was received with relative indifference. Confidently hooked to their scientific ignorance, most people did not grasp the implicit meaning of the universe overflow.
Finally Paul O. started to relax. He breathed normally again and, between confusing thoughts, he even appreciated the elegantly decorated flat. He could certainly live in such clean, clear, white-beige spacious rooms. The place was in complete silence. He walked to what seemed to be the woman’s sleeping room at the end of the corridor, still without looking at her on the white sofa.
He never really felt under control of external forces for being a simulation. He just liked to play with that thought. Now and then he heard of a suicide attributed to simulation depressive disorder, but he was pretty sure that those people would have found another reason to end their lives anyway; just like people praying for the Simulators in mystical cults would have found some other silliness to believe in.
Paul O. examined the live 3D picture on the wall above the bed. It was a life-size interactive portrait of the woman. She was a stunning blond, maybe in the early thirties like him. It was difficult to know her age for sure. Given the high standard of her flat, she could easily afford fancy bio-makeups. In principle, she could be a couple of decades older than her look.
He was still astonished that such high-score woman had accepted to go on a physical date with him, let alone to invite him home. He knew he was somewhat charming in the virtual rooms, but his profile never scored more than the average. He definitely had no idea what he had done so right that time to attract her.
In the live picture, she wore a red dress and stood in a sunny green spring background. A lavender aroma matched the scene. The portrait looked at him; it had been set up to engage with anyone in the room. It was the same intense look that had forced him to deviate his eyes while talking to her earlier in the evening. Suddenly, she smiled at him warmly and joyfully. “Gosh, you’re gorgeous, ” Paul O. surprised himself murmuring to the picture.
The woman’s red dress, in strong contrast against the green field and the white decoration of the room, generously revealed her amazing body. Her firm breasts hanging naturally under the dress, the light shadows sculpting her nipples, her fair skin emerging tight from within the red cotton, everything in her figure excited him. His blood burned and his penis twitched. He wanted to go back to her.
He shut his eyes trying to focus again on his relaxing thoughts. He leaned against the dresser, his palms supporting his weight, and rested for a long moment.
No matter the physical nature of the quantum computer or the amount of giga-qubytes available in the memory, no arithmetic is possible above the so-called Ω constant. Ω is one of those large quantities defying the imagination and the metaphors; but it is far, far away smaller than ridiculously large numbers mathematicians have been conceptually playing with for centuries, like those in Graham’s class.
The universe overflow has always been deemed as a quantum property. However, there is no way to know whether arithmetic based on classical states would also overflow. It is just not possible to assemble a classical computer with enough memory to test it, not at least without using all atoms of the planet to build up such device.
Many tried to rationalize the universe overflow as a physics law, just like the universe pixelization caused by Heisenberg’s principle. But the main-stream scientific community soon recognized in the weird periodic sequence of skewed-distributed digits what came to be the most bizarre, astonishing discovery science ever did: the universe was a simulation.
The universe overflow was clearly a “glitch in the matrix,” to stick to a popular metaphor. Many other glitches had been found since then. They are always connected to inconsistencies in large quantum systems, as if the responsible for the universe simulation assigned a fair, but limited amount of maximum memory that could be allocated in pure quantum states in our universe. This amount is big enough to smoothly run what we understand as natural processes, but too small to fool clever mathematicians within the simulation.
A number of philosophers have pointed out the historical irony: thousands of years ago Pythagoreans tried to hide the existence of irrational numbers from the public; they saw them as an essential flaw in their conception of a perfect universe. Now, the impossibility of computing true irrational numbers revealed that the universe was not even real.
Paul O. remembered the interview with a pop-star physicist he had watched last night. (Or was it last year? Last night strangely felt as some distant past.) The scientist had drawn an interesting comparison between the role of irrational numbers in ancient Greek culture and in the discovery of the quantum overflow. Paul O. wished he had thought of that himself. This was exactly the kind of keen reasoning he was never able to come up with.
Popularization of the Simulation theory never had a major impact on quotidian. It did not result in any new technology or product. At most it provided a physical background to the anthropic principle and explained why the cosmos is not in a coherent quantum state. These are hardly discoveries that would ever impact any layperson’s life.
The Simulation theory was a praised curiosity; a matter for superficial debates in virtual salons. Every year there were a number of incidents around the world attributed to it and nowadays the psychiatric community recognizes simulation depressive disorder as a condition affecting a minor fraction of the population. Beyond that, most people just kept going with theirs lives as usual.
Academy briefly saw a surge of people enrolled in math and philosophy courses. A number of cults deifying “the Simulators” sprang as well, but they were never very popular. The main religions went through some denial period, but excepting some most conservative sects, they adapted well. After all, they keep their theologians in the payroll to do this oily magic.
Nevertheless, the Simulation theory strongly impacted culture, especially after it made its way into the school programs. The number of cultural products connected to it is just uncountable (although uncountable is a word that may not mean so much anymore).
How many times The Matrix was re-shot? Paul O. was asking himself. He still fancied the original movie with Keanu Reeves as the best. All remakes, especially the interactive ones, had lost pace with too many special effects and fight scenes.
Most of fictional productions exploring the Simulation theory that he had recently watched were just silly anthropocentric entertainment: the Simulators were depicted either as gods playing with humans, or machines feeding from humans, or humans simulating their own history, as if the universe—still glorious in spite of its downgraded status—revolved around humans. He always tried to emphasize this point with his students.
A sudden motion in a small live picture on the dresser brought him back from his thoughts. Paul O. looked at this other portrait of the blond woman and thought of her lying naked on the sofa in the other room. He was angry at himself. He knew the feeling well. He was tired of these waves of emotions coming and going, blurring his judgment.
He walked to the bathroom just out of the sleeping room and washed his face and her perfume from him. He could not stay longer.
In spite of many hypotheses, no one has any idea about who or what is responsible for the universe simulation; or even less why they have been running the simulation in the first place. Obviously, it is immaterial to speculate whether the Simulators are aware of (or care about) our awareness. These topics have remained completely out of the scientific scrutiny, as a matter of endless philosophical debates.
A number of thinkers have proposed that the universe overflow is likely a flag left hidden on purpose in the cosmos’ structure, so that any civilization in the universe advanced enough to uncover it could be aware of their condition of simulated beings. A group of scientists has even raised funds to create a beacon to try, still unsuccessfully, contacting the Simulators.
Most of contemporary philosophers agree that in spite of the deep metaphysical and epistemological implications, the Simulation theory does not have a major impact on ethics. As long as there were no evidences of direct interference of the Simulators on our realm, our universe still works as a closed system ruled by well-defined physical laws, with living beings evolving by selection processes, and societies following their own historical courses.
It is not surprising that every attempt of invoking the Simulation theory as a mitigation factor in the legal sphere has always been immediately dismissed.
Paul O. was awfully tired. There was nothing he could do about the woman in the other room. It was always the same feeling of regret and shame—and he loathed himself also for that. It was time to go home.
He walked back into the living room; his back arched and his eyes down as if to avoid contact with hers. In silence he crossed the room straight to the exit. Only after feeling safe by griping the cold doorknob, he looked back at her. The dark brown-bluish marks carved in the woman’s neck, where his hands had strangled her, creepily smiled at him as a second mouth.
He sounded sincere and sorrow when he whispered to the dead body before leaving: “Don’t mind, gorgeous. This is just a simulation.”