The Universe Might Be One Big Neural Network, Study Finds
From popular mechanics
One scientist says the universe is a huge neural network.
The wild concept uses neural network theory to unite quantum and classical mechanics.
This is a great starting point for larger philosophical discussions.
In a thought-provoking new article, a physicist suggests that the entire universe could be a single neural network - a competing "theory of everything" that could combine quantum and classical mechanics, he says.
If this is true - and this is a really, really big if - it would mean pretty enormous things to the nature of the universe.
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What is a neural network?
A neural network is something called a data structure, which is a form or format for organizing ideas in computer hardware. If you've ever created a shopping list or jotted down the steps to complete a task, you've created a data structure. If you opened a ticket in an IT support system at your workplace, that ticket was probably added to a data structure called a queue. You may also have programmed these structures to write code for stacks, trees, and more.
"A neural network loosely modeled on the human brain is made up of thousands or even millions of simple processing nodes that are tightly connected," explains the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And the neural network is not just the physical data structure - it is an umbrella term for both the structure and the weighted, programmed approach to using the structure in artificial intelligence.
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In the simplest sense, a neural network is like any other network. A fish could throw part of a net far out of shape. A knitted sweater adapts to your body. The weights in a neural network, like a fighting fish or a biceps, record who and what is deforming the network. The best data points look through and are skimmed off. And the approach is supposed to model the human mind, hence the name neural network.
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Is the Universe a Large Neural Network?
Given this idea, how can it be that the entire universe is like a neural network? Take Vitaly Vanchurin, a physics professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, who published his work "The World as a Neural Network" on the arXiv pre-print server last year:
“We are discussing the possibility that the entire universe is, at its most basic level, a neural network. We identify two different types of dynamic degrees of freedom: "trainable" variables and "hidden" variables. We consider the trainable variables as an argument that their dynamics are well approximated near equilibrium by Madelung equations and further away from equilibrium by Hamilton-Jacobi equations. This shows that the trainable variables can actually exhibit classical behavior and quantum behavior. "
Basically, Vanchurin says we can use the idea of a neural network to model the universe in a way that could bring quantum and classical mechanics together. This is a major mismatch in physics that creates a phantom barrier between phenomena explained by, say, Einstein's general theory of relativity, and the creepy trompe-l'oeil effects of quantum mechanics up close.
The same set of variables is influenced by a quantum phenomenon at one end of its spectrum and a classical one at the other end, according to Vanchurin's theory. That means that the same values are affected by both of them at the same time, with a pivot point or even an overlap somewhere in the middle between them.
"In this article, I'm looking at another way that a microscopic neural network is the basic structure and everything else, i.e. quantum mechanics, general relativity, and macroscopic observers, comes out of it," Vanchurin told Futurism. "So far it looks pretty promising."
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The theory could prevail against further review, including possible peer review, prior to publication in a journal. Arguably the most interesting thing about Vanchurin's concept, however, is what ideas it implies: a unified theory could still be out of sight, and the structure we envision modeling the human brain could also model the molecular level of the entire universe.
"Would this theory mean that we are living in a simulation?" Victor Tangermann from Futurism asked Vanchurin. "No, we live in a neural network," he replied. "But we may never know the difference."
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