The Planck length as a “pixel” of our universe

One of the chief characteristics of simulations is low information density compared to the phenomenon being simulated. Very complex simulations may have relatively higher information density, in the sense that high definition images are noticeably closer to real life than standard definition images, but even those will still fall short of reality.

The human eye, for example, has a discrete resolution. The width of the photosensitive cells at the back of your retina represent the lowest limit of our ability to detect light. In fact, it is now possible to construct a display with a greater resolution than the human eye, meaning such a display would present us with more information than we can actually perceive.

But then, that’s no different than what happens every time you open your eyes. Light from the world comes in photons, each of which carries information and most of which are discarded, first by the simple biology of our eyes (although there’s actually some complicated “averaging” going on there) and then by our brains during visual perception.

This is how the universe exists, in discrete packets of energy we call quanta, the physical manifestation of which is the Planck length, the point at which space can be divided no further. As such, it’s sort of analogous to a pixel on a display, where our universe appears to be discrete rather than continuous.

It occurs to me that such discreteness could be evidence that the universe is nothing more than a highly advanced simulation whose resolution is equal to the Planck length. Incidentally, that could also explain why there are only three dimensions since each added dimension would require exponentially more processing power for little gain over any number but three, depending what you were studying. (If that was life, then three is minimally sufficient since the complex chemical reactions required are not possible on a flat plane.)

If I were simulating a variety of entire universes, especially ones where life could evolve, and I wanted to be as meaningful as possible, I imagine I would opt for more information density rather than more dimensions, especially since each added dimension would come at such a high cost. I imagine I would also want there to be an arrow of time, such as the one we observe, if only to force the simulation forward to some sort of resolution rather than let it spin its tires in a random back-and-forth walk.

And of course, all of that would explain the anthropic principle as well.

I’m sure I’m not the first to have this idea, nor do I actually believe it (at all), but it occurred to me this afternoon all the same and it may find a place in my next novel.


cover image by Josan Gonzales