Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks the universe might be a simulation

We trust the scientists around us to have the best grasp on how the world actually works.

So at this year’s 2016 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History, which addressed the question of whether the universe is a simulation, the answers from some panelists may be more comforting than the responses from others.

neil degrasse tyson on space survival

Physicist Lisa Randall, for example, said she thought the odds that the universe isn’t “real” are so low as to be “effectively zero.”

A satisfying answer for those who don’t want to sit there puzzling out what it would mean for the universe not to be real, to be sure.

But on the other hand, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was hosting the debate, said that he thinks the likelihood of the universe being a simulation “may be very high.”

Uh oh?

The question of whether we know that our universe is real has vexed thinkers going far back into history, long before Descartes made his famous “I think therefore I am” statement. The same question has been explored in modern science-fiction films like “The Matrix” and David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ.”

But most physicists and philosophers agree that it’s impossible to prove definitively that we don’t live in a simulation and that the universe is real.

Tyson agrees, but says he wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find out somehow that someone else is responsible for our universe.

matrix code

One of the main arguments that physicists use to talk about what’s known as the “simulation hypothesis” is that if we can prove that it’s possible to simulate a universe — if we can figure out all the laws that govern how everything works (which physicists are trying to do) — that makes it much more likely that it is actually simulated. If we know that it’s possible to do something, it’s much easier to think that thing is being done.

We haven’t been able to figure out how to simulate a universe — yet. But it’s not too hard to imagine that some other creature out there is far smarter than us.

Tyson points out that we humans have always defined ourselves as the smartest beings alive, orders of magnitude more intelligent than species like chimpanzees that share close to 99%of our DNA. We can create symphonies and do trigonometry and astrophysics (some of us, anyway).

But Tyson uses a thought experiment to imagine a life-form that’s as much smarter than us as we are than dogs, chimps, or other terrestrial mammals.

“What would we look like to them? We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he says.

Whatever that being is, it very well might be able to create a simulation of a universe.

“And if that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just the creation of some other entity for their entertainment,” Tyson says. “I’m saying, the day we learn that it is true, I will be the only one in the room saying, I’m not surprised.”

Bring Simulation to Everyone in Your Organization with Apps

Make Mathematical Models Accessible to All Throughout Your Organization

The traditional computational modeling workflow involves creating a geometry, defining all of the necessary materials and physics, meshing and solving the model, and visualizing and postprocessing the results. Making any changes thereafter requires going back to previous steps and redoing them, which demands intimate knowledge of the original model. The computational tools required to make these mathematical models are so complicated to use that there are very few engineers trained to build and manipulate them.

Now, engineers can use COMSOL Multiphysics® software to instead wrap their model in a user-friendly interface that allows them or someone else to focus on the changes that matter – without requiring foreknowledge of the underlying model.

CREATE a computational model
in the Model Builder.

BUILD a customized application
in the Application Builder.

MANAGE your apps in the COMSOL Server™ software
throughout your organization

DEPLOY your apps
to your organization.

Amplify the Simulation Value at Your Organization

Using the Application Builder, which is included in the COMSOL Multiphysics® software, engineers can build applications with intuitive user interfaces that are fully customizable based on design needs and that suit a wide variety of purposes. Basic knowledge of how to use COMSOL Multiphysics is the only prerequisite to creating apps from a COMSOL® software model – no special training or additional software is needed.


The Application Builder was designed to make it easy to build applications. You can add user interface elements (e.g., buttons, inputs, outputs, graphs, and more) with the click of a button and quickly design powerful apps with the drag-and-drop feature. You can also take advantage of the built-in Java® API with tools that write code for you.

Deploy Apps with the COMSOL Server™ Software

To bring mathematical models to everyone within your company, you can use the COMSOL Server™ software as an app-distribution platform. Your colleagues can interface with COMSOL Server in order to run your apps on their own, over your organization’s private network. Watch the video below to see how it works and how the Application Builder and the COMSOL Server software fit within the simulation modeling workflow.


You can take your apps with you wherever you go throughout the world if you have a COMSOL Server™ license. With this platform, simulation apps can be accessed on computers as well as smartphones and tablets, and run in a web browser or in a free COMSOL desktop client.

The COMSOL Server™ license will allow you to host COMSOL Server on your own computer or your organization’s private network. Your verified users throughout the world can run your apps or their own on your COMSOL Server license, and they can run up to four sessions in parallel. Any person affiliated with an academic institution can run their apps on the Academic Server license for academic use. Furthermore, when you update your apps on COMSOL Server they will be made available immediately so that your users are always running the latest version.

Novel embalming solution for neurosurgical simulation in cadavers Laboratory investigation.

Surgical simulation using postmortem human heads is one of the most valid strategies for neurosurgical research and training. The authors customized an embalming formula that provides an optimal retraction profile and lifelike physical properties while preventing microorganism growth and brain decay for neurosurgical simulations in cadavers. They studied the properties of the customized formula and compared its use with the standard postmortem processing techniques: cryopreservation and formaldehyde-based embalming.


Eighteen specimens were prepared for neurosurgical simulation: 6 formaldehyde embalmed, 6 cryopreserved, and 6 custom embalmed. The customized formula is a mixture of ethanol 62.4%, glycerol 17%, phenol 10.2%, formaldehyde 2.3%, and water 8.1%. After a standard pterional craniotomy, retraction profiles and brain stiffness were studied using an intracranial pressure transducer and monitor. Preservation time—that is, time that tissue remained in optimal condition—between specimen groups was also compared through periodical reports during a 48-hour simulation.


The mean (± standard deviation) retraction pressures were highest in the formaldehyde group and lowest in the cryopreserved group. The customized formula provided a mean retraction pressure almost 3 times lower than formaldehyde (36 ± 3 vs 103 ± 14 mm Hg, p < 0.01) and very similar to cryopreservation (24 ± 6 mm Hg, p < 0.01). For research purposes, preservation time in the cryopreserved group was limited to 4 hours and was unlimited for the customized and formaldehyde groups for the duration of the experiment.


The customized embalming solution described herein is optimal for allowing retraction and surgical maneuverability while preventing decay. The authors were able to significantly lower the formaldehyde content as compared with that in standard formulas. The custom embalming solution has the benefits from both cryopreservation (for example, biological brain tissue properties) and formaldehyde embalming (for example, preservation time and microorganism growth prevention) and minimizes their drawbacks, that is, rapid decay in the former and stiffness in the latter. The presented embalming formula provides an important advance for neurosurgical simulations in research and teaching.

Artificial worm starts to wriggle

C elegans
The project to create the C. elegans nematode in code should unlock more secrets of how it lives

A project to create artificial life has hit a key milestone – the simulated creature can now wriggle.

The Open Worm project aims to build a lifelike copy of a nematode roundworm entirely out of computer code.

This week the creature’s creators added code that gets the virtual worm wriggling like the real thing.

The next step is to hook the body up to a simulation of the worm’s brain to help understand more about how and why it moves.

Swim speed

The Open Worm project started in May 2013 and is slowly working towards creating a virtual copy of the Caenorhabditis elegans nematode. This worm is one of the most widely studied creatures on Earth and was the first multicelled organism to have its entire genome mapped.

The simulated worm slowly being built out of code aims to replicate C. elegans in exquisite detail with each of its 1,000 cells being modelled on computer.

Early work on the worm involved making a few muscle segments twitch but now the team has a complete worm to work with. The code governing how the creature’s muscles move has been refined so its swaying motion and speed matches that of its real life counterpart. The tiny C. elegans manages to move around in water at a rate of about 1mm per second.

“Its movement closely resembles published literature on how C. elegans swims,” project leader John Hurliman told the New World Notes blog.

The immediate next step for the project is to plug in the system used to model how nerve fibres in the worm fire to get muscle segments twitching and propelling the whole creature forward.

Soon the Open Worm creators hope to make a virtual version of C. elegans available online so people can interact with it via a web browser.

Black Hole Radiation Simulated in Lab.

For the first time, scientists have been able to simulate the type of radiation likely to be emitted from black holes.

A team of Italian scientists fired a laser beam into a chunk of glass to create an analogue (or simulation) of the Hawking radiation that many physicists expect is emitted by black holes.

A spokesperson for the research group said: “Although the laser experiment superficially bears little resemblance to ultra-dense black holes, the mathematical theories used to describe both are similar enough that confirmation of laser-induced Hawking radiation would bolster confidence that black holes also emit Hawking radiation.

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking first predicted this sort of radiation in 1974 but it has proved elusive to detect, even in the lab. This research group was able to use a “bulk glass target” to isolate the apparent Hawking radiation from the other forms of light emitted during such experiments.

Black holes are region in space where nothing can escape, not even light. However, and despite their name, they are believed to emit weak forms of radiation (such as Hawking radiation). Physicists expect that this radiation may be so weak as to be undetectable.