Atomic Avatars

Did you know that atoms and electrons behave differently when they are observed? In this story, we introduce quantum mechanics, the pixels of reality, and watch a short video to see how reality interacts with observers.

TLDR—I’ll summarize this story for you.

Now that digital neural networks are smarter than us, Simulation Theory predicts we live inside a quantum computer. That’s in theory, but what about in practice? It sure doesn’t feel like we live in a computer.

The best description for how our universe operates is called Quantum Mechanics. If we do live inside “the Matrix”, then there should be some experimental data that strengthens or weakens the simulation argument, right?

Quantum mechanics dates back to the 1920’s as a way to explain scientific observations at the subatomic level that just couldn’t be reconciled with Newtonian physics. While Albert Einstein was making our cosmos more predictable, Werner Heisenberg was making our micro-cosmos more unpredictable. Heisenberg is the author of the Uncertainty Principle.

@ChatGPT: what is the uncertainty principle in less than 75 words

ChatGPT: The uncertainty principle, formulated by Werner Heisenberg, states that it's impossible to simultaneously measure both the position and momentum of a particle with complete precision. The more accurately one quantity is determined, the less accurately the other can be known. This fundamental limit in precision arises from the wave-like nature of particles in quantum mechanics.

@ChatGPT: can you explain the uncertainty principle like a doctor suess book?


In a world so small, 
where particles play, 
The uncertainty principle 
has something to say. 

Heisenberg found, 
in quantum land, 
That position and momentum 
won't go hand in hand.  

When you measure 
a particle's place, 
Its momentum gets blurry, 
it's part of the race. 

And if you measure 
its speed so true, 
Its position gets hazy, 
like morning dew.

These tiny particles, 
both wave and dot, 
Their exact details, 
we cannot jot. 

For in this strange world, 
there's a limit we see, 
Uncertainty rules, 
oh, how curious that be!

My favorite human to explain quantum mechanics is Carlo Rovelli. We will read several quotes from his book, “Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity”.

Here’s how Carlo Rovelli describes quantum mechanics,

We do not know with certainty where the electron will appear, but we can compute the probability that it will appear here or there. This is a radical change from Newton’s theory, where it is possible, in principle, to predict the future with certainty. Quantum mechanics brings probability to the heart of the evolution of things. This indeterminacy is the third cornerstone of quantum mechanics: the discovery that chance operates at the atomic level.


  • all philosophy is based on uncertainty

  • all digital neural networks are based on uncertainty

  • and all of reality is based on uncertainty

@philosophers: The universe is uncertainty-turtles all the way down. 🐢

@ChatGPT: what does this mean “it’s uncertainty turtles all the way down”

ChatGPT: The phrase "uncertainty turtles all the way down" is a play on the saying "turtles all the way down", which refers to an infinite regress problem in cosmology. In this context, "uncertainty turtles all the way down" means that there is always uncertainty, no matter how deep you go or how much you know.

Digital neural networks are incredible. I’m pretty sure that phrase is unique in all of human history and ChatGPT got the joke without any other context. It also wrote a Dr. Seuss poem in 5 seconds.

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Uncertain Observations

What makes quantum mechanics so unsettling is the Observer Effect we see in our science experiments. The most famous example is the Double Slit Experiment. This experiment is critical to understanding how “our Matrix” works, so here’s Jim Al-Khalili from The Royal Institute to demonstrate it. (9 mins)

So, according to the Double Slit Experiment:

  • When reality is observed, electrons behave like a physical particle.

  • When reality is not observed, electrons behave like a wave in some kind of ghost-liquid.

Quantum physicists call this wave mode, Superposition. Superposition is basically the sum of everything that could happen next. Particles only “choose one position” in spacetime when they are measured, which doesn’t even make sense. It’s as if the universe is “saving itself a calculation” unless someone or something is measuring it.

Philosophers have an epistemological question, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it—does it make a sound?” Well, quantum mechanics begs the question,

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does the forest even exist at all? 👻🌳


If you think this is preposterous, you're not alone. This dependency on the observer spooked a lot of physicists including Albert Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger, the discoverer of Wave-Particle Duality. It is counterintuitive to everything that we have ever learned from our experience.

Schrödinger thought superposition was so preposterous that he proposed a thought experiment to prove it. It’s known as “Schrödinger’s cat”. In this thought experiment, a live cat is placed into a box that contains a vial of poison gas. The gas is released by a mechanism, which is only triggered by the decay of a radioactive atom. If the atom decays, the cat dies. The question is, if no one ever opens the box to observe the radioactive atom, will it ever decay to kill the cat? Is the cat currently dead or alive? 🙀

Einstein praised Schrödinger for this idea in a personal letter in 1950. Einstein wrote,

Most of them simply do not see what sort of risky game they are playing with reality—reality as something independent of what is experimentally established. Their interpretation is, however, refuted most elegantly by your system of radioactive atom + amplifier + charge of gun powder + cat in a box, in which the psi-function of the system contains both the cat alive and blown to bits. Nobody really doubts that the presence or absence of the cat is something independent of the act of observation.

Einstein refers to the “psi-function”. The psi-function is a quantum physicist’s way of saying superposition—the sum of all possible outcomes. Einstein is complimenting Schrödinger for “quantumly entangling” the cat with the radioactive atom.

Fortunately or unfortunately, quantum mechanics is as real as reality gets. Here is a short video to summarize how physicists like John Bell and John Clauser went on to prove that the universe isn’t locally real. (13 mins)

Schrödinger’s cat started off as a spoof, but 100 years later it has now become a research goal. Chiara Marletto, a physicist at the University of Oxford, has already demonstrated that living things can become quantumly entangled. In an interview with LiveScience she said,

…there’s no reason to expect that there’s a limit to quantum effects. I'm interested in studying the border where quantum rules stop applying. Some people say that quantum theory is not a universal theory, so it does not apply to any object in the universe… My interest is to show that actually, that's not the case.

Chiara Marietta’s research is important because it implies that everything that exists in our universe can be explained by Quantum Field Theory, including living things. Here's the article in LiveScience:

Quantum Interpretations

Quantum physicists have several competing interpretations for the observer effect in quantum mechanics.

@ChatGPT: can you give a brief summary of the Copenhagen interpretation, Many-worlds interpretation, Quantum Bayesianism (QBism), and de Broglie–Bohm theory

ChatGPT: Certainly! Here's a brief summary of each interpretation of quantum mechanics:

1. Copenhagen Interpretation: The Copenhagen interpretation, formulated by Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg, is one of the earliest and most widely known interpretations. It suggests that quantum systems exist in superpositions of states until observed or measured, at which point the wave function collapses to a single state. It emphasizes the role of the observer and the probabilistic nature of quantum events.

In this interpretation, reality works like a first person video game—it continuously builds the universe around each observer faster than the observer can notice.

2. Many-Worlds Interpretation: Proposed by Hugh Everett III, the Many-Worlds interpretation proposes that every possible outcome of a quantum event actually occurs in a separate branch or universe. According to this view, the wave function never collapses, but instead, all possible outcomes coexist in parallel universes, creating a branching tree of alternate realities.

In this interpretation, everything that could ever happen is simultaneously happening. Many-worlds means there’s an infinite number of you(s) out there experiencing an infinite number of possibilities in an infinite number of universes, all at the same time—and you only notice this one. 😵‍💫

3. Quantum Bayesianism (QBism): QBism, also known as Quantum Bayesianism or Subjective Quantum Mechanics, focuses on the subjective nature of quantum mechanics. It views quantum states as personal degrees of belief or probabilities held by an observer. QBism combines the formalism of quantum theory with Bayesian probability theory, emphasizing the role of the observer's knowledge and updating of beliefs.

Like the Copenhagen Interpretation, reality builds a world around each observer. The difference is that the knowledge and beliefs of each observer affect how the wave function collapses, so our beliefs directly affect reality.

@christians: Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.”

I don’t think he’s joking. This makes me think Jesus supports Quantum Bayesianism.


4. de Broglie-Bohm Theory: The de Broglie-Bohm theory, also known as the pilot-wave theory or Bohmian mechanics, postulates the existence of both particles and a guiding wave that determines their behavior. It suggests that particles have definite positions and follow deterministic trajectories, while the wave function evolves according to the Schrödinger equation. This interpretation aims to provide a deterministic description of quantum phenomena while retaining the mathematical formalism of quantum theory.

In this interpretation, atomic particles are always there even when they can’t be observed. So particles are secretly there even when they aren’t there. 🙄

The Pixels of Reality

The way I imagine quantum mechanics working is just like the physics engines in my kids' video games. Let’s use Minecraft for example. Minecraft is a digital universe made out of blocks that are much bigger than the pixels of reality. Here’s a 1-minute trailer video to help you visualize this analogy.

Kids don’t care how overly simple the graphics are in Minecraft. 140 million people have invested 100,000,000 years of playtime building worlds inside the Minecraft universe. Little kids can fly through the air. They can throw mountains into the sea. They build little digital farms and mine crystals and do whatever else they do there. In Minecraft, a kid is a god. No wonder they hate when we tap them on the headphones to go take out the trash.

To better understand quantum mechanics, consider this question: When a Minecraft player navigates their avatar away from their little digital farm, what happens to all the wheat in their digital wheat fields?

Does the wheat exist?


The Minecraft physics engine doesn’t render the wheat in the wheatfields when no one is interacting with it. But the fact that no one is observing the wheat doesn’t mean the digital wheat stops growing either. Minecraft tracks all the changes to the digital wheat, but it just doesn’t have to make all the detailed calculations required for a Minecraft observer until someone is observing the wheat again. So Minecraft only “renders reality” wherever the users go, just like the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics.

See why I say we live in a quantum computer?

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@physicists: Quantum mechanics makes Einstein’s equation, E=MC2, way more interesting when you isolate for Mass instead of Energy:



“Rendering reality” is as expensive as the speed of light squared. For example, the amount of energy that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan in WWII came from just 6.4 kg of plutonium-239 with roughly 20% efficiency. So think about that bomb in reverse. The amount of energy that destroyed Nagasaki, Japan in WWII is only 20% of the energy required TO BE 6.4 kg of plutonium.

That’s bonkers. The average human has enough energy in their mass to destroy half a continent.

It’s super weird to consider our reality behaving like Minecraft—like Simulation Theory weird. If you don’t doubt your reality enough already, it gets worse. Let’s continue reading from Carlo Rovelli’s book, “Reality Is Not What It Seems”. He writes,

Therefore, the first meaning of quantum mechanics is the existence of a limit to the Information that can exist within a system: a limit to the number of distinguishable states in which a system can be. This limitation upon infinity, this granularity of nature glimpsed by Democritus, is the first central aspect of the theory. Planck’s constant h measures the elementary scale of this granularity.

In simple terms: our reality is pixelated, just like a computer. Planck’s constant h is the actual length of a single pixel of reality.

Technically, “pixel” isn’t the right word because pixels are only two dimensional. The three-dimensional “pixels” in computer games are called Voxels. Voxels are cubes instead of squares.


  • The “voxels of reality” are called Quanta.

  • A single “voxel of reality” is called a Quantum.

  • Quantum Mechanics is the study of how the “voxels of reality” work.

  • Minecraft is rendered in digital voxels.

  • Unreal Engine is rendered in digital voxels.

  • Pixar characters are rendered in digital voxels.

  • Your house is rendered in “quantum voxels”.

  • The universe is rendered in “quantum voxels”.

  • Humans are rendered in “quantum voxels”.

Simulation Theory predicts we live in a quantum computer, and Quantum Mechanics affirms it.


@philosophers: If we live in a quantum computer simulation, then a reality deeper than ours must have some kind of Quantum Mechanical Server. If there’s something outside this universe that can build one of those, then they likely operate more than just one based on Simulation Theory. So “Heaven” may use quantum mechanics too. The entire multiverse might just be one big quantum mechanical server farm. 🚜👩‍🌾

Persistence of Consciousness

To make the voxels of reality easier to understand, let’s use a two-dimensional pixel analogy: the television. The word television literally means “remote viewer”. Each pixel in a television has three elements: Red, Green, and Blue. The intensity of each color element is controlled by an individual power setting between 0-255. That’s the most amount of range produced by 8 bits of uncertainty (2^8=256).

Don’t worry, you don’t need to remember any of these numbers.

The RGB color { 255, 0, 0 } is 100% red, 0% green, and 0% blue. Pixels mix and match these 3 elements to produce 16,777,216 different colors (256^3) at each individual location. A “4K” television has 8,294,400 discrete locations for these pixels because its resolution is (3840 x 2160). Putting this all together, a 4K-60Hz television computes 16M different colors, at 8M discrete locations, 60 times every second, to render our “remote view” of reality.

When we watch television our brains experience continuous movement and sound, but it's an illusion. I like the way Steven Spielberg explains this process at the beginning of his autobiographical movie, “The Fabelmans”.

In the movie, Spielberg’s dad explains how motion pictures work to his young son. He says,

You wanna know how it works? Inside there’s a big bright light and it projects photographs of…of clowns and acrobats. …But these photographs move past the light really fast. 24 photos in every second. Now, in your brain, each photograph stays for about a 15th of a second. That’s called Persistence of Vision. The photographs move past faster than your brain can let go of them and that’s how the movie projector tricks us into believing that motionless photographs are moving. A motion-picture.

Well, watching reality isn’t that much different.


When we watch reality, our brains experience continuous movement and sound, but it's an illusion. Instead of receiving 24 frames per second, our brains are quantum computing with reality billions of times per second. If Persistence of Vision only needs 1/15th of a second, then the Persistence of Consciousness only requires the same amount of time. We will learn more about the “virtual reality of reality” in a story from the next chapter, “The Quantum Neural Network”.

Now, remember how each pixel in a television has (3) RGB elements that are mixed and matched to produce our “remote view” of reality? Well, each voxel of reality has 17 elements that are mixed and matched, like RGB, to produce all the particles and forces that make up all the matter and energy in the universe. That’s how “our Matrix” works. Physicists call the 17 elements in each quantum, The Standard Model.

Here’s how Carlo Rovelli describes what the world is made of,

The backdrop of space has disappeared, time has disappeared, classic particles have disappeared, along with the classic fields. So what is the world made of? The answer now is simple: the particles are quanta of quantum fields; light is formed by quanta of a field; space is nothing more than a field, which is also made of quanta; and time emerges from the processes of this same field. In other words, the world is made entirely from quantum fields…. In fact, the entire structure of quantum mechanics can be read and understood in terms of information, as follows. A physical system manifests itself only in interacting with another…. The first to realize that the notion of Information was fundamental to the understanding of quantum reality was John Archibald Wheeler, the father of quantum gravity. Wheeler coined the phrase 'it from bit’ to express this idea, meaning ‘everything is information’.

Everything is Information. #weliveinthematrix


Rovelli concludes,

Classical mechanics misled us into thinking that we could do without taking account of this simple truth, and that we could access, at least in theory, a vision of reality entirely independent of the observer. But the development of physics has shown that, at the end of the day, this is impossible.

Einstein is rolling over in his grave. Copernicus too. Copernicus risked everything to argue that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, but quantum mechanics seems to imply that the most important thing in the universe is Life itself: the avatars in the video game. Without an observer, the universe doesn’t get rendered, which begs the question, “Do galaxies at the edge of space only render to the resolution of our current telescopes?”

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