I have a hypothesis that the past doesn't exist until an observation in the present makes it necessary. That seems the simplest form of a universe. And nature likes simplicity, right?

The least amount of information necessary to create a perceived reality is whatever the actors in the reality experience at the moment plus an artificial history that is created on demand, as events in the present require.

My limited understanding of physics is that retrocausality is allowed. And of course our common notion of "time" is nowhere near what is actually happening in the universe. Physicists refer to space-time instead. Whatever that is.

Is there an existing philosophy or hypothesis that matches my idea that history is created on demand?

UPDATE: Reader Amit informs me that there is an existing philosophy that matches the idea of on-demand history as well as the idea that we are all computer simulations.

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Feb 24, 2014
If the universe is a computer simulation that idea is testable with current technology.

How much do you want to bet that idea goes down in flames when it's tested?

I can't prove I'm not a brain in a jar and someone or something is just stimulating my nerve cells to think that reality exists when it doesn't. I can't prove it. But I don't believe it. It's nonsense. The idea is overly complicated and conspiratorial, and like overly complicated and conspiratorial ideas I'm going to take Occam's Razor and use it and make a prediction.

The universe exists. It isn't a simulation. It's not a computer program. And it's far easier (and healthier) to believe the human mind is special and human experience is special - and believe that, and also side with Occam's Razor, reason itself, and all evidence. We are unique points of light in a universe filled with mindless rocks.

Heading down this road of artificial reality and artificial intelligence seems to me to be a denial of what is uniquely right and good about human experience ... and a barrier to happiness. It seems impossible and contradictory to me to believe that happiness can have meaning or even exist if it comes from an external source. And that is a problem. If one actually believes this nonsense then it is a barrier to healthy emotional development and to achieving actual happiness in an actual mind in an actual universe.

Having said that I loved "The Matrix" and "Inception" because these ideas are fun. I also don't take these ideas too far or too literally. I'm not a conspiracy thinker and I don't mistake sci fi for reality.

My life changed for the better when I stopped being an infinite contrarian and a believer in farfetched and inhuman ideas.
Feb 15, 2014
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Feb 15, 2014
Kind of sounds like the Schrodinger's cat superposition idea. The "observation causing renormalization" idea was a misnomer. The thing that causes renormalization of a superposition to a defined single state is simply the addition of energy to the system. You don't need a human observer. You just need the superposition to get whapped up the side of the head by a photon.

For your own entertainment and possibly to refine your mental model of the tiny bits of the universe, please search on "quantum seeing in the dark". At the quantum level, it is possible to observe something without interacting with it - at all. No transfer of energy whatsoever. IMHO this bit of physics is the most fun thing in quantum mechanics, because it is so unlike what we are used to. One cannot build a classical explanation for this behavior - even in principal.

Retrocausality is allowed, but the probability drops off of very quickly with the distance back in time, so only a very tiny fraction of a second backward can be affected. This is more of a quantum level coupling between nearby bits of space-time. It's not that something reaches back in time and changes something. Its more like the very recent past is always still "attached" to the current moment and participates in whatever mucking about is going on "now".

Space-time is simply the 4-dimensional space we perceive. Three spatial dimensions and one time dimension. It is likely there are a least that many more in every point of our space-time (M-theory predicts 10 or 11 total), but they are curled up so small that we cannot detect or interact with them. However, that is no guarantee that any beings living in spaces defined by the higher curled-up dimensions would not be able to detect and observe us. Perhaps our world and us somehow extend into that space. Think about that one, but only with a headache remedy handy ...
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 15, 2014
The notion that "the past doesn't exist until an observation in the present makes it necessary" just doesn't stand up to examination. Perhaps I have misunderstood your intended meaning, but it implies that the physical universe cannot exist without sentient beings to observe it.

Atoms and molecules materialize out of energy and turn into energy; they act on, and are acted on, by each other and by energy in its various forms. That, in essence, is what the universe has been, and has been doing, ever since it began (as far as physicists have been able to deduce up to this point), with no plausible possibility of an external observer to validate its physical existence or the workings of its processes.

Your statement could only apply in a situation where the sentient beings see things through the narrowest and most self-referential possible perspective (encapsulated in the declaration "It's all about me"), and even then it can only be true at the most trivial and superficial level.

_History_ is what we call our attempt to understand and explain the phenomena I referred to at the beginning of this posting, especially insofar as they relate to those events and processes that are felt to have been most relevant to our own species and communities. It is the product of the interaction of our consciousness and reasoning ability with our prior beliefs, memories, knowledge, sensations and observations. It is more valid or less valid in proportion to the extent that its factual assertions, deductions, inferences and conclusions are checked, corroborated and examined as rigorously as possible. Without such examination, it amounts to little more than a personal and/or culturally conditioned mythology.

Pronouncements like "nature likes simplicity" or "nature abhors a vacuum" cannot be true in a literal sense. The best I can say about them is that they are metaphors, and are therefore inherently misleading if they are taken literally. Once you try to define their precise meaning in terms of the objects and processes operating in the physical world, the logical and semantic incoherence of such statements becomes readily manifest.

My mother-in-law has a belief that "everything happens for a reason", by which she means she thinks there is some kind of controlling entity or destiny that governs all events, especially those which have a direct effect on individuals.

A philosophy or hypothesis based on your stated idea that "history is created on demand" does not rise above the level of myth or quasi-religious belief, and is, for any practical purpose, just as useless as my mother-in-law's unsubstantiated credo.
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Feb 14, 2014
I'll do you one better. Due to conservation of matter and energy, the universe is made up of the same stuff, arranged differently at every moment. Once a moment is gone, it is gone; you cannot return to the past. Every instant ceases to be after it passes (I think Stephen King's story "The Langoliers" worked like this in a way). This is also why we aren't overrun by time travelers from the future.
Feb 14, 2014
When the student is ready, the master appears.
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Feb 14, 2014
This position is ubiquitous in eastern philosophy. direct observation of your experience suggests a world that always only appears in your consciousness in this very moment right now. the past is unfindable except as a current memory and a thought about that memory. in this model, you seem to dream the universe into existence spontaneously as you go along. it's a bit solipsistic except that the person you appear as in the dream is just as unreal as everything else. only the consciousness that is aware of the whole show has any reality.
Feb 14, 2014
Does this mean that you were never *really* having trouble with your blogging software ?
Feb 14, 2014
This sounds way too much like the "young-earth creationism," where the earth is only 6,000 years old. :)
Feb 14, 2014
Subjectively, history is revised and rewritten all the time. Governments and religions do it officially to protect and justify their current leadership; individuals do every day for a broad spectrum of reasons. These crafted fictions can be highly persuasive and, for many, necessary to sanity and survival.

Accepted fictions can effectively replace all human knowledge of certain events, and a great amount of time and money is constantly being expended to advance one or another. But even when these efforts are successful, and even if the intent was both rational and morally commendable, they don't alter the facts of what actually happened.

This matters because actual history -- be it political, personal or natural -- will have actual consequences, no matter how thoroughly it's been "erased." At best, we can remain ignorant of where the consequences came from.
Feb 14, 2014
"...everything always is, and it's only our perception that makes time seem to move"

Reminds me of the "Vida Vivida" lyrics:
"After all, time stands still. We are the ones passing through."

Feb 14, 2014
It's not quite what you're asking for but the Boltzmann brain hypothesis states that the probability that the universe in which we find ourselves just came into existence with a memory of history is much more likely than the universe actually having existed for billions of years.

Feb 14, 2014
Most theories state that time doesn't actually exist in a linear cause-and-effect sort of way. It's more a matter of everything always is, and it's only our perception that makes time seem to move. So it's not a matter of your perception creating history, it's a matter of what you're perceiving and the event's occurrence always existing.

It's just as logical to say that an event happening causes it to be observed in the future.
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2014
The only way this would work is if we were in a computer simulation as you've previously surmised, or otherwise controlled by an omniscient/omnipotent being.

From a physics standpoint, are you suggesting that the Grand Canyon developed just as the first observer saw it? Complete with animals and their skeletons? Or did it develop fully when the first insect -- no microbe -- came along to inhabit it. Wait... they were part of it's development.

So... is it only human observation that matters? Do fossils form on-demand? And did new continents to do so, with fully functioning ecosystems? What happens when we find out there were people there already?

Unless you're saying everything is an illusion, but that's not physics.

I'm with GrumpyJames: you seem to be experiencing some sort of existential crisis.
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Feb 14, 2014
History is just a pattern of neurons that is similar in different brains. An archaeological artefact doesn't exist because of historical events (of course it exists because of physical laws, that is not what I want to say). It is an anchor that allows us to create a set of neuronal patterns that matches the piece of matter and the other patterns we developed so there are no big plot holes. And this is why history can be lost or can be vastly different between different people and still work (I can't use "be true" here). It is not something absolute or "true" existing independent of the people who remember it. Honestly, I think this is quite obvious and doesn't need a non-trivial concept of time (so it is simpler and must be true).

Coincidentally I read about this just two or three days ago, with a dinosaur bone as example for the artefact. I just can't remember where I read this. I will try to find out.
Feb 14, 2014
The simplest universe would be "Nothing".

Here's a fun read: Jim Holt's "Why Does the World Exist?"

+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 14, 2014
This is where memory stifles my creativity. In answer to your question there are several sources residing in the garbage dump that is my mind.

Berkeley, the concepts of Immaterialism or Subjective Idealism
Theodore Sturgeon, *Yesterday Was Monday.* The background for each minute of our lives is constructed from scratch by cosmic work crews. Appeared on The New Twilight Zone as *A Matter of Minutes.*
Michael Crichton, TIME LINE. There is no travel in time. But travel between alternate universes similar in appearance to ours, though nonsynchronous, is possible through quantum wormholes.

As one of my uncles used to say, I jus sayem I don splainem.
Feb 14, 2014
Where you go wrong is the point where you say "Nature likes simplicity, right?"

History is not about "nature". Nature will do what it does according to natural laws. Rocks might show where they've been and how the formed - but the rocks don't care. Only biological minds care about the past. Humans do this most impressively but I am also convinced other species do it - birds and higher order mammals - and there is much research supporting this. "History" with a capital H is created by humans when they write about it. And it is useful - to humans - as a warning about patterns that happened in the past and might happen in the future. It is not at all useful to inanimate things. It is a thing that exists only in the world of human experience and human knowledge and human action.

I have seen a pattern in your blog postings that this world of unique human experience and thought is something that for whatever reason you seem to prefer to deny - we are really all just robots living in a world of predestination and determinism. And you deny existence of the soul, the uniqueness of human emotion and intellect and desire, and even the special nature of the human experience. Pattern recognition ON. This kind of feeling of detachment from the world - and of not participating in the world of emotion and in meaningful experience - is very close to clinical depression and I have seen it time and time and time again ... and in very intelligent people it masquerades as intelligence or creativity and it isn't.

I know this because in addition to seeing it over and over I also suffered from it myself.

The worst part of it is: the smartest people in the world can't recognize it when it happens to them.

If you're right, then it doesn't matter, and whatever is going to happen will happen anyway. But this looks like high-intellect depression to me. The good news is there are easy solutions. And my own life improved infinitely for the better when I embraced that and realized that my patterns of thought about determinism and other philosophical issues were unhealthy.

It's Valentine's Day. I really could care less about history - I have found that happiness is something you create by doing. Go get some steak. Get some lobster tails. Fire up the grill.

But I wish I had not read your blog today because I have happier things to think about. And I'm going to do so.
Feb 14, 2014
Mostly in fiction. Backstory is created or fleshed out as it is called for by a current plotline.

Also, perception equals personal reality in general. The past isn't a real thing to you until you learn about it.
Feb 14, 2014
@Dil-doh - you almost made me pee my pants.
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