A lone researcher elegantly solves an unsolved physics problem with a brilliant proof and proposal for a reasonably inexpensive experiment to go along with it--however this proof only works if it's assumed that one is inside a simulated reality. Regardless of how crazy this proof seems, some fellow researches are convinced, and after pooling a couple million to finance the the first test, it verifies the original researcher's theory.

Question: Is there an unsolved mathematics or physics problem where it would be "realistic" that a lone researcher could stumble across a solution that is theoretically testable and would conceivably be influenced by living in a simulated reality? Obviously, I'm not expecting a 'real' answer here--the answer only needs to be good enough to provide a layer of suspension-of-disbelief and maybe make any physicists reading chuckle.

  • $\begingroup$ It looks like you're looking for a plot device not trying to build a fictional world. Of note you don't seem to be interested in any particular theory and care more about out of world effects on your audience than any impact the answer will have on the world. In general if you're looking for brainstorming and idea generation, or to start a discussion your question is probably not a good fit for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 10, 2022 at 21:00
  • $\begingroup$ It's a bootstrap issue, we're probably not going to be able to answer. An exception would be more to do with the limitations of the simulation - which you'd need to tell us about in detail. Then the issue becomes one of suspension-of-disbelief which is perilously close to writing advice. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2022 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ The very simple answer in hard-science is “No, there is no physics mystery that would reveal a simulated world if solved.” But a great writer would devise one. As @sphennings notes your story is missing a plot device. Writing.se? Many stories simply gloss over the equation (because the audience won’t understand anyway). VTC $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 10, 2022 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ Implied Spaces by Walter John Williams. In the book there is an experiment that proves something crucial about the nature of the universe (no spoilers regarding what). Worth reading to see how another author handled the problem you have here and IMO it's a good albeit imperfect book. $\endgroup$ Mar 10, 2022 at 22:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ What is a simulated world? It turns out to be a rather interesting question that's harder to answer than it might first seem. Only once you know what a simulation is can you understand how to test for it. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 12, 2022 at 0:07

3 Answers 3


Firstly a minor frame challenge. I'm assuming that the premise of this question is to get it such that human civilisation has to suddenly deal with the fact that it is in a simulated universe. The problem with this is that major paradigm shifts in human understanding, even when based on the strongest possible scientific evidence, take a long time to become accepted by the scientific community and longer still by everyone else. Theories that we currently regard as having overwhelming evidence to support (e.g. Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, Natural Selection, etc.) took decades or in some cases centuries to reach widespread acceptance. All that time, Scientists were debating them and trying show where they failed. These theories are accepted now because decades of scientific research have failed to deal a serious blow to them, and because they have useful explanatory power. If you want everyone to accept the simulation hypothesis, you need to accomplish 3 things:

  1. Find a series of anomalies in current understanding that cannot be explained by the existing theories, but can be explained by some simulation hypothesis.
  2. Demonstrate that the simulation hypothesis has useful explanatory power based upon some particular hypothesis about the underlying workings of the simulation.
  3. Give scientists and society in general plenty of time to work through it's objections, and eventually accept a paradigm shift.

With that in mind I would propose that you need to rely on a mistake/laziness of the simulators. Therefore I propose the starting point of your paradigm shift is:

The Cosmic Censorship Hypothesis

Black Hole singularities are objects hypothesised to exist, but which are fundamentally unresolved in physical models. For a start, they requires such weird concepts as infinite density. Whoever wrote the model that our simulated reality runs on realised that the mathematical models they used to simulate most of the universe break down at the point of a singularity, throwing all kinds of error messages and requiring the simulation to halt. So they designed the simulation to ensure that any singularity is always cloaked in a barrier that prevents the singularity interacting with the rest of the universe - an Event Horizon.

However, far too late in the development cycle, they realised that if a collapsing star is rotating too rapidly when it forms a black hole, it can lead to a distorted toroidal event horizon which exposes the singularity to the outside universe. This is known as a "naked singularity".

It turns out this would cause all those errors to be thrown again, so they did what any self respecting programmer on a deadline would do, and they bodged a quick fix. If a naked singularity ever begins to form, a patch of space a few lightyears wide resets to an early saved state with a hard cap on maximum rotation.

Your researcher doesn't know this, but they are confused when studying older radio-telescope data of a fast rotating star that was thought to be collapsing into a black hole. They note that the signals seem to repeat, but the doppler shift distribution appears to suddenly narrow for no physically explicable reason. The whole thing just resets, but slower.

The observation can be repeated on other stellar collapse events. Once astrophysicists know what they are looking for, it becomes something of a tell-tale. Systems with more time-sensitivity are built, showing that the reset is a truly discontinuous process.

At this point, physics is in crisis and the Simulation Hypothesis is merely one candidate among many to replace conventional cosmological models. However, it starts nudging it's way up the field when other theorists are able to demonstrate that some other unsolved problems in physics are down to obvious (in hindsight) bodges and limitations by the simulators. Someone demonstrates that a workaround to preventing a particular kind memory limit error on relativistic simulations looks an awful lot like dark matter. Someone else shows that finite precision errors in quantum field theory simulations can lead to the asymmetry in the abundance of matter over anti-matter. All of these accumulating studies begin to build a picture of precisely how the universal simulation runs, and what compromises were forced on its design. Decades after the inciting observations, the paradigm shift is completed. Nobody wants to admit it, but it fits all the explanations together, and the Simulation Hypothesis Theory is the last explanation left standing.


Gravity and quantum mechanics.

Or more precisely relativity and quantum mechanics. These two theories are mentioned enough that a lay audience will probably have heard of both. There are plenty of articles trying to convert efforts to reconcile these 2 into lay language. Here is one.

And it is not rare to hear about truly unusual and edgy attempts to reconcile the two models. The simulation thing would be no weirder than the 10d hologram theory covered by Slate in the link there.

Your main desire is something semiplausible that you can have be the reason the simulation proving experiment is done. Reconciling the two main models to explain the universe seems as good a reason as any.


Yes, depending on if the simulator has limited memory. If you built a quantum computer big enough inside the simulation, you'd eventually starve the simulator of memory.

I don't know what that looks like, but it could look quite interesting and potentially it's traceable to its cause...build a quantum computer with 15 quadrillion qubits, fine, but at 15 quadrillion and 1, the universe generates an error message. Abort, retry, fail!


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