# Every now and again God puts us on pause. Can we detect this?

Imagine that God has many universes to deal with or just needs a break sometimes. He has a pause control.

What plausible mechanism does God use to perform the pause without breaking the laws of physics he has created? Is there anything in our current knowledge of physics that forbids a pause? What is the minimal thing that has to be done to produce a universal pause (rather than intervening with every particle individually)?

If God uses this minimal method, can we detect that we have been paused?

My assumption is that all the laws that we see are still there, exactly as we know them. There could however be an extra law that we simply don't know about. It doesn't change the other laws--it just exists alongside them. Effectively it is used to stop our universe relative to other universes and Heaven. I'm wondering if we could find out about the extra law by the fact that something changes suddenly, for example the amount/proportion of dark matter in the universe suddenly changes.

[Please notice the tag. Soft science that is verifiable is also welcomed.]

This question asks for hard science. All answers to this question should be backed up by equations, empirical evidence, scientific papers, other citations, etc. Answers that do not satisfy this requirement might be removed. See the tag description for more information.

• – MichaelS Nov 2 '15 at 8:33
• This may or may not help; but as for miracles mentioned in above comments one explanation I've heard is this: God suspends the laws of the universe; he doesn't go against them. I've heard it likened to when one debugs a piece of code: the method always has a set pattern and formula; but you can stop the code on a line, change a value, then let it run and you'll get a different result. Something comes out of that code function that shouldn't have based on the parameters initially given. Like I said, might help; but it might simply be an interesting thought. – shiningcartoonist Nov 16 '15 at 14:13
• So you ask if we could detect something, that we can't actually detect because a) we simply can't detect it or b) it doesn't exist, where then the question would be, what would it have to be like, so that we could/couldn't detect it?!?!?!? Sounds for me your boundaries are depending on your choice answering in any case your own question. – Zaibis Nov 19 '15 at 9:36
• I ran a few scenarios involving something like this, and the effect is astounding. No machine detects anything happened, but all humans know instantly for the same reason bizarre things happen when the brain stops. – Joshua Apr 6 '16 at 18:22
• Does these universes interact with themselves? (say... gravity, or something). If yes, its possible to detect the pause by observing the influence of the other universes in our own universe. – Physicist137 Jun 25 '16 at 20:44

No, because of Hamilton's equations and conservation laws.

At some time $t$, the configuration of the universe is represented (classically) by a point in phase space. Phase space describes the position and momentum of the components of a system. We can define these locations using canonical coordinates $q_i$ and $p_i$ (components of the vectors denoting objects' locations in space and momenta). Hamilton's equations say that $$\frac{\mathrm{d}\mathbf{p}}{\mathrm{d}t}=-\frac{\mathrm{d}\mathcal{H}}{\mathrm{d}\mathbf{q}}$$ $$\frac{\mathrm{d}\mathbf{q}}{\mathrm{d}t}=\frac{\mathrm{d}\mathcal{H}}{\mathrm{d}\mathbf{p}}$$ This describes how the configuration of the universe changes in phase space over time - in other words, how the universe evolves. Normally, this could be represented by a smooth curve. In this case, however, at some time $t_1$, there is a discontinuity, where $|\mathbf{p}|=0$. From God's perspective, you have a finite $\mathrm{d}\mathbf{p}$ and a vanishing $\mathrm{d}t$, which means an infinite force, as $\mathbf{F}=\frac{\mathrm{d}\mathbf{p}}{\mathrm{d}t}$. That quite clearly violates the laws of physics.

Is there anything in our current knowledge of physics that forbids a pause?

Oh, yes. It violates this reasoning, as well as conservation laws aplenty, including energy, linear momentum, and angular momentum. Any energy associated with motion instantaneously disappears, with no possible mechanism for its loss.

To more specifically address the question of whether or not we could notice it, the answer is simple: No. If everything has been paused, then nothing should have changed during the "time" elapsed for God during the pause. There's simply no way to tell, because nothing is different.

• You assume t doesn't stop advancing during the pause. – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 27 '15 at 11:20
• @HDE226868 But God is outside the system that is controlled by the Hamilton's equations, so it's not entirely clear that this is a contradiction. – yo' Oct 27 '15 at 19:17
• @yo' Why is God not bound by the same laws? The question states without breaking the laws of physics he has created. Therefore, God is subject to the same laws. – HDE 226868 Oct 27 '15 at 21:57
• If the universe, its laws and everything in it are part of a simulation and "God" is just the scientist responsible for the simulation, there is nothing stopping Him from pausing the simulation indefinitely and continuing it at will and unnoticably. – Hackworth Nov 1 '15 at 11:07
• Actually, this is probably the only plausible way of interpreting the question. Otherwise it is sort of philosophical (what does it mean to pause). HDE has chosen to assign a physical meaning to pause, and works with it. – PyRulez Nov 16 '15 at 0:34

The laws of physics AS WE KNOW THEM, does not allow such an act. But really, they don't forbid it either.

These laws describe the universe from the inside, because that is the only viewpoint we have available. What happens outside the universe, if an outside exists at all, is beyond the scope of our theories.

What is needed is a "God" time that is independent of "Universe" time.

Universe time stops, everything in the universe stops. God lives on God time and takes a vacation. Later on, they start the Universe Clock again and everything starts moving again like nothing happened.

Computers do this all the time. Computer programs run in small universes of their own. They think they run continuously, but in really they execute in short bursts with pauses in between. Normally these pauses are very short, less than a tenth of a second, but if you activate sleep mode they can last much longer.

A computer program can discover this in two ways. One is simply looking at the system clock. The other that they were connected to some server and that server closed the connection due to inactivity.

In both cases the program is looking outside its universe to discover that outside time has moved on without it. There is no way a program can discover this just by looking inside its own world. Unless there is a bug.

Returning to God and our Universe. I assume God is competent enough that they won't have bugs in the creation. Then the only way to discover the pauses is by looking outside the Universe, which we don't know how to do. Yet.

# as ever, Greg Egan is the master

Look at some of the narrative from the short story that was expanded into the novel Permutation City by Greg Egan. In fact, read that novel before continuing with these ideas— it will be food for thought.

In the first part (the original story) a character inside a simulation experiments with the effects of changing the granularity of computing the states, and even reversing them! He counts from 1 to 10 to mark off seconds, and the simulation calculated the resulting state of 10 seconds without playing through each one: after he “counts” can he tell that it didn’t really happen? What about computing and realizing the states out of order?

In another part of the novel, they create a universe that includes an access network to the various cells as well as the “inside” connectivity of the stuff in the space. And it has a variable speed and pause function designed in.

In a completely different Egan novel, he has a crystal artifact that is the state of a computer running intelligent beings. It doesn't have a way to change the bits: the compute engine (wherever it is now) created a new instance as it computes the next state. The “beings” in their universe are far in the future now and this frozen image of a past moment means what? Would it bother them if you destroyed it? Looking at a row of these files laid out down a highway, what is their “time” to you, driving up and down the highway at will?

# on simulations

If the universe (or a population who thinks they observe a universe) works in a straightforward way you think of computing the next state from the previous, who's to say how long each step takes (obligatory xkcd reference)? Slowing it or pausing would mean nothing if the eventual result computed was the same.

If there's not a central processor with separate memory, but something more like a cellular automata, maybe every cell is hooked up to a clock and a way to examime its state. Stopping it would mean coordinating the stop to all cells. You might contrive imperfections for the plot so it could be determined.

In our Universe, time and space is one thing and it doesn’t make sence to have an absolute time marching forward. However, on the “outside” a particular slice of spacetime is computed in some order. Once the project is complete the entire 4D state is complete and there is no time outside corresponding to any inside observer’s time. So what does “pause” even mean?

For the concept to mame sence it would have to be a simulation specifically made to host the people inside. The simulation-state time is a time axis very close to that of the planet and people inside. At any given time (on the outside) the computer’s memory holds a state representing all space and a small range of time in that reference frame.

# pinning down a definite concept

Now suppose this is done on a cluster of compute units with memory local to a small region of space. Now that doesn’t really work due to entanglement but suppose it’s a simulation we might make in the medium future and meant to appear to be this universe on the inside, so observable nonlocal issues are hacked into the design.

Each processor runs without a real synchronized clock, but accesses data tagged with space-time in adjecent cells, so it doesn’t matter. If they can’t all be addressed with a single command either, but the commands flow across the compute fabric, then stopping becomes a problem.

If a cell doesn't care what time it is per se but computes based on what its neighbors contain, then cells may compute with neighbors that have already stopped and “see” the wrong information. If the command follows the normal connections used for causality, then it will be OK.

It’s restarting that will have problems. The newly restarted cell will have neighbors that are still “cold” for events flowing in the opposite direction. Let’s suppose that the restarted cell is in a state to ease back up, but it’s not perfect: it may linger too long or not enough, and lose information due to neighbors being out of date.

Where it might break worse is where features were hacked in. What if quantum computers (inside) malfunction because the entanglement is messed up when restarting? What about events being observed in the distant universe that is not being simulated to full fidelity but fed-in to the people in the main simulation? Watching a distant supernova in a telescope might glitch.

# what this gives us:

As people (on the inside)

• develop more awareness of fine details of far-distant events,
• more detailed reliance on very small quantum effects,
• and technology that uses quantum-scale effects over intercontinental distances,

they might become aware of glitches and imperfections that show up after a pause is restarted.

• You have introduced me to a new author, and judging by a quick search, a mysterious one at that. Thanks, I'll take a look. – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 10:06
• Chasly, welcome to your new obsession. Egans books are utterly mindbendingly wonderful. – Shayne Nov 1 '15 at 15:21

I think the answer depends on the computability of the universe.

If the universe is computable, then its state can be stored somehow and nothing could prevent a 'God' from pausing it. If God is not included in the universe, then I don't think it possible from the inside to guess that the universe was paused.

If God is part of the universe, then he would have to pause himself leading to a paradox.

If the universe is not computable (more likely), then it's state could not be stored and then could not be paused.

Note that if the universe is computable, then the universe become "predictable" (in my opinion).

• +1. I think your answer is the one who best address the question. Btw, I think universe is pretty predictable. So, out of curiosity, why do you think otherwise? Ie, you find more likely it is not computable. Why? – Physicist137 Jun 25 '16 at 20:40
• @Physicist137 : I think the universe is predictable AND I think that human do have free will. The way I see it, the universe is like a probabilistic tree and every branch is predictable but has a infinitesimal chance of being selected. I'd be happy to develop a more consistent point a view :) – Kii Jun 25 '16 at 22:26
• @Physicist137 : plus the quantum physics show that observation has consequence on the observed object, and electron trajectories are not predictable so this is why I think the universe is not predictable at a given instant. I have no opinion on either it is computable or not. – Kii Jun 25 '16 at 22:30

Well, if it's really like that God has "universes in boxes" and pauses them correctly, then I think there is a way to detect this, depending on the way how God pauses the universes.

Imagine a moving system like falling dominoes, pinball or whatever -- this is a good analogy to God with his universe in a box. Now the universe is moving; if you want to stop it, you simply stop all the objects. God is infinite, has "infinitely many fingers" that can stop "infinitely many objects". Also, he is very powerfull and skilled, so he can stop the objects all at once, and then start them by kicking them in their original speed. If everything is stopped, including light, information (such as gravity) etc., you can't detect it.

But maybe he is not stopping and starting everything so precisely. Maybe we are able to detect small dislocations of objects every now and then, as God stops as and starts us again. He's created the Heisenberg principle to hide these imprecisions, but what if we can go beyond this, maybe with a help of some really long-term statistics?

I don't touch the problem of relativity and what "now" means; since God stops even photons and gravity information, he can stop them in any reference frame.

• What single thing does he stop though? If he stops 'time', what does that mean in terms of today's physics? Is time actually 'moving'? – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 0:43
• @chaslyfromUK No, he doesn't stop time, he just stops everything else: particles, photons, and most importantly, the gravity (or interactions in general). Time is moving, but since everything is stopped (well, for interactions, maybe the good word would be "blocked"), we can't know that the time is moving. – yo' Oct 27 '15 at 0:44
• @yo' Doesn't that violate conservation laws? Or are you saying that God can break science (which I'm assuming isn't an option)? – HDE 226868 Oct 27 '15 at 0:55
• My assumption is that God created all the laws of science. Maybe he left a backdoor mechanism that doesn't break any of them but allows a stop. I'm wondering where that mechanism could be inserted to best effect. – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 1:23
• @yo', Here's what I'm concerend about. Let us suppose that God simultaneously stops everything, "particles, photons, and most importantly, the gravity", as you put it. Does that stop the quantum fluctuations in empty space? If so then that surely has to be done 'behind the scenes'. If he hasn't stopped them, then maybe there is something we can detect. – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 1:39

I don't think there is an answer to this question.

There is a concept in physics known as Planck Time. It's defined as the length of time that it takes a photon to cross one unit of Planck Length. This length of time is about 10^-43 (10 to the minus 43rd power) seconds. Roughly speaking, nothing can happen during this length of time, so God, existing in eternity, can take off as much time as He needs during Planck Time.

If time comes to a stop, we can't sense it since all of our bodily senses and all of our scientific instruments depend on the passage of time to make any measurements.

It's kind of wrong headed to think about what God can or can't do. At least it is to me. Anything you say about God's nature is limiting and God's nature has no limits. But then, that's theology, not science.

• God, existing in eternity, can take off as much time as He needs during Planck Time. - I'm not sure how this follows. He'll only get one Planck time of rest, right? – HDE 226868 Oct 27 '15 at 1:18
• I've removed the 'religion' tag. I am assuming God created all the laws of the universe and abides by them. Rather than magicking everything to a screeching halt, I'm asking if there is some simple trick (available to God) that would stop time without breaking any of the laws we know about. – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 1:27
• @HDE226868 Personally, I don't think God experiences time. Psalm 90, verse 4 of the NIV Bible says "A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by ..."; and 2 Peter Chapter 3 verse 8 of the NIV says "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years ...". At the very least this means that God's relationship with time in our universe is flexible. We know so very little about what time actually is, it's hard to hold a practical conversation about it. – Howard Miller Oct 27 '15 at 1:37
• That's not really right... things "happen" but can't be ordered or measured more precisely than that. – JDługosz Oct 27 '15 at 5:57
• @HowardMiller, I thought God created the world in 6 days? Surely he experiences time at least to that extent. – chasly from UK Oct 27 '15 at 9:56

What the question is about is whether we are living in a physical universe, or in a simulation embedded in an external physical universe of which we know nothing. A virtual reality. (Lay aside the philosophical problems over defining "physical", the moral dimensions, and that it might be turtles a long way down, or should that be up).

If our universe is (a) god's "simulation", and what he is simulating is nothing more nor less than a finite set of rules for interactions between fundamental particles (some of which we have deduced, others which we may deduce in future), all invariant with respect to position, direction and time, then that is an untestable hypothesis for us on the inside. We should therefore wave Occam's razor and stop worrying.

Where it gets interesting is if the god is nowhere near powerful enough to simulate an entire universe. Let's suppose that he is actually a distant descendant of humanity, and he's doing historical research on how things might have turned out if the initial conditions leading into the 2190 technological "singularity" had been a little bit different. So he's simulating not our physical universe, which is just like his universe, but "merely" our brains (and only a few million of them: most of the shop assistants and suchlike that we interact with and promptly forget, are in fact low-res simulacra with no continuity beyond what we observe of them). This virtual universe is not a flawless implementation of a few simple rules, but a patchwork quilt of ad-hockery limited by his budget. We look down, the simulation receives as input something corresponding to a floor. We look at a drop of pondwater through a microscope, we receive a picture of some appropriate mini-beasts. We build a large hadron collider, and get fed a stream of events that reflect the particle-physics reality as understood by god. And so on.

But however huge the database of what goes where and did what when, it is finite, and occasionally inconsistencies will arise. Do we notice? Well, we know our memories are less than perfect. Could we tell if occasionally, they are edited to recreate consistency of experience, and not just by our own subconscious during our dreams? Mostly, I suspect we couldn't. But it's just about possible that somebody very bright and very paranoid might be able to assemble enough non-subjective evidence to convince himself that he wasn't just being afflicted by the usual human frailties. If he tried to convince any of the rest of us, he'd probably find that his little collection of evidence promptly disappeared and that he was giving a good impression of suffering from paranoid delusions. But if he kept very quiet about his own thoughts and his secret cache of external evidence, and started looking for exploitable bugs in the less-than-perfect simulation that most of us call "reality" ...

Personally, I wouldn't take the risk. The most likely outcome would be a fatal accident headed my way in the near future. The next most likely, the end of our world, as god pulls the plug on an irretrievably compromised simulation, patches the patches, re-randomizes, and starts over. But there's no stopping some people....

NB small-g god throughout. Shorthand for a super-intelligent entity that's capable of simulating millions of human intelligences and their environment, but certainly not omnipotent or omniscient, even inside of the simulation which he created. Sometimes, he idly wonders about what is simulating him, whether he could tell, and how many more upward levels there are.

• This ties in with other q/a's on this SE, where we speculate about bugs and glitches more generally. I think a bug would not be seen since an "exception" would rewind the transaction and replay history from that point. – JDługosz Oct 27 '15 at 23:53

Miracles are outside the laws of physics. Creating the universe in six days, walking on water, turning water into wine, raising the dead, stopping the sun for a day, Feeding thousand of people with a few fish and loaves of bread, etc. are all inconsistent with the laws of physics.

This does not means the physical laws are invalid, just that miracles do not have to obey the laws we know. Since God is the lawgiver, He can change the laws as needed when it suits him.

Pausing the universe is simply another miracle. Miracles depending upon your viewpoint were completely detectable (and often the reason for the miracle) or undetectable.

Water into wine. Those that saw the miracle performed knew it was supernatural. The wine steward tasting the wine detected nothing other than the quality was better than expected. Feeding 5000 with a few loaves and fishes? Same thing, you see the miracle - very obvious, you eat the bread and fish - nothing unusual.

How do any of the miracles work? Not a clue, they are simply beyond human understanding and only understandable as an act of God and supernatural a.k.a. outside of knows laws. Explain turning water into wine, or walking on water, etc - Can't be done. Universal pause button - can't be explained either in a manner compatible with physics.

Since miracles are inexplicable by natural laws are why many people do not accept that miracles are possible. But if your scenario includes a universal pause by God, you have God performing a miracle. Given the universal speed limit, it is impossible via any natural law (even including a new law) to affect the whole universe at the same time. It must by definition be supernatural.

How do you stop time? What is time? It is not really even explained by physicists in such a way that you consider laws that would allow you to stop time.

If you decide everything is a simulation, you don't need a miracle per se, you just changes the rules of the simulation. To me, that is just another way of saying that you simulate a miracle. Maybe the God / programmer is saving the current program state and then reloading it later. If so, the miracle is undetectable. But perhaps in doing to the heap is defragmented and the program runs faster, now the miracle is perhaps noticed.

Pausing a physical universe -- infinite speed of propagation (or infinitely many points of simultaneous influence) it a miracle, no way around it. Pausing a virtual universe -- not a problem. In either cause the pause may either be completely undetectable or possibly a blatant discontinuity.

I realize that I have no hard-science component in the answer, well that's the way it is with miracles. They are not subject to scientific analysis or scientific principles.

If we can be a little liberal with the notion of pausing and take some simulationist assumptions to an extreme, we can come up with all sorts of ways. If one of the following two sets of conditions are true, I think we get a wedge of insight.

1) Some processes or quantities in our universe depend on the state of the meta-universal clock.

or

2A) God doesn't merely pause our universe, but saves it and reloads it at a later time.
2B) Saved universes are somehow compressed or simplified (full system state data is not preserved.)

1 is an especially hard case. Since we have no way to check the state of the meta-universal clock, we would need to reverse engineer if from observation of in-universe processes. This might be possible, but actually becomes less feasible if pausing our universe occurs with significant frequency (i.e. if it occurs during during the course of our investigations into the state of the meta-universal clock, it would disrupt the confirmation of the meta-universal clock hypothesis rather than give us evidence that our universe was being paused.) This sort of investigation is a bit beyond me, though. Dig up Feynman and ask him!

2A and 2B could give us a ton of anomalies to work with. Imagine you're the God/programmer, trying to save a universe to load it up later. Saving the complete state of the universe would be an absolutely staggering amount of data. There are certain things you'd want to keep very careful track of in the save (states of particles in human agents' brains for example, assuming a God interested in humans and their behavior), and there are certain other things you might not care so much about (like the exact state of every particle in a planet's atmosphere.) Some true random number generators (TRNGs) in the actual world operate by measuring atmospheric noise. If God's save files don't include extremely precise data on atmospheric states, it's very likely that when loading a saved universe a psuedo-random number generator (PRNG) would be invoked to generate a complete atmospheric state. If this were the case, analysis of atmospheric noise post-load would indicate a PRNG rather than a TRNG, and we'd know something fishy was afoot (Problem: we wouldn't really "know", we'd likely just consider it anomalous.) (check out random.org's introduction if you don't know anything about random number generators. https://www.random.org/randomness/)

A particularly lazy God might even just save some average atmospheric values in the save file and then "smooth" atmospheric noise would be easily observable immediately post-load (and quickly disrupted by atmospheric processes.) This would be a smoking gun, I think, but it would STILL be difficult to overcome the inclination to simply disregard the observation as anomalous, but if it happened often enough hopefully some scientists would investigate to rule out in-universe explanations such as equipment failure, and statisticians would team up with them to rule out the possibility of smooth measured atmospheric states arising naturally so often.

God is presumably defined as something outside this universe, with control over it. He pauses it by turning off whatever iteration control moves time forward.

For detection, one possibility I don't see mentioned yet is that God could be using a bad Random Number Generator (maybe he tried to write his own instead of using a reliable standardized library).

In that case it might be possible for us to:

• Detect that we're in a simulation by cracking patterns in seemingly random natural events (radioactive decay, cosmic background radiation, etc).
• If it is a simulation and God shares random numbers among multiple Universe instances, we could "see" pauses as gaps in the random number strings.

Note that the term "simulation" is used loosely here - if we're assuming a God created the universe and can pause it, the difference between a physically created universe he can control and a computerized simulation becomes academic.

Presumably, God would stop time around a certain place (in this case, Earth and it's surroundings). Or maybe He resides in a dimension from which he can alter this universe, but is unable to affect his own.

• Welcome Aussie, check out the help center when you have a moment. I would recommend expanding on this a bit as it doesn't fully answer the question – James Dec 2 '16 at 5:55
• This both does not provide an answer to the question and does not meet the requirements of the hard-science tag. – Frostfyre Dec 2 '16 at 13:06

This is actually not a science question, but rather a philosophy question. In fact, its a rather famous philosophy question on the nature of time. SEP discusses this (emphasis mine):

What if one day things everywhere ground to a halt? What if birds froze in mid-flight, people froze in mid-sentence, and planets and subatomic particles alike froze in mid-orbit? What if all change, throughout the entire universe, completely ceased for a period of, say, one year? Is such a thing possible? If the answer to this last question is Yes — if it is possible for there to be a period of time during which nothing changes, anywhere (except, perhaps, for the pure passage of time itself, if there is such a thing) — then it is possible that a worldwide “freeze” will occur between the time you finish reading this sentence and the time you start the next sentence. In fact, if it's possible for there to be a period of time without change, then it may well be that a million years have passed since you finished reading the last sentence.

The question of whether there could be time without change has traditionally been thought to be closely tied to the question of whether time exists independently of the events that occur in time. For, the thinking goes, if there could be a period of time without change, then it follows that time could exist without any events to fill it; but if, on the other hand, there could not be a period of time without change, then it must be that time exists only if there are some events to fill it.

Aristotle and others (including, especially, Leibniz) have argued that time does not exist independently of the events that occur in time. This view is typically called either “Reductionism with Respect to Time” or “Relationism with Respect to Time,” since according to this view, all talk that appears to be about time can somehow be reduced to talk about temporal relations among things and events. The opposing view, normally referred to either as “Platonism with Respect to Time” or as “Substantivalism with Respect to Time” or as “Absolutism with Respect to Time,” has been defended by Plato, Newton, and others. On this view, time is like an empty container into which things and events may be placed; but it is a container that exists independently of what (if anything) is placed in it.

Some go even further:

In a famous paper published in 1908, J.M.E. McTaggart argued that there is in fact no such thing as time, and that the appearance of a temporal order to the world is a mere appearance.

So, in all, you have philosophers on different sides of the argument, arguing "yes, God can put us on pause," "no, God cannot put us on pause," and "the concept of putting us on pause is meaningless."