The Universe as Automaton
Preface: I am not a physicist by training, but the following text will contain a few thoughts about physics from the perspective of a theoretical computer scientist.
Recently there have been several publications by members of high IQ societies concerning the universe and, most of all, the question of the number of dimensions that there are. Here are my thoughts on that matter.
I believe there are really only three dimensions of space. I believe so because human beings can only move in these three dimensions, even if we make use of all the technical gadgets we have. If, as I also believe, space is discrete - that is, it consists of many small points similar to the pixels of a screen - the current state of the universe could be modeled as a three-dimensional matrix. Einstein considered time the fourth dimension, but this was a formalism to better describe his theory. In my opinion, however, time is something different than space. Nevertheless one may add time as a fourth dimension to this matrix; this results in a four-dimensional matrix able to represent the state of the universe at any point in time. (NB: This representation is only theoretical as it is not possible to have something that is as large as the entire universe represented by a computer - except, maybe, if it has enough redundancy that a suitable data compression algorithm could be applied...)
Would the use of even more dimensions make sense? Yes; at least one more dimension would make sense. Some people believe in the existence of parallel universes. And even those who don't believe in that usually concede that not everything is happening in a deterministic manner. So there are several possible states per point in time. These states could be represented by a fifth dimension. What is especially interesting is the question where transitions between states are possible. And that's basically what physics is all about. If it is possible to have the universe represented by a five-dimensional matrix, then what physics deals with is the possible transitions between the states. This would make the universe what theoretical computer scientists call a deterministic, finite automaton.
I haven't talked about the size of the universe yet. If the hypothesis is right that there was initially just one point and the universe expanded with time, this means that the number of states per unit of time is growing with time, as well as the number of transitions. I consider this idea intriguing. I also admit that it is probably not too original since it is quite natural to come up with it for someone educated in theoretical computer science. Stephen Wolfram's "A New Kind of Science" seems to head into a similar direction; also, google up the keyword "cellular automata".
One thing that is interesting (amongst others) is that every deterministic finite automaton can be represented by a regular language. Might it be possible that the universe can be represented by a regular language? If it is, then this is the "theory of everything" which physicists are currently searching for. That said, I honestly think this concept is worth pursuing!
Claus Volko, cdvolko (at) gmail (dot) com