The universe could be a neural network — an interconnected computational system similar in structure to the human brain. This controversial theory proposed by physicist Vitaly Vanchurin of the University of Minnesota at Duluth.
As created by computer scientists, artificial neural networks are made up of various nodes — equivalent to biological neurons — that process and pass on signals.
The network can change as it is used — such as by increasing the weight given to certain nodes and connections — allowing it to ‘learn’ as it goes along.
For example, given a set of cat pictures to study, a network can learn to pick out characteristic cat features on its own — and so tell them apart from other animals.
However, physicist Vitaly Vanchurin believes that — on a fundamental level — everything we know may be one of these systems.
The notion has been proposed as a way to reconcile areas of so-called ‘classical’ physics with those of quantum mechanics — a long-standing problem in physics.
‘We are not just saying that the artificial neural networks can be useful for analysing physical systems, or for discovering physical laws — we are saying that this is how the world around us actually works,’ Professor Vanchurin wrote in his paper.
‘This is a very bold claim,’ he conceded.
‘It could be considered as a proposal for the theory of everything, and as such it should be easy to prove it wrong.’
‘All that is needed is to find a physical phenomenon which cannot be described by neural networks. Unfortunately, [this] is easier said than done.’