First of all, this question also relates to physics but goes beyond it, into the phylosophical field.

After dealing with physics engines in computer engineering, an idea of something similar crossed my mind.

When thinking about every physical process in nature where events trigger new scenarios of matter and energy in different states, one might think that an "engine" of some kind must have had to calculate all aspects of the initial states to actually produce results in the universe.

An example of this would be throwing a glass against a wall. Given all kinds of variables (speed, air-related variables, materials variables, wall variables, etc), something or someone must tell the glass into how many pieces it should be broken and at which speed and angle each piece has to rebound. This way, something in the universe must be constantly calculating all data (seen as "inputs" of the system) to produce the inmediate future state of the universe. The rules are somehow written and this engine would apply them fore every aspect and in every corner of the universe.

I know that the concept of formulas and variables are a human post-construction that comes after observing the universe, but it can be said that some these rules where there before and independently of human thought (this might be another topic).

Having said this, is there a school of thought that deals with this concern? is it even a surrealistic topic?

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    Why do you say that "something in the universe must be constantly calculating all data" — isn't calculation a human concept? why do you slap it on the universe? you can hardly even apply it reasonably to human activities — for example, you can calculate the chances someone would vote for candidate A or B in an election, based on his age, race, socioeconomic status, voting history, etc... ­— but how is that even remotely related to anything that person does to decide who to vote for?
    – nir
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 10:39
  • I am addressing the problem from a different approach. When a ball hits the ground, why does it always behave according to the same rules? who tells de ball at which exact speed it has to be repeled? The universe has laws, and objects behave according to them. If there is no such calculation, as you suggest, because this is a human concept, this means all atoms in the universe have an implicit pattern, they just "behave" this way, nothing else. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 11:09
  • What you describe is quite the way Spinoza thought substance, despite of course in a less technical way. I do not know about modern physicists reading and modifying Spinoza, though.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 12:08
  • i understood your approach but I think you are thinking about the universe in human terms and that it is wrong. the universe does not calculate any more than it dances or thinks about the weather. the universe is mysterious. it does its thing and we try to describe it with laws and math.
    – nir
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 12:37
  • I don't know that it's an exact duplicate of this question, but there are many similar questions already on this site. Can you elaborate on what's different in yours? Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 23:05

2 Answers 2


My short answer to your question in the title: We do not know.

And even more: We do not even know why our theories, expressed in mathematical form, apply to the universe. Concerning the latter point a famous essay has been written by Eugene Wigner The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences, see http://www.dartmouth.edu/~matc/MathDrama/reading/Wigner.html

Nevertheless, thanks to increasing computer power we can start to make simulations of the universe, e.g. of the formation of galaxies. And we can even change a bit the laws which govern the physics of such simulations. Then the computer and our software become the engine of the simulated world.

Finally one can speculate whether our "real" world actually is(!) a computer simulation. Then we would live in a mathematical world, and this would answer your original question.

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    "We do not even know why our theories, expressed in mathematical form, apply to the universe." What a brutal and beautifully accurate wording!
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:13

This is just an example of Laplaces Demon which just reflects the philosophical position called Causal Determinism, and is the classical conception of physics, most ideally represented in Newtonian Mechanics, and sometimes allegorised as the clockwork universe.

(However, it's generally accepted since the advent of the quanta that the indeterminate is also a crucial aspect of a purely physical ontology).

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