a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)

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Ouroboros (1997)
Geoffrey A. Landis
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)

The question of whether what we call "reality" could be nothing other than a simulation run on a computer gets a mathematically sophisticated treatment in this story. In addition to a vague reference to a mathematical discovery which restores a deterministic explanation to quantum mechanics, the story also addresses more interesting questions such as:

(quoted from Ouroboros)

"But - " said Betsy. "But, can they really do that, and make it work? What happens when our computer tries to model another computer with as much computing power as it has?"

Dr. Torrez smiled. "That's the wonder of efficient data compression. A data set can contain within it a data set that has as much complexity in it as the original data, by encoding it within the redundancies of the original data. And the real universe is full of redundancy."

Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction magazine in 1997, it was reprinted in the collection Impact Parameter.

Spoiler Alert! (Don't read below if you would like to read and enjoy the story for yourself.)
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As you might have guessed from the quote above, the story involves the idea that the beings in the simulation run a computer program in which another universe is simulated and so on. The story concludes with the scary implications of what it would mean if this chain looped back on itself, so that eventually this universe is itself running on a computer in one of the universes that it is simulating.

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Works Similar to Ouroboros
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Snow by Geoffrey A. Landis
  2. Approaching Perimelasma by Geoffrey A. Landis
  3. Ripples in the Dirac Sea by Geoffrey A. Landis
  4. La formule: (A story of fourth dimension) by Jean Ray
  5. The Planck Dive by Greg Egan
  6. Finity by John Barnes
  7. Perturbation - For Nature Computes On A Straight Line (In Seven Balancing Acts) by Vijay Fafat
  8. Dark as Day by Charles Sheffield
  9. Oracle by Greg Egan
  10. Factoring Humanity by Robert J. Sawyer
Ratings for Ouroboros:
RatingsHave you seen/read this work of mathematical fiction? Then click here to enter your own votes on its mathematical content and literary quality or send me comments to post on this Webpage.
Mathematical Content:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
TopicComputers/Cryptography, Mathematical Physics,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The 1,600th entry was recently added to this database of mathematical fiction! Also, for those of you interested in non-fictional math books let me (shamelessly) plug the recent release of the second edition of my soliton theory textbook.

(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)