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Talk by Prof Catherine Heymans

In our quest to understand the Universe, we have discovered that many of its features can be replicated through computer simulations. Based on the mathematical laws of physics, we can recreate a virtual cosmos that mirrors our observations of the Universe with remarkable accuracy. And on the occasions when differences between simulations and observations highlight gaps in our knowledge, we are given clues to new physics, gaining a deeper understanding of reality.

These rapid advances in computer hardware, simulation technology and artificial intelligence allow us to solve tasks previously only associated with human intelligence. This raises a profound question: If we can simulate increasingly complex systems today, does that imply that future generations will be able to simulate the whole Universe along with all its conscious inhabitants? Could we be living within an elaborate simulation? This talk explores the intersections of physics, astronomy, and philosophy, inviting you to consider what is ‘real’.


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Professor Catherine Heymans is the 11th Astronomer Royal for Scotland appointed by Her Majesty the Queen in 2021, the first woman to hold this title in its two-hundred year history. In 2022 she became the youngest person to receive the Royal Astronomical Society’s prestigious William Herschel medal for outstanding merit in observational astrophysics. She is a fellow of both the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Leopoldina, the National Academies of Scotland and Germany. Catherine is a regular contributor to BBC Radio and TV, providing expert comment for a wide range of physics and space stories.

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