Creationism and Logic

Watch this creationist if you can handle the stupid.

Quite simply the most disgusting display of the stupid virus I’ve seen in a long, long time.  I’m not going to even attempt to address her because it will degenerate into a litany of how incredibly stupid this woman is, such as how Charles Darwin didn’t use no scientific method, or how the entire world appeared fully formed billions of years ago, and how (irony!) unlikely it is for the world to just pop into existence complete with plants, animals, and people.  I will instead try to present a more rational discussion of the argument between atheism and creationism so that both sides can understand why A) 99.9% of creationists have got the stupid virus.  Some of them have it BAD, like this young lady.  B)  Atheism and evolution are not synonymous, but I would venture to bet that all atheists credit evolution with the status as by far the most probable explanation for the origin of life on earth.  C)  Evolution is not a theory of metaphysics, and D) It is possible to have an argument for God that is not dripping with the stupid virus, but it doesn’t look even remotely like the arguments fielded by creationists and religious people today because, as I said earlier, the vast majority of them are outrightly stupid and proud of it.

Firstly, the video link above doesn’t even make a reasonable attempt to represent any of the arguments it claims to attack.  If there was such a person who created an argument along the lines of the one she is outlining, atheists would line up to take a whack at them.  Perhaps because the argument she outlines looks EXACTLY like the creationist argument, only it occurs much earlier chronologically, and there’s no god.  In order to have a reasonable debate, you first have to understand the argument you are taking a stance against.  The only thing worse than a straw man argument is a straw man argument by someone who honestly doesn’t understand that they’re knocking down a straw man.  Then they proudly look to their authority figures like a child who just built a sandcastle.  That wasn’t an argument, that was you creating an argument that has even fewer legs to stand on than your own, and then proceeding to bash it to bits with crummy logic, however the starting proposition was so ridiculous that the audience doesn’t even need the explanation.  The explanation becomes little more than theatre, as priests and missionaries will understand thoroughly if they’re any good at their jobs.  This is not how scientists think, though.  For scientists, there exists some truth which they can find, and which other scientists can similarly find independently.  As a result, as the number of scientists increases, the reliability of their findings as a community will (hopefully) improve as well.  This of course falls flat if there is not an assumption of universality and of equality of function between humans.  By contrast, if the Pope has a direct line to God and everybody else has to talk up the chain of command, the Pope could theoretically run very different experiments than anyone else could to determine the structure of the universe.

Now on to some more substantive concepts.  Atheism is not the same thing as evolution, not by a long chalk.  Atheism is the belief that there is no god.  I suppose atheism could qualify as a theory considering any tests you run for the existence of god return negative, which count as positive proof for the reciprocal argument, but its label is irrelevant.  Atheism is a theological statement.  Evolution is the theory of biology, not theology or metaphysics.  It is the logical result of three factors: 1) a population with differing properties between its constituents, 2) a method for increasing the quantity of that population which draws upon its current members (in most biologies, sex- sometimes asexual), and 3) a method for altering the properties of the population between generations.  This role is also filled by sex, but mutations also have a marginal effect.  If you accept that those three things exist, then evolution as a theory is already a given.  The Bible itself contains enough evidence for evolution in the bloodlines it describes where one family member inherits properties of another.  That’s it, the chicken’s done.  We have evolution.  Evolution as a broader theory explains the immense diversity of life based on small changes in individual species over large timescales which eventually stack up to create significantly different species.  All this bullshit about how “my granddaddy wasn’t no monkey” is A) wrong because whatever ancestor we both inherit from probably looked very different from modern monkeys, B) wrong because such a creature would be a different species entirely from humans, most likely, meaning in the context of the human species identity we are no longer related, and C) wrong because this basically constitutes a failure to accept obvious proof on the grounds that it might discredit you or your family or be otherwise uncomfortable.  This woman is attacking her straw doppelgangers of evolution and atheism like they are synonymous, which is itself an absurd proposition.  Now, atheists being atheists and failing to accept the assertion that God exists because there’s no evidence for it, are shall we say rather likely to also support the theory of evolution considering the immense amount of evidence backing it.  Moreover, religion will oppose evolution because it is a viable and self-sufficient alternative to religion.  Evolution requires no help from God or some other agent to explain the nature of the world, in a similar way that the Big Bang theory requires no God in order to explain the nature of the cosmos.  In similar fashion, the idea that the earth isn’t the center of the universe is, well, was jarring to the religious because it detracts from the earth’s special status as God’s chosen planet.  Even the most stupid-virus afflicted creationist has gotten the picture on that score, however.  Although perhaps I shouldn’t speak so soon because you can find someone prepared to believe anything these days.  Well, if you don’t believe the earth is round and orbits the sun, you are beyond fucking help pal.  The fact that you can’t actually be packed off to an asylum on “religious” grounds I find highly amusing, though.  But if you try anything really psycho with me or mine, expect to get hurt, badly, because I am far smarter than you.

Evolution’s lack of metaphysical explanation is something most creationists cannot understand.  By creationist ideology, ANY assertion about the world must be metaphysical.  Metaphysics has its place, but in day-to-day affairs, metaphysics really doesn’t do much, usually.  This is one of the reasons why creationism can grab people so powerfully, because any assertion about the world at all will require challenging that person’s most basic presuppositions about the world.  By “going to root” immediately, the amount of work required to even consider the thought of a slightly different world is much greater than for a scientifically-minded individual.  A scientist can easily conceive of one specific piece of errata being wrong, while the entire model as a whole being functional. It is entirely possible for us to be wrong about, or flatly not know exactly how every animal evolved from every ancient creature in all of history, but still accept the theory of evolution. For religion, however, any given single aspect of errata must be correct.  Therefore, challenging that single piece of errata will resolve to a challenge of that person’s metaphysics and most basic ideology.  People have died over whether the bread and water taken at communion is the body of christ, or whether it is, metaphorically, the body of christ.  Because challenging any assertion in a religion constitutes a challenge of the fundamental truth of the religion.  In the case of the people who accept the fundamental truth unconditionally, this means only shaking their most deeply-held roots will convince them of even the smallest thing, and such a shaking will likely be effective at completely changing their entire ideology.  This also serves to help a religion by preserving homogeneity among its believers, which is a powerful tool for social pressure based conversions.  The religions that people practiced because they were pleasant and easygoing have all gone the way of the Quakers.  I bring up the Quakers frequently because I think that they are memetically very interesting because they didn’t use the most effective and widely used today methods to acquire converts, and they’re all but extinct now. However, I’m not going into that for now.

Lastly, and this is the topic I intend to focus the most on, is it possible to have an argument for the existence of God that is actually intelligent and reasonable?  Right off, I’m going to say that most of the people who want to prove the Bible and common creationism or most religions that I know of, no.  It is impossible to make a case for a particular religion which includes a text of stories such as the Bible.  Invariably, they are filled to a comic level with contradiction, which by definition cannot exist in reality, among other reasons.  However it is possible to have an intelligent philosophical argument about whether or not there is a God, or even many Gods.  What is a god, and what properties must such a being necessarily have to constitute a god?  If there was a god, how would that change the metaphysics of the world as we know it?  What broad categories of metaphysics require, make possible, or render impossible the existence of a God or gods?

My favorite argument for the existence of God is called the ontological argument, because it’s just fun.  Basically, it goes like this: can you conceive of a being that is all-perfect?  Yes.  Ergo, there exists a God.

Smiling now.  It’s an amazing argument isn’t it?  Short, sweet, and to the point.  Now, it happens to be sound but in a very interesting way.  Basically, on a deeper level the argument is that a perfect being would be more perfect if it exists.  Therefore, an all-perfect being must exist because you can conceive of a being that is all-perfect.  I think this argument is philosophically interesting, but of zero metaphysical consequence, and doesn’t actually prove that there is a god.  It’s pretty easy to poke fun at this argument by parodying it with a pair of children, “Can you think of a big-huge candy bar?”  “Yeah?!?”  “Well, wouldn’t it be even better if it existed?”  “Yeah!”  “Therefore, there exists a big-huge candy bar.”  A fun argument because even atheists who are experienced at arguing against the existence of God will be completely stumped.  Well-read atheists will of course have heard of it and probably be able to call you on using the ontological argument by name.  Now, there are as many writings on why the argument is valid or absurd as there are philosophers, but I think that it’s wrong because it uses a premise-truth paradox.  This is an extremely rare form of paradox whereby the premise creates a paradox whereby if it is true then it must necessarily be true, and if it is false then it must necessarily be false, and there is no other criteria by which you can judge the truth or falsehood of the premise.  So, can you conceive of a being that is all-perfect?  I would say the answer is probably not.  You can create a generic entity and slap the label “all-perfect” on it, but that doesn’t count.

An argument similar to the ontological argument whose name I can’t remember for the moment stems from an interesting application of modal logic, using possible worlds.  Basically, any logician would give you as axiomatic that there exists at least one possible world where some form of something that could be called a God exists.  Jumping from there to conclude that God must therefore exist in all possible worlds because God is omnipresent and all-powerful is one tactic you might use to throw an atheist.  With a little logical discipline they will quickly understand how you’ve cheated them.  Basically, they gave you that there exists some possible world on the grounds that, and this is of course exactly how modal logic is created, that these worlds are global-strength containers that nothing within them can possibly escape from or otherwise influence other possible worlds.  Taking advantage of their generosity in giving you “some form of something that is God” in one possible world to say that because it is omnipresent, it therefore exists in all possible worlds is to cheat on the application of modal logic by putting God in some world that contains all possible worlds, axiomatically, and without the consent of the person you’re arguing with.  Don’t use this, please.  An atheist who doesn’t figure that one out might want to take a class on logic to make their thinking a bit more rigorous.

These are canonical examples of arguments for God.  They aren’t perfect, but I am an atheist exactly because I can’t think of a good argument for why God exists.  That’s where you come in.  If you are religious, come up with a well-reasoned, solid argument for why God exists.  If you can’t do it, hen you should be an atheist too because you don’t believe God exists either.  If you can, however, tell it to atheists.  If it really is a good argument, and they’re really atheists for the right reasons, they will actually believe you.  If I were presented with such an argument that was sufficiently good that it outperformed the default position of atheism, and also explained all the observable phenomena of the world without contradiction, I might even believe you.  Do not, however, even attempt to push Christianity or other religions as-is on me because it’s frankly not worth my time anymore.  If you’re interested in atheism there are resources all over the internet.  They don’t really exist offline, which is fascinating if you ask me.  Atheists correlate with the tech-savvy young?  Cool.  We’re going to win.  Even if we can’t convince you, we’re young.  You’re going to go first.

Not considering the idea of immortality in digital form, which of course is out of the question for the religious.  So atheists still win.  The atheists shall outnumber the hordes of the faceless dead, such shall be the glory of their technology.

Macroscopic Decoherence

Macroscopic decoherence is a fancy name for the theory in physics of “many worlds,” a resolution to the dilemma presented by quantum physics that, to some, makes a lot of sense.  Before I discuss what it is and what it means if it is true, first I’ll go over the more commonly accepted modern viewpoint more specifically its aspect labelled the Copenhagen interpretation.  OK, here’s the dilemma.  Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, a verifiable precondition of any theory of quantum physics, states that you cannot determine both the position and the velocity of a particle.  The practical reason for this is that, for objects as small as particles, the act of measuring their properties has a significant effect in changing those properties.  For macroscopic objects such as a table, the photons bouncing off the table into our eyes don’t change the position or velocity of the table and therefore we can ascertain both.  However, there is no yet discovered tool which can be used to probe a particle without changing it in any respect, thus preserving its condition for a second measurement.  Hypothetically, I guess you could measure both properties simultaneously- within the exact same Planck time- but this is utterly impossible with current technology, totally incapable of operating on anything close to that time scale with simultaneity, and there may be other limitations I am not aware of.  Now, strictly speaking, this isn’t an accurate model of quantum decoherence.  Actually, particles behaving like waves exhibit a linear relationship of definition between variables such as, say, position and velocity.  This means that the more certain an agent is about one property, the correspondingly linked property can only be known with a correspondingly limited precision.  So it’s possible to have a continuum of accuracy about both properties.  This seems like a mad system, but this is due to the nature of waves.  I think I should stop and leave it at that before I get sidetracked from the main point- I haven’t even gotten to the standard model yet.
This gives modern physicists a dilemma- it would appear that our universe is a fickle beast.  Let’s say that we ascertain a given particle’s position with perfect accuracy- doesn’t that mean that it is categorically impossible for us to make any statements at all about its momentum, due to total uncertainty?  With the caveat that perfect accuracy is impossible, yes.  So what happens to the velocity?  Or, more importantly, what happens to all the other places it could have been if we hadn’t measured it?
The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics claims that the other possibilities do not exist in any case.  This more closely parallels the way we think about the macroscopic world in practical terms because even if we don’t know where a table is, we know the table has a given location that is not subject to change unless someone or something moved it.  The act of measuring the position of the table only puts the information about the table’s position into our heads, and does not change any fundamental properties about the table.  So, the Copenhagen model concludes that the act of measuring where the particle is collapses its waveform into one possible state.  It actually changes the waveform by nailing down one of the variables to a certain degree, leaving the other one free to flap around in a similar degree.  This collapse model causes particles to behave similarly to macroscopic objects in one sense.  However, in order to reach this conclusion, the Copenhagen interpretation has to violate numerous major precepts of modern science- I won’t go into all of them, although it is a laundry list if you want to look it up, universality and objectivity of the universe for one.  The fact that there are observers begins to matter because it appears that we can change the fundamental nature of reality by observing it.  This raises the question of what exactly constitutes an observation, perhaps one particle bumping into another counts as an “observation”?  But relative to us, the uncertainty principle still stands relative to both particles, so there really is something intrinsically different about being an observer.  This is the most serious flaw in an otherwise excellent model, and it is to address this flaw that I add my thoughts to the camp of macroscopic decoherence- the other one being that this causes particles on a small scale to behave in a fundamentally different way than larger objects.

Macroscopic decoherence does not require a theoretically sticky collapse, hence its appeal.  Instead, the theory goes that the other possibilities exist too, in parallel universes.  Each possible position, momentum, etc. exists in an independent parallel universe.  Of course, due to the number of permutations for each particle, and the number of particles in the universe, this causes us to postulate the existence of an indescribably large number of infinities of universes.  Now, if you accept that postulate, it allows a theory that explains particles in the same terms as macroscopic objects, you only have to accept that this same permutation mechanism applies to any and all groupings of particles as well as individual particles.  So there exists a parallel universe for every possible version of you, every choice you have made, and so on into infinity.  This is something of a whopper to accept in common-sense terms, but it does create a more manageable theory, in theory.  The linchpin of the theory is that, rather than the act of observing causing the mystical destruction of the other probabilistic components of a particle’s waveform, it only pins down what those properties are relative to the observer in question.
In other words, the act of observing only tells the observer in which parallel world they happen to be.  Each parallel world has only one possible interpretation in physical terms- one position and velocity for every particle.  Unfortunately, there are an endless infinity of future parallel worlds, so you can’t pin down all properties of the universe, or a distinct set of physical laws would necessitate the existence of a single universe derived from that one.  The flaw in this theory is that this same approach can be taken to a variety of other phenomena, with silly results.  Basically, there is no reason to postulate the existence of parallel worlds beyond the beauty of the theory.  The same data explains both the Copenhagen interpretation and macroscopic decoherence, which is why the theories exist.  Both produce the same experimental predictions because they’re explaining the same phenomena in the first place.  We can’t go backwards into a parallel universe, and similarly we can’t go back in time and find information that has been destroyed by the act of observing the information we observed then.  It appears to me that, given current understanding, both theories are unfalsifiable relative to each other.  Overcoming Bias makes a fascinating case as to why decoherence should be testable using the general waveform equations, but the problem I see is that theoretically the Copenhagen model could follow the same rules.  True, it lends serious weight to macroscopic decoherence because it systemically requires those equations apply whereas it could incidentally apply to the Copenhagen model.  Or some souped-up version of the Copenhagen model could take this into account without serious revisions, it’s difficult to say.  I do disagree with the idea that macroscopic decoherence must be false because postulating the existence of multiple universes violates Occam’s Razor.  This is a misapplication of the razor.  Occam’s Razor doesn’t refer to the number of entities in question, but to the overall improbability by complexity of the concept or argument being considered.  It just so happens that you have two options- either there is some mechanism by which observers collapse a wave into only one possible result, or there exist many possibilities of which we are observing one.  It is not a question of “well, he’s postulating one function of collapse, versus the existence of an endless infinity of universes.  1 vs infinite infinities infinitely…  Occam’s razor says smaller is better so collapse is right.”  This is not correct by any stretch.  True, currently there is no way to verify which theory is correct, but a rational scientist should consider them equally probable and work towards whichever theory seems more testable.

Well, let’s consider the ramifications if this theory of macroscopic decoherence happens to be correct.  It means that every possible universe, ever, exists.  Every possible motion of every single particle.  According to quantum physics as we know it now, there exists some possibility that the statue of liberty will get up and take a stroll through New York.  It is a…  shall we say… exceedingly small… probability.  I won’t even attempt to calculate it, but I bet it would be a 10 to the 10 to the 10 to the 10…. so many times you couldn’t fit all the exponents into a book.  It could easily be improbable enough that you couldn’t write that many exponents on all the paper ever produced on Earth, but I won’t presume I have any goddamn clue.  However, according to macroscopic decoherence, there actually exist a very large number of infinities of universes where this occurs- one for each possible stroll, one for each particle’s individual motion inside the statue of liberty for each possible stroll, etc. etc. etc.  And this is for events that are truly so unlikely as to be totally impossible, let alone for events as likely as intelligent choices between reasonable alternatives, such as what to order at a restaurant, or what to say every time you open your mouth, and then every minor permutation of each…. gah!  Any attempt to describe how many possible universes there are is doomed to fail.  Trying to diagram the possible life courses on the grand scale that each person might make, I will leave to your imagination.

So now we get to the interesting bit- the reason why I am writing this post.  So in all of these parallel universes there exists a version of you that is doing all of these different things.  So the question I have is, are they really you?  Seriously, there are versions of you out there that are exactly, exactly the same in every respect and living exactly the same lives in exactly the same universes, with a single particle moving in an infinitely small way elsewhere in the universe in a way that does not and could not possibly affect you.  However, because of this schism of universes, you are separate consciousnesses inhabiting different parallel universes.  Now there is a high probability that these universes are not totally discrete- rather they inhabit a concept-space that, while isotropic, could be conceived of as having contours that describe the similarity of the universes, with very similar universes being close together and very different universes very far apart, in a space with an infinite infinity of dimensions.  As a result, even with respect to these parallel universes, these versions of you will be infinitely close to you and could be said to inhabit the exact same space, with versions splitting off into space while remaining identical, and other versions experiencing physical changes on the same spot (some of them infinitesimal, and others rather drastic, such as turning into a snake, a werewolf, or anything else you can conceive of).
So which of them is the “real” you?  Or have you figured out that the concept doesn’t have any significant meaning in this context?  If we narrow down this infinite schisming into a single binary split, then both sides can be said to be equally “original” based on the preceding frame.  By the same token, an exact copy of someone in the same universe should be treated as synonymous with the “original.”  Please note, those who are unfamiliar with this territory- I get this a lot.  I am NOT referring to cloning.  A clone is genetically the same, but so utterly disparate from its progenitor that this level of identity is not even approached.  I am referring to two entities that are so identical that there is no test you could perform to tell them apart.  Obviously, with any time spent in different physical locations in the universe they will diverge after their initial point of creation, but it is that critical instant of creation where the distinction matters.  If the two are synonymous, there is no “original” and a “copy”- indeed, the original is merely existing in two places at once.  If they could somehow be artificially kept identical by factoring out particle randomness and their environment then they would continue to act in perfect synchrony until something caused a change, such as a minute aspect of their environment or a tiny change in their body’s physical makeup, such as a nerve firing or even a single particle moving differently (although that probably wouldn’t change much, somewhere down the line it might due to chaos theory).
So now we get to the difficult bit.  What about alternate encodings of the same information, but represented in a different format?  Are the two synonymous?  I argue that it is, but only under certain circumstances.  1) Using a rigorous and perfectly accurate transcoding method to encode one into the other, 2) the timespan of the encoding must be fast enough that significant changes in the source material are minimized, if not completely eliminated, and 3) the encoding can, theoretically, be converted back into the original form with zero loss or error.  The first requirement is the only ironclad one- if you make an error in the encoding then the result will not be representative of the original.  The second and third are more complicated, but easy to assume in an ideal case.  The reason for this is that there is a continuum of identity, and a certain degree of change is acceptable and will produce results that are “similar enough” to meet identity criteria.  If it’s the “you” from a year ago, it’s still the you from a year ago even if it isn’t identical to you now.  So if the encoding takes a year then it does preserve identity, it just doesn’t preserve identity with changes into the future, which is an utterly impossible task because even a perfect copy will diverge into the future due to uncontrollable factors.  Thirdly, if there is no method to convert the new encoding back then it cannot be verified that it is indeed synonymous with the original.  It is possible to produce an identical representation without this clause, but if for some reason it is impossible to convert it back then you can’t know that it is indeed a perfect process that preserves material identity absolutely.  This is the test of a given process.  Now, for digital conversion, reconversion back into physical media is impossible, but simulation in a perfect physics simulation and producing the same results is synonymous with re-creation in the physical world.  I am aware that this appears to be a figure-eight argument, depending upon the identity of a simulation to prove the identity of digital simulation as a medium.  However, this is false because I am referring to a test of a specific conversion method.  In order to create a proven physics simulation, other provable methods might be used to compare the simulation’s results with the physical world.  Once the simulation has been proven to produce the same results as the physical world, given the same input, then a given instance of simulation can be added and compared with the exact same situation in the physical world, using the simulation as the calibrated meter stick by which to judge the newly simulated person or other digitized entity’s accuracy.

Is There a True, True Self?

I have compared the “true self” to the “false self” before, and while I will still stand behind the claim that the distinction can be made usefully within a certain semantic realm, I’m going to go the other direction in this post because in a different, more general realm, there is no “true self.”  As a matter of fact, if you look at it in the most general, explicit sense, you have no self at all apart from the information that constitutes your decision-making and thinking matrix.  What I’m trying to say is that when someone says that they act a certain way and that’s their “true self” and all other ways of acting are them doing something other than being their true self, they are misleading themselves.  No matter what they do, they cannot escape the fact that the same decision-making matrix, no matter how intricate or complex, caused them to act that way in each of those situations.  Now, if they mean to say that they have a preferred mode of behavior, but are forced to use a different mode of behavior in varying circumstances, well of course.  I have preferred modes of behavior, too, like I prefer to sleep or go out or play video games to doing actual work.  That doesn’t mean that I’m my true self only when I’m in the process of a preferred mode of behavior.  But that’s exactly how a lot of people reason out their reactions to, most commonly, certain other people.

I’m getting into material identity again, but since it is I suppose my preferred philosophical specialty I may as well.  Because of the fact that there is no single piece of information you can subtract from a person to make them not-that-person, the person as a whole (considered as a contiguous entity) only has meaning as far as perception will take it.  Relative to someone else, it’s their perception.  Relative to the person themselves, it’s their own perception that matters.  Imagine that you woke up and you were a different person!  Now, because of the nature of logic, this sentence has no true parseable non-tautological meaning.  I have included in the sentence that “you” are a different person, meaning you are still you.  So the Engish way to handle this issue is to change the meaning to “you wake up with a different body, probably that once belonged to someone else.” or something similar.  No matter the way you parse it in English, it isn’t handled in a logically rigorous way in the same way that we don’t answer the question “Would you like tea or coffee?” with “Yes.”  While logical, it conveys little useful conversational meaning.  Bear in mind though, that if we spoke a truly logical language, you would answer in a way that did convey conversational meaning, the same way you don’t say “Yes” in English (Although framework of asking the questions would probably receive more semantic-structural changes than the affirmative/negative response structure).

But I digress, seriously this time.  We nearly had a terminal digression there into the land of logical languages.  Back to the issue of having one identity.  The truth is that we have an assumption here that we haven’t questioned: is it necessary to treat identities in the same way that we treat physical objects?  Once again this is a conceptual piece of English- we like to treat concepts like objects.  We can pick up drawing, have an idea, find an answer, and so on.  I’m not going too far into this as a topic- I would recommend Steve Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought for more on the subject.  Anyway, the assumption that identity is an object has numerous flawed bases.  Firstly, there is 1 “person” per body, and we can count bodies.  Ergo, there must be 1 and only 1 identity per person because that person has 1 and exactly 1 body.  The next flawed idea is that identity is immutable and does not change.  That there could ever be a “one true” identity.  This isn’t even true for the lowest-level aspect of identity at the level of the physical body, so how anyone can formalize the idea that identity must be fixed is beyond me, but it does happen.  It should be completely obvious that the body of a child is different from the body of an adult, and so assuming that there is any relation beyond material continuity is a flagrant violation of logic.  Now it is not an error to say that there may exist similarities between these two identities/bodies/people, especially considering how causally connected the latter stage is from the former.  But to say that there is a fixed identity from which changes may be noted as deviations is just plain wrong.  People change a lot- people change very quickly.  Through the course of a day each of us goes through periods of high and low energy, moods, thought patterns, and who knows what.  However there are people who are guilty of the next identity fallacy, which is that somehow those aspects aren’t significant pieces of your identity.  They are passing and trivial and should be ignored because in the grand scheme of the human identity they are categorically different.  Well this is wrong, but it’s less obvious to most people because it has some deep religious roots.  The idea that the body is distinct from the soul, and that the soul is much more important than the body can ever hope to be is an old religious idea with tendrils all over the place.  The idea that something like a state of hunger contributes to your identity in any significant way is perhaps odd.  But look at it this way.  If there was a teleportation machine that destroyed your body and created one exactly like it at a different location- I have used this example before.  If there was such a machine, and it re-created your body perfectly in every detail, except it omitted recording information needed to compute and recreate a state of hunger (somewhere between total satiety and death by starvation) then is it a valid teleportation machine?  I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t step through that bastard for a billion dollars, and not because I might be a starved corpse on the other side- it’s because I have no idea what information went into the complex computation of my own state of hunger/satiety.  Probably all kinds of things from the contents of my intestinal tract to levels of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.  If the machine omits all that information, I don’t come out the other side of that teleporter.  Someone else does.

So I am aware that I have a difficult position to defend here.  I’m saying, at the same time, that there is an immense degree of flexibility in what constitutes a person- that you can still be “you” in the sense that counts from the time that you’re a child until the day you die, but at the same time the standard for building a teleporter must be absolutely flawlessly perfect in order to preserve material identity.  The reason for this is that I’m making the two comparisons based on different criteria.  I’m a strict materialist- everything can be reduced to an arrangement of matter and energy if a sufficient level of detail and fidelity is used.  However, matter and energy in and of themselves are just rocks and colored lights- they have to be organized into information patterns to be interesting.  So in the case of a stardard human life, without being teleported, the information pattern persists in direct fashion through space and time and can be identified perfectly as being materially continuous.  However, once you introduce the ability to jump around in space and time, you have to get a little bit smarter than that in order to maintain material continuity.  To think about material continuity, I’ll call it the Where’s Waldo? Effect.  If it’s possible to look into the universe like a giant, four-dimensional Where’s Waldo book (including all periods of time) and find you, or any given person, then you have material continuity.  When you introduce the ability to jump around in space, then you need to have the end of one string and the beginning of another match to a sufficient level of detail that the four-dimensionally-conscious being looking into the Where’s Waldo Universe can put together the pieces.  The same thing is true if you’re jumping through time, of course, but most conceptualizations of time travel account for perfect material transport as a matter of course, so it’s not as interesting to talk about.  Still, if you have a time machine then you necessarily have created a teleportation device because you could teleport back in time exactly enough time to go wherever you’re going and then go there, arriving at exactly when you left.  Not a super elegant mode of teleportation, but quite effective in physical and relativistic terms.

In fact, to be even more technically precise, it’s impossible to build a teleporter without somehow cheating relativity.  The modern idea on how this might be done is taking advantage of quantum entanglement to transfer information instantaneously to anywhere in the universe- it might also be done with some form of tachyon particle but entanglement shows much more promise.  It’s something of an important idea that material identity is both time and space independent because even if you could transfer the totality of your information instantaneously anywhere, I find it unlikely that it’s possible to instantly create a new body for you on demand.  As long as a more or less perfect copy gets made (ideally before you get “re-activated”) it makes no difference if you lost some time in the middle.  The real question is- how perfect does this copy have to be?  That is an extraordinarily difficult question to answer.  I have no idea how you would go about answering it in a mathematical sense.  As long as you have material continuity to fall back on then you have nearly endless flexibility, but the second that gets taken away it really becomes a question of what you believe the limit is.  And a strange sort of “are you feeling lucky, punk?” kind of attitude.  It’s the same operation, because material continuity is just using the super-perfect teleport trick over impossibly small distances and over the smallest possible time lengths (Planck time, approx 10^-44 seconds) using the same medium that the stability of the information pattern itself is composed of, so the accuracy is so absolute as to be perfect.  Sure, particles jitter and all sorts of other stuff is going on, but that’s the nature of the pattern that you’re made of anyway.  Even in periods of the most rapid change you can conceive of, relative to the length of a single Planck time- I mean, come on.

I don’t think that 10^-44 seconds will even fit into the human mind as a workable unit of time.  That means that you would need 1 followed by 44 zeroes of them in order to get one single second.  To put that into perspective, if you had that many nanoseconds the total length would be 3×10^27 years, or enough to contain the entire history of the universe (15 billion years) over 200,000,000,000,000,000 times.  A Planck time is small.  There is no practical way that sufficient change to break material identity could happen on a timescale so small.  So I just say that no matter what, material continuity equals material identity.  It’s not strictly true, but if you’re seriously in doubt then you must be talking about some thought-experiment edge case like “what if we had a particle accelerator that could destroy n brain cells in exactly 1 Planck time, how many would we have to destroy…”.  They’re awesome, and I do it all the time, so that’s great, but as a rule of thumb I think the idea of material continuity = material identity works quite well.

More Simulated Realities

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Now, more in-depth on your brain, simulations, and the computability of the universe. Asking if the universe is computable is basically asking if all aspects of the universe’s functioning are a) universal, b) consistent, c) predictable, and d) functionally limited in scope to our own universe. If the laws of physics are not universal then one part of the universe might follow different laws of physics than another. If they are not consistent then they may be subject to change over time. If they are not predictable then mathematics cannot duplicate them- although randomness and like phenomena are duplicable in a probabilistic fashion. Lastly, if the universe is not limited in scope, then we’re just sunk. Basically what I’m saying by the scope of the universe is that there cannot be some other non-observable otherworld that affects our own universe. Although that outside influence may itself be subject to universal, consistent, and predictable laws, if we can’t discern its workings from within our own universe then we cannot simulate our own universe because we can’t simulate its effect. Although the most complicated of our 4 contingencies, it’s probably the one we have least to worry about. Most physicists or scientists would agree that all four of these are well established to be true of our universe.

If the universe is computable, and there are those who say it isn’t although they are completely wrong, then it is physically possible to create a simulation matching our own universe in complexity, size, or resolution, but never all three at the same time or our entire universe must necessarily have been subsumed into creating such a simulation. We can shave off a massive amount of unnecessary computing power by limiting our simulation to salient details only. For example, we can use macroscopic heuristics to make objects behave like objects without needing to simulate the position, energy disposition, etc. of every atom within said object. Unless someone within the simulation is actively perusing each atom of that object, nobody will notice the difference. And if anyone should examine those atoms, why our simulation can just render those atoms for them like the light turning on in the refrigerator. So in a conceptual sense, it wouldn’t be very hard to make a simulation that was extremely believable to someone within it. There are several different models of simulation we might have, and each has its advantages.  A brain interface simulation like the Matrix means that you get to keep your body, and don’t face any of the weird issues associated with copying your mind from one place to another.  However, you also don’t get to play the simulation at whatever speed you would like because it can only operate at the same speed that your extra-simulation brain can handle.  If you still want to keep your body, maybe you can go for a half-and-halfer arrangement, where you plug in your brain and a temporary copy of it is loaded up into the simulation as a virtual self, strongly typed back to your original brain which must be temporarily disabled so the “real” you doesn’t walk off.  This is weird because there must necessarily be two copies of you existing at the same time, one in reality (unconscious?) and one in the simulation.  But this method gets you the in-simulation advantages of scaling with the simulation’s speed, etc. etc.  Of course the best way in my opinion is to just be a virtual self completely.  This means you are governed by the simulation’s physics, and so on and so forth.  Probably the most effective way to manage this situation is for your virtual self to exist in a meta-simulation connected computer that you own.  So you still have a body- it’s just a computer connected to the Internet, basically.  If you want to create a simulation for yourself, you can do it within your computer, like imagination with a sensory supercomputer.  You might even opt to purchase/rent additional processing power into your property if you so desired.  Or, you can place your processor into another simulation governed by someone else, somewhat like interfacing with a game over the internet.  Your mind would of course be kept discrete and secure from all the other workings, but functioning within the simulation.

Now things get interesting. Once we had a simulation that was indistinguishable from reality, why would you want to live in actual reality? There’s no reason whatsoever why there should arbitrarily be only one- that’s absurd. But your body as you know it could be exactly created as a sequence of virtual atoms within the simulation. If that was all you did then there would be no effective difference between being in a simulation and being in “real life.” But why stop there? Carefully crafted algorithms to alter the content of the simulation would effectively give you magic powers. Absolute control over material reality, mind reading perhaps, whatever floats your boat. If you owned your own private simulation you would be as a god among NPCs. While you could play one hell of a game of Sims or Civilization or whatever you wanted, I imagine playing with only bots would get tiresome very quickly. What you need are some real intelligences to sink your teeth into. Of course in such an advanced simulation, you have lots of options. Option A is to simply arrange some virtual atoms into intelligent agents. There’s nothing stopping you from having a legitimate human opponent whenever you wanted. Or even a super genius opponent. Hell, you could hand-craft a genius expert at anything you wanted by setting up a smart person in a situation where they just practice practice practice at whatever you want to challenge them at. You then set the simulation on maximum speed and step back for a millisecond. When you return your opponent will have perhaps thousands of years of experience, and will destroy you. You could simulate the Matrix universe which contains within it another simulation, or perhaps the Firefly ‘verse, or whatever other fiction world you pleased. Full Metal Alchemist anyone?

Option B is probably even more fun: other simulation gods. PVP takes on a whole new meaning. Highlander is just the beginning. World of Warcraft is the tip of the iceberg. Try KAOS in a simulated real-world environment, with each player being assigned some other player to kill, somewhere in the world.  I for one would particularly look forward to some genius coding up some Halo-like universe where a player commands armies in RPG/RTS format where each of your characters is essentially a real person. You start off solo and may eventually build up armies of millions if you so desire, and if you can. Each side would be headed up by one Player. Maybe they can respawn, but that’s kinda pathetic. If you die, you should be dead. In a game like that any hardware you may have obtained could be easily gotten back in a new character if you were so inclined. Randomly generated authentic characters, on the other hand, would be priceless.

Which raises an interesting and vital question- if you’ve created a real person in a virtual world, do they have rights? Are they entitled to better than a gameworld of eternal war? We have no problem blowing away humanoid models in modern shooters, but when those models are atom-for-atom replicas of real people with fully functioning brains and the works, then what? I’m not really sure of this point, to be honest. While I do believe that they would be people in every sense, and that in truth their reality is just as “real” as ours despite the fact that they live in a simulation stemming from ours. However, I am disinclined to believe that it is unethical to create such a world. It is unethical to kill people within that world, but the creation of a world with the intent of waging bloody mayhem within it is not unethical. The distinction here is that by the act of creating the world, you have not killed anyone. In fact you have given life to everyone created within that world. The fact that you did so in order for other people to wage war within it is irrelevant. Intent is never significant: only action matters. However, even if you were to go inside that world and kill everyone within it, have you really taken anything from them? After creating your world, are you morally obligated to keep it running on behalf of those within it? No, you can cancel your simulation whenever you like and you have given those within it life for a certain period. Is it better than never having existed at all? Of course. In fact, I would go so far as to say that any existence whatsoever is superior to nonexistence. Yet, while some people will continue to enjoy war games with perfectly realistic human beings, I’m not sure I would find it enjoyable for long. The people running the simulation would obviously sanitize the battlefield to make it enjoyable because nobody would pay to participate in the hell of war as we know it. Perhaps some of the more hardcore people would want a somewhat realistic experience, but I’m not one of them.

I suspect that we would see many more peaceful video games with much improved realism.  Current games are trying to capitalize on the visceral immersion factor they can acquire through violence.  If they’re indistinguishable from reality, that gut reaction is no longer necessary.  Simulating a poker room, open ocean, or even a farm (where you only decide what gets done- it fast-forwards through the actual farm labor, if you’re even the one doing it) makes a lot more sense.  Interestingly though, anything you learned to do in such a simulation would be fully applicable in real life.  If you learned to swordfight in your pirate game world then if you picked up a sword in real life, the skills would be the same.  This is ignoring the fact that if we have developed sufficient technology to interface your brain with a computer to that degree, you could probably just download whatever knowledge you desired and it would be available to you in both cases.  The possibilities of creating simulations for ourselves are just endless.  I want to be a cyborg.

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Unorthodox Determinism

I have recently encountered a massive conflict between the proponents of free will and determinism, and to me both sides seem a little shortsighted.  The free will crew believes they have free will more or less because they want to, or they argue that if the universe is deterministic then things like moral responsibility or experience become worthless.  Now this is clearly false because the only thing the deterministic side claims is that the universe follows universal causal rules and there are no miracles that violate those rules.  They can counter the free will arguments with arguments about building houses, saying that “you start building the house because if you just sit on your ass then it won’t get built.”  Saying that it is predestined that the house be built and then doing nothing is an incorrect and fraudulent corruption of deterministic thinking.

Though a fascinating debate, you’re both wrong.  And you’re both right.  Free will is a direct result of a causal, deterministic universe to the point that without such a universe then free will would be meaningless.  Time for an example; let’s take a deck of cards and mix it up randomly.  Clearly, while the deck is just sitting there, the order of the cards is fixed, unchanging, and predetermined.  The fact that this is true does not mean that the contents of the deck are somehow irrelevant.  In fact, the knowledge that they aren’t changing doesn’t actually help you at all because you don’t know what they are.  If you were playing a game like Texas Hold ‘Em Poker then you have to allow for the fact that any of the unknown cards could be any of the cards you haven’t accounted for.  In reality the identity of those cards is completely fixed.  Another player can be looking at some of those cards and be presented with exactly the same situation but with a different context containing differing information.  By the logic of the free will corps, the fact that the cards are predetermined somehow makes the game irrelevant, boring, and useless.  This is clearly false due to the interplay of information and unknowns.  There is a case to be laid against my example because I introduce a second layer of free will in the players’ responses to their predetermined cards, but we’re talking imprecise examples right now and I’ll lay out my true and complete argument shortly.  So with our deck of cards, you can draw a card and then its position is locked in in a past-historical sense, but its position was equally predetermined beforehand.  Your knowledge has changed, and that’s all.  It is a significant and common fallacy, however, to then assume that the cards could not have been ordered in any other way.  The fact that they could have been drawn in any other logically possible way means that you are forced to allow for it on equal terms with the way they actually were drawn.  Notice the quantum zippering effect of multiple strings of possible futures being reduced to one single past as you draw each card.  Also note the interesting effects of inference as you go through the deck.  If all the clubs are gone then you know that the next card will not be a club, for example.  Saying that the future is predetermined is really an extremely short step from the obvious truth that the past is predetermined, or more accurately that it is unchangeable after the fact.

The fundamental principle in question is emergent behavior.  Our universe exhibits emergent predictability based on inherently random subunits.  The most elementary particles behave extraordinarily erratically, but macroscopic objects exhibit stability, and extremely large conglomerates of matter such as stars or galaxies are materially determined into the future, and the fluctuations on the lowest level aren’t going to affect entities of such a massive scale.  The weight of probability is just too large at high scales.  The basic organizing principle of the universe is therefore that, probabilistically speaking, it follows the path of least resistance.  The universe resolves itself into the most probable stable arrangement based upon the input of all its particles.  Humans inhabit the scale at which the world around us is stable, but still able to fluctuate enough for small systems’ outputs to produce differing results as conditions require.  Life is the self-organization of matter, and as life becomes more sophisticated in its organization techniques, its ability to convert more matter into animate matter increases.  Once upon a time the chaos event horizon was on the microbial level; random fluctuations in the primordial soup produced the first RNA capable of duplicating itself purely by “chance.”  Statistically, on earth’s conditions, given the vast volume and time scales we’re talking about it wasn’t really “chance.”  Especially so because of the anthropic principle.  If we hadn’t appeared, we wouldn’t be here to talk about it.  If we had appeared somewhere else, we’d be talking about it wherever the conditions were suitable for us to appear.  So it’s really not randomness.  In the inexorable way that life does, it proceeded to duplicate itself and divide into more complex lifeforms.  Eventually, the chaos event horizon broadened into macroscopic lifeforms by the development of the cell- particularly those of the eukaryotic variety which allowed organisms like us to overcome the problems of osmosis and diffusion.  A giant, human-sized amoeba (or even a non-microscopic one) is impossible because substances absorbed through the membrane wouldn’t diffuse to the nucleus and other structures.  So lifeforms like us are composed of trillions of little cooperating microbes which don’t violate those rules.  How does this relate to determinism?  Well, it could be said that the development of life exactly as it was, including down to the individual organism level, was predetermined.  Does this change how, beforehand, it couldn’t have been determined how the future would have unrolled?  Asking what would have happened had the universe proceeded in a slightly different manner is exactly the same as asking what would have happened if one of those cards in the deck was a different card.  Guess what?  The answer is very simple.  The card you had drawn would simply be different, leaving you to ask the same question.

So now we’re ready to address the true issue on determinism.  We live in a causal reality where effect follows cause all the time.  We can formulate models and simulations to meaningfully represent the world around us and make predictions about our world.  Let’s do an experiment.  What happens if you throw a rock up?  It falls down.  Well, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ve just proved that we live in a deterministic universe.  The fact that our universe is composed of immutable, consistent laws acting on a consistent basis means that it is possible to predict the future.  Let’s take a more useful example.  You’re walking along some mountain trail, and you come upon a gorge.  Across this gorge are three bridges.  One of them is extremely rickety, and if you try to cross it then you will fall.  The second is very stable, but on the other side are some soldiers with guns, and you of course have no papers!  If you try to cross there, you will be shot.  The third bridge is a small townie bridge that looks safe.  Which bridge do you cross?  If you answered bridge #3 then I’m glad we can agree that we live in a deterministic universe compatible with free will.  Due to the deck-of-cards-effect, whatever happens to occur was probabilistically certain.  However, we live in a causal universe so if you choose to cross the rickety bridge and you fall to your death, you were predestined to arrive at the choice, choose the first bridge, and fall to your death.  If you choose the second bridge, the same concept holds for you being shot.  And if you choose the third bridge, your fate is to make it across and go on your merry way.  If this sounds like I’m ignoring the deterministic aspect of my argument, that’s because your perspective of determinism is fundamentally flawed.  You seem to think that the fact that it is predetermined has meaningful import on what is predetermined.  You seem to think that if determinism is true, that makes it possible to say things like “your destiny is to take the first bridge and die.”  This is ridiculous.  Let’s modify our situation so that, back in Phuket, some mystic told you that you would be faced with this choice and that you would choose the first bridge and die.  When you arrive at that situation, you choose the safe way, you live, and then laugh at the insanity of the mystic.  Or perhaps you’re of the religious bent and you decide to run headlong down the rickety bridge, and fall to your death because the mystic said you would.  Obviously any sort of mystic divination is impossible.  Unless that mystic is blessed with an absolutely unbelievable amount of brainpower, their prediction is futile- more on this shortly.  And even if the prediction was effective, the fact that they said it (actually just the fact that they predicted it) changed the conditions and thus invalidated the prediction.  Lots of time travel fiction has all sorts of weird, twisted, self-referential paradoxes.  For example, later on in your quest you come upon another bridge which looks perfectly sound but then as you’re crossing it gets hit with a meteor and you fall to your death while the mystic laughs over your corpse.  Or maybe whichever bridge you choose turns out to be the rickety one and you fall to your death.  Or maybe something even more bizarre.  Such paradoxes/improbabilities/insanities are entertaining, but they embody a truly stupid way of understanding the world if they push it as truth.

Now we’re at an interesting understanding of fate.  We can make useful predictions about stuff like rocksy flying, but not about the nature of the universe.  Why are our simulations good in some circumstances, but not in others?  Simple.  Imperfect models will produce imperfect results.  It turns out that our model of the rock flying is more than sufficient to predict something so simple.  It’s a solved system.  However, if you wanted to be perfectly accurate in describing the nature of the rock’s motion, down to the last particle, you would still require a massive amount of processing capability.  That’s unnecessary because a simplified model is good enough for our practical purposes.  Tic-tac-toe, young children eventually figure out, is a solved game.  It’s possible to at least tie every single time.  Theoretically, a sufficiently powerful intelligence can represent any information set or solve any such problem.  If we can predict the way the rock will fall, a vastly more intelligent agent might predict the chemistry of a microbe and thus its activity.  An even more intelligent agent might work on an organism as complicated as a human.  An even more intelligent one might “solve” the planet and its ecosystem.  We can’t play chess with that type of knowledge because the game is so fantastically complicated relative to our mental faculties that we cannot just solve it.  In fact, we can’t even verify if it can be solved.  I would bet it can as long as you don’t employ “infinite intelligences” in your proof, but now we’re getting off topic.  Back to the real world, if you thought chess was complicated, then how on earth would you even begin to go about solving the behavior of, say, a squirrel?  The task boggles the mind.  However that wouldn’t even require that much processing capability- you only need all the data about the squirrel and its surroundings out to the limit of the squirrel’s perceptual ability, plus an exact model of the squirrel’s behavior.  Now consider doing the same thing with the earth as a whole.  Simply impossible by any modern standard.  As we expand our simulation’s purview to a galaxy, a cluster, and so on, the amount of processing power required expands to insane levels.  Eventually we reach the edge of the universe, but probably long before then we’ll have run out of real estate with which to run a simulation.  In order to create processing capability, you have to store information somehow.  Fundamentally, all our information storage methods involve the placement, polarization, or other modification or use of some form of the universe’s substance.  It therefore follows that it is impossible to simulate the complete universe because in order to do so you would need one bit of information for every bit in the universe.  Basically, you would have to represent the universe with itself, which gets us nowhere as to predicting it.  However, more efficient but imperfect models can probably make fairly accurate assertions about the future, such as the case with the rock.  The use of heuristic models in place of pure simulations is what gives intelligence its power.

Now I need to close the loop- free will and determinism.  So we live in a predetermined universe because the universe follows causality, in the form of consistent laws and a consistent representation of itself.  Yet at the same time the fact that it is predetermined alone gives us absolutely no information about its nature, and just like the deck of cards which is predetermined but at the same time unknown, the universe’s causality is exactly what makes it useful to us as organisms.  You choose to cross the safe bridge because you know you’re going to get across, and you can make that prediction because you implicitly understand and respect the causality of the universe.  Yet at the same time, because your intelligence allows you to do that, you are forced to acknowledge the fact that a more intelligent predictor could make more powerful predictions than you, and so on and so forth up until all solvable problems are, or can be, solved.  However, it is the fact that these predictions can be abstracted that gives us the foundation upon which free will is built: choice.  Without the power to abstract features of the universe into utility and options, there can be no choice.  If you were unable to predict in the simulation sense, then trading money for food would have no meaning because food would have no meaning for you.  In fact, the continuity of your existence would have no meaning, time itself would have no meaning.  When you make a choice, it is implicitly assumed that there is a positive action being taken- “I choose this over that.”  But in order to do that, you first have to know what this and that are, and you can only do that by extrapolating into the future.  In fact, consciousness itself cannot exist without extrapolation into the future.  It’s what processing power does that distinguishes it from the rock at the core of the earth with random electrical impulses flashing through it.  Abstraction is an extrapolation into the future by creating, combining, refining, or modifying concepts derived from the past on the basis that such extrapolation will have utility later, even if it’s a split second later.  Without “If I do this then this will happen” free will is completely worthless.  A simulation takes data from the past and computes the future, and a hypothetical takes data that perhaps hasn’t happened (yet) and computes the potential future.  The inference I was talking about back with the deck of cards is your mind rearranging and making manageable the objective world around it, in this case the deck of cards.  You were simulating a few known conditions of the remainder of the deck when all the clubs, or all the kings were drawn.  And clearly you can handle a hypothetical under the same conditions because you’re reading this right now and thinking about what would happen if all the kings or all the clubs were drawn.

So you really can’t get away from the conclusion: while the universe is predetermined, the fact that it cannot be simulated perfectly means that your experience right now is the best shot you’re going to get at it.  You have free will because exactly what’s going to happen cannot be known, and must necessarily be unknown.  It’s an endless deck containing an infinite variety of cards.  We have an endlessly cascading moment of probabilistic chaos, and while we can throw imperfect simulations at it until we’re blue in the face, nobody can know with absolute certainty exactly what’s going to happen.  The universe is predetermined, but each and every one of us is blessed with limited perspective.  Enjoy it.

Of course I have another caveat, however.  If we were somehow to have total perspective on our universe, it would be conclusive proof that there existed at least one other, more grandiose universe encompassing it that we couldn’t have total perspective on.

Objectivism, Your Mind, & Reality

Ayn Rand is, in my opinion, one of the most levelheaded thinkers out there. However, she’s also wrong on a number of counts. Of course, I say that about pretty much every major thinker because I agree with them on some points and disagree on others. Yet Objectivism is virtually perfect. Look it up if you don’t know what Objectivism is- wikipedia shall serve ye well.

Firstly is the concept of an objective reality with objective facts that exist irrespective of perception. This is utterly true. If you are referring to “reality.” But that’s actually rather harder to do than you would think. When you hold an apple in your hand and say “this is an apple” you are drawing those conclusions based on sensory data, constructing a world completely in your own mind that you can then abstract into concepts such as “apple.” In reality, an “apple” cannot exist, only a set of atoms arranged in such a way that your mind gets the idea that it is an apple. As such, the perspective of the conscious agent is inseparable from the reality it perceives.

This is going to seem like a massive tangent, and perhaps it will end up that way. But for now, trust me- I’m on track. As a sentient entity, humans use self-conceptualizing thinking mechanisms. That is, when you think something, you think you are thinking it. For a squirrel (me, apples, squirrels, they work) it has no idea what it is thinking at the time. It is merely a bunch of chemical and neurological reactions that produce survival behavior. There is no conscious mind being informed “this is what we are now doing, what next?” The squirrel is an automaton. However, since I always unify things in unexpected ways, I would go so far as to say that all purely biological lifeforms must be automatons. They can be very complex automatons, even to the point of taking inputs and modulating outputs, but there is no sentience being served and being told that it’s running the show. That is a meme. A meme-less brain is actually impossible, since any “hard-coded” information pattern created by genes would be replicated genetically. In this case the memes that fill the brain and evolve would be best-geared for the survival of the species (given competition) because the survival of the species is a prerequisite for the survival of the meme. We evolved learning mechanisms, memory, emotions, language centers, etc. etc. to aid our survival. However, when you add what I will call code communication to the mix it becomes possible for memes to move around in non-genetic ways. Speech was the first code-communication, enabling two humans to manipulate semantic agents in the same way they were expressed in the brain. As a result, memes could put themselves into a speech-form which can pass to another human, ready to be passed to another human. Note that the faculty for speech itself is a genetic meme- languages are learned through baser, non-code communication like body language. You don’t think in body language, but you can acquire memes through it.

I should reduce that convoluted paragraph to its essence. But I’m not going to cut it because there may be some people who follow my mind like locomotives on railroad tracks and would get a lot out of it. Basically, you think differently than you can communicate. As we develop more explicit modes of communication, the ability for memes to spread increases. Secondly, there exists a threshold I call code communication- the point at which it is possible to reliably communicate thinking patterns. Body language through the development of spoken language was the crossover into code communication. Someone who thinks in English and is told something in English is going to automatically integrate what was heard in a manner similar to their thoughts. When communicating in body language, you have a communication buffer that gets in the way. This insulates the mind and stops memes from being contagious under their own power. To get a better picture of this barrier, imagine trying to explain Christianity, or physics, to someone who did not speak any language at all, who literally never learned about language. It’s impossible in the purest sense because you’re trying to explain a semantic concept to someone who can’t handle semantic concepts, doesn’t even know they exist. The idea that “physics” exists just would not work for them. By the same token, “apple” would not exist for them. The object, apple, they would recognize, and they would understand they could eat it. But the idea that there is a concept derived from a number of similar objects all called apples would never penetrate their mind. And if you tried to explain that the thing is red and edible, you aren’t helping because they don’t understand the property of redness or edibleness.

So we can agree that a mind adds greatly to the depth of reality, introducing the existence of new things like redness or edibleness, or “apple”. Pure Objectivism would say that nothing exists that isn’t “real”. I’m getting self-conscious about my use of quotes. In case you hadn’t noticed, I use them to indicate that the word is not being used in the conventional sense. Somewhat like a ‘ from Lisp… Anyway! I would say that something doesn’t have to be real to exist, but it must exist to be considered. A couple other stipulations: all things that are real, exist, and (therefore, for logical people) all things that do not exist are not real. I am not saying that unicorns exist. Unicorns are neither real nor existent. However, the idea of a unicorn certainly exists, although it certainly is not real. “Real.” Damn I hate English. Give me a truly logical language and a lever long enough, and I will move the world. And all the little slave gnomes straining away in the Labor Furnace of Evan’s Brain scream “Oh NO! Here we go again!” I’m hoping you’re understanding the distinction between reality and existence. “Real” would mean that it has corporeal existence in the physical sense, while existence means only that there exists a pattern of information that would be adequately represented by that label. In reality, “an apple” doesn’t exist. However, there exist a large number of objects that we would say exhibit the form and properties of an apple, so semantically we take a shortcut and say that any one of them could be referred to. This is a lot of wrangling just to make a fairly rudimentary distinction. Still more fun, there are also things in reality that do not exist in our perceptual worlds. What is the color of ultraviolet? It doesn’t exist in our perception, so we have to tag it with some other color already used by another spectrum in order to “see” it. This is rather like the position of the languageless human, who doesn’t know what a semantic object is because it hasn’t been created in their perceptual world. Who knows what idea-inventions of equal magnitude we haven’t even begun to consider.

Comic relief time. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (Weeehoooo!) It’s a real, grammatically valid sentence. Look it up.

OK, reality and existence established, we now arrive at existence of paradigms. The world we perceive as real has a certain set of physical laws that don’t change. This we probably know. However, we clearly know that the idea of a unicorn is bound by none of these laws. In effect, the idea-world is operating with different laws. I don’t actually like Plato’s philosophy but he was the first philosopher to take a stab at abstraction so I must give him credit. A unicorn exists in a paradigm world defined only by the properties of the unicorn, with no other restrictions. Effectively, we can say whatever we want about the situation the unicorn is in, the laws of its world, none of those are defined. In fact, many of the properties of the unicorn are also not defined. Are all unicorns white? Must they have only two genders? Basically you get a horselike thing with a horn, everything else is negotiable. We could place the unicorn in a world with one law: very powerful antigravity. Or maybe where all organisms spontaneously explode seconds after being created (maybe they’re the same world)- whatever!

Remarkably, we can even conceive of paradigms that are not logically consistent, or even remotely sane. Consider a square circle. Right off, you’ll tell me that it’s logically impossible. A square’s definition logically precludes it from being a circle. For the most part, you’re right. However, you are using those definitions in a natural-world context using “real” laws you are familiar with. Let’s envision a paradigm in which a shape has two attributes which, depending on its environment, can cause it to “appear” as a square or as a circle when in fact it is both and neither. This example is weak because actually what we’re doing is rendering the natural definition of “square” and “circle” null and void by changing the laws of the universe and then converting those definitions into analogues for the new paradigm in whatever form we want- truly an impressive feat in algorithmic terms. The essence of the last sentence is that we are no longer talking about a square and a circle by our real-world definition, because those couldn’t exist in such a world- they would be logically impossible.

I am not saying that there actually exists a “world of ideas” that we all come from. Instead I am saying that we all have powerful minds capable of more or less unlimited manipulation of information within their sphere of influence, and that we can create any paradigms or concepts that we wish within that. This is the reason why many people become addicted to things like computers. A computer is a tool to aid your mind in the same way that a hammer is an aid to the hand. The major distinction is that adding power to your mind is a highly addicting process because it gives you that much more outlet power. I imagine if we were able to represent a massive virtual world with nothing but our brains, we would be doing it all the time because that creative outlet, that power, is highly addictive. People can also become addicted to content, which is a similar process, except that it is input instead of output. In a way, input is the first resource for the creation of output so all couch potatoes are information packrat zombies who store and store and store and never use any of it. Worse, they aren’t particularly selective about what they choose to learn or keep, so it’s invariably complete junk. On the other hand, you get people who never accept information input. This produces an ivory-tower pure reason thinker. Philosophers who choose to consider the sensory world and the assertions of others unreliable a la Descartes tend to exhibit this sort of mentality, in their philosophy at least.

How am I going to draw all this together? The universe is more complicated than we know, not because its laws are sophisticated, but because it actually contains an extra world for each sentient being in it. And each of those worlds exhibits N-dimensional, code undefined, plastic behavior that can even use impossible logical system as their foundation. Now let’s say, just for fun, that our minds were powerful enough to conceive of a large enough quantity of information to define all the atoms necessary to make, say, Earth, it’s ecosystem, and 6 billion human inhabitants. We can throw in the rest of the universe and its paradigm laws just for the hell of it. Each of those human inhabitants could exhibit the same property of consciousness, N-dimensional mind-worlds derived purely from their (mind-virtual) atomic information. This is where it gets really trippy. So you have within your mind enough computational power to simulate the universe (with generalizations and abstraction, otherwise it would take 1 bit to represent 1 bit and you would need to be the universe to simulate it- which is impossible). You have run this simulation and arrived at Earth with humans on it. Do you hear all their thoughts? I’m going to leave you with that one and get onto the truly trippy stuff- let’s say these humans develop computers, they learn to augment their brains, and grow their own brainpower. Now you have billions of humans who are also able to simulate the entire Earth plus 6 billion people. And they are inside your head. Though by that point calling it your “head” is probably inaccurate.

How could this possibly work, you ask. Well, like I said, abstraction and generalization all the way. Provided that no entity is consciously observing the subatomic particles you can fairly confidently just use some accurate heuristic to represent their behavior. And as for the positions of stars and galaxies and suchlike, you don’t really need to represent every particle in every star, and it may be more efficient to skimp on representing all the stars in a galaxy and just go to whatever resolution is sufficiently accurate without consuming too much processor power. So you get a big universe for a relatively small processor drain. As for the quantity of information being “created” by life- you only need to represent the locations of the particles- all the other information is just *there* if you want to “read” it. This would be using your exact knowledge of every particle and every motion through every second of someone’s brain to figure out what they’re thinking. By “reading” it and deriving information such as thoughts, you are performing an identical action to looking at the positions of atoms and concluding “apple”, and you have actually created additional information, only in your higher-level “reality”. Though I am long-winded, I touch on far too many deep ideas not to be. I have a link to a powerful short story that you really must read if you’re still here. Or perhaps you’re more interested in Isaac Asimov’s interpretation. These stories each do a great job of clearly highlighting the idea behind and within this post. However, just like the difference between my ideas and Ayn Rand’s, they’re both a little different from mine.

In short, the Objectivist metaphysics is missing a critical element. Though I had wanted to touch on all the other aspects of Objectivism, they’re going to have to wait because this post is already far too long, just like all the others. If you’re still reading, thanks for the attention. I hope one day to read or perhaps hear your thoughts- perfectly fair exchange.

The Integration of Technology

Technology is a wonderful thing- but it has a serious problem. The only prerequisite to the access of technology’s power is knowledge. Or money with which to pay for the use of others’ knowledge. However in either case you can’t take advantage of knowledge that nobody has (yet) so it reduces to the same case either way. Knowledge is power in the most direct sense, in the same way that a lever is power- force times distance. For thinking, the equation is processing power times time. Knowledge applied over time produces results. While this is evidently true, few people notice it. When you get a job you are being paid to apply knowledge over time in the production of value. If you had less knowledge then you would be paid less because you would be less able to produce value. In the same sense as a lever with less force on the active end will not be able to lift as much mass. Hence the idea of property is inherently a part of being conscious; your thought and your time (freedom to use that time as you wish) belong to you exclusively. If you trade that time and thought, you can expect to receive something of equal value, at the very least, in return. However, it turns out that our minds are not just information floating in the void, and that they come prepackaged with some very sophisticated hardware we call a “body” including an advanced computer called a “brain”. So we can easily say you own your mind, therefore you own your body and therefore you own the products of time and the use of your mind and body.

So we arrive at efficiency. Two essentially identical people are told to move a hundred sacks of grain across the street. You give one a wheelbarrow. Who finishes first? They are identical, save one used a more efficient method to do their work. Technology is the exploitation of natural laws to maximum advantage relative to the human perspective. We need food, so we make agricultural technology to maximize the production of food per land area. If we ate rocks instead, we wouldn’t have agricultural technology. Rather, our mining technology would probably be significantly more advanced due to the agricultural time and thought being redirected into mining advances. Finding the tastiest rocks, if you would. Why I am saying all this? Now, we find my point. We usually consider such tricks as the physics behind a wheelbarrow as part of the natural sciences, but the design of the wheelbarrow itself is an act of engineering. Our bodies are very complex machines, but we consider their maintenance to be “medicine”, not mechanics or engineering. Philosophy is the answering of questions we can’t answer authoritatively, and science is the answering of those we can. Our minds are very powerful computers running a fascinating piece of software called Man V. 1.4 but psychology is distinct from computer science why, exactly? Where’s the boundary? These distinctions are imaginary. There is a small difference which I will get into in a bit, but right now I want to get the point across that the boundaries are like those between nations. Drawn on a map, but not actually there. Why do we split our knowledge into exclusive sections? Because that’s how we teach people, since job specialization is such a fundamental part of our economy and knowledge base. Why do we teach people that way? Because that’s how we define the different fields. “Can you say circular?” “I can say circular. Can you say circular?”… No, seriously, why is this the ideal model?

I did mention that there was a difference. If that corrupted your perception of my point as a whole, shame on you. Though there’s probably nothing you could do about it. Very few people put any serious effort into improving their thinking, despite the fact that they’re using it all the time. They’ll try to learn how to do things but use cobbled-together and terrifically random and useless methods to do so. Imagine that you are faced with a massive library full of great books to read, but you have only a rudimentary knowledge of reading. Which is the better course- to try to grind through them all at 10 words per minute, or first perfect your reading skills and then start reading? Sure it’s a down payment of time and energy, but the result is that from then on you’ll go many times faster. As another important point, it is always critical to include the method with the result because it is logically possible to have any conceivable process and get any result. I’m not saying it will always get a right result since they’ll probably be wrong under all other circumstances. For example, 16 x 4. You swap the 1 and the 6, and then swap the 1 and the 4. You get 64. Yeah? Well, you can’t prove that false without using another example because the conclusion is in fact true 16 x 4 = 64 is a true statement. So we actually just proved that the mind that thinks is inseparable from that which is thought. We are forced to conclude that an awareness of your own process is necessary irrespective of what you actually do with it. Engineer yourself a better mind. I need to do a post on just this topic. Some other time.

New paragraph for the difference. It’s called suspense. Not rambling. Certainly not. Medicine is different from engineering in the same way that constructive engineering is different from retroactive engineering. However since we haven’t been faced with a large need for retroactive engineering, that is not its own discipline. What do I mean by retroactive engineering? If we found a device buried in the earth that performed magical acts like making it rain when you pressed a button, that would be a perfect occasion for retroactive engineering. One field of it might be called “reverse engineering” or the decomposition of a complex machine or system into its functions and parts to figure out how it works. Under the conventional definition of engineering, we start from nothing and build a machine upwards from laws we understand. Reverse engineering is taking a machine we don’t understand and figuring it out.

To broaden this idea to knowledge in general, all fields reduce to one of two stances regarding a single contiguous mass called knowledge, or Truth; constructive or reductive. Natural sciences are reduction on the universe, the world around us. Conversely, if we start building virtual worlds by experimenting with fictitious natural laws, we start on the constructive side. The same principle applies to all knowledge. The intent of knowledge being, as stated above, to improve on our own power to get things done that we want done. As an important note, never is only one stance used. Whenever you construct something you then have to figure out if it works, how well it works, or why it doesn’t work and these are reductive in nature. Conversely, whenever you figure out how something works you have to construct something to prove it. The most common method is to construct an experiment which will produce specific results which can then be analyzed in reduction. Can you say circular?… But that’s the point! Knowledge is a constant circular feedback loop in the same way that consciousness is. Construction and reduction can even be reduced to the simple perspective of action and reaction, respectively. You do something, analyze the results, do something based on the results, etc. etc. And as you advance on the circular loop you are continuously increasing your knowledge, your power, your leverage. So we see the exponential increase of life proceeds clearly and continuously into technology. Where does biology end and technology begin? Biology is the study of already-evolved life and technology could be the creation of life from scratch such as self-replicating, evolving robots. Or genetically modified crops and animals.

The objective of learning should be to learn everything, not only to earn a living. This thought is a necessary corollary of my very Stoic ideal that Truth = virtue, the pair representing the only prerequisite to happiness. Of course, this also turns out to be a very profitable strategy because someone who knows… a LOT… is going to earn a large amount of money. I am not saying that I want to go to law school and medical school and get every degree known to man, though I must say that would be damned cool. No, I expect that in a short while we’ll crack the secret of encoding information in a human brain and be able to convert between our binary computer language and analog neural language. When that happens, omniscience is fair game. Any knowledge that anyone, anywhere, has is up for sale. This removes the time factor from learning and reduces the cost of transmission, shall we say, dramatically? When this happens, then I’ll just buy the knowledge I did not gain through schooling, using my vast fortune I used my limited schooling to obtain. Though that may not even be necessary because such a system would automatically drive the prices to zero. Whenever you sell it, by definition you just increased supply by one and decreased the demand by one. All you have to do is wait- before too long the knowledge will be “worthless” anyway since everyone will have it. As a matter of fact, I would be willing to bet that an engineering career in bringing this situation about would be about as lucrative as they get. “I can offer you immortality, omniscience, and omnipotence (over perfectly realistic virtual worlds anyway) for $100 million.” And the price drops as the rich phase out and the technology gets cheaper. By the very nature of industry, you will be making the most money exactly when you have the most capacity to capitalize on it, sufficiently soon before critical mass when nobody cares about money anymore because anything they want they can just make.

We began with an integrated field of knowledge, we specialized into ever-more-advanced subfields until eventually our technology becomes advanced enough that we can increase our own capacities to understand it. Can you say circular?…