Saturday, March 18, 2006

Universe by Design? Accident? Or Simulation?

Did our universe come about by design? By accident? Or are we living in a simulation?

9780316013338_p0_v1_s260x420Leonard Susskind's new book, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design pits Intelligent Design against string theory and the megaverse. Susskind, one of the developers of string theory, takes on the 'Anthropic Principle' -- that the universe seems to be perfectly tailored to us: If it wasn't we wouldn't be here to observe it.

Surprisingly, Autodesk founder John Walker, in his review, sides with intelligent design, but not by a deity -- rather by post-Singularity intelligences creating a reality simulation: "What would we expect to see if we inhabited a simulation?"

Yes, I have discussed this in fact & fiction, many times. But the “symptoms” delineated by Susskind are definitely the kind plumbed by theoretical physicists who have a more extensive union card than I do!

reality checkTo see this scenario played out in one of my short stories, go to: Stones of Significance  or my story, Reality Check.

From Walker’s posting: . “What would we expect to see if we inhabited a simulation? Well, there would probably be a discrete time step and granularity in position fixed by the time and position resolution of the simulation—check, and check: the Planck time and distance appear to behave this way in our universe.

. . “There would probably be an absolute speed limit to constrain the extent we could directly explore and impose a locality constraint on propagating updates throughout the simulation—check: speed of light.

. . “There would be a limit on the extent of the universe we could observe—check: the Hubble radius is an absolute horizon we cannot penetrate, and the last scattering surface of the cosmic background radiation limits electromagnetic observation to a still smaller radius. There would be a limit on the accuracy of physical measurements due to the finite precision of the computation in the simulation—check: Heisenberg uncertainty principle—and, as in games, randomness would be used as a fudge when precision limits were hit—check: quantum mechanics.

UNIVERSEFAKE. . “Might we expect surprises as we subject our simulated universe to ever more precise scrutiny, perhaps even astonishing the being which programmed it with our cunning and deviousness (as the author of any software package has experienced at the hands of real world users)? Who knows, we might run into round-off errors which “hit us like a ton of bricks”!"

See these topics explored in my essay: Could Our Universe Be a Fake?

---More cool Items...

* Looking toward a bold future: Scientists are now talking about people staying young and not aging. Ray Kurzweil is taking it a step further: "In addition to radical life extension, we’ll also have radical life expansion. The nanobots will be able to go inside the brain and extend our mental functioning by interacting with our biological neurons."

* A computer controlled by the power of thought alone has been demonstrated at a major trade fair in Germany. The device could provide a way for paralysed patients to operate computers, or for amputees to operate electronically controlled artificial limbs. But it also has non-medical applications, such as in the computer games and entertainment industries.

* Google Inc. apparently hopes to persuade everyone with a computer to entrust all their digital data with the online search engine leader, even though the company is having trouble controlling its own internal communications. Plans for a Google service offering "infinite" storage capacity leaked out last week when the company inadvertently shared some information about several projects, including one named "GDrive," on its Web site.

. . Ironically, this endeavor depends upon Google’s “don’t be evil” sense of trust, engendered at great cost over the years... and now threatened by public perception of a “cave-in” to the Government of China, on the issue of censorship. One of the hot topics we should all watch and discuss. 

* Human genes involved in metabolism, skin pigmentation, brain function and reproduction have evolved recently in response to recent environmental changes, according to a new study of natural selection in the human genome. http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8812&print=true

* Here’s an item that could go in political OR non-political categories: ”Search engine newcomer Kosmix, which lets users look in specific topic areas, recently introduced its politics engine. For any search term, Kosmix organizes results into conservative, liberal or libertarian categories, allowing seekers to explore results associated with a certain political persuasion. Though still in its alpha version, the politics engine is fairly adept at teasing out ideological orientations on the web.”

. . Now, at first sight this looks very much like another predictive hit for EARTH, tools empowering people to filter the world so that the Net will only bring them information that reinforces their pre-conceptions. Great, all we need is more slavish devotion to the crippling left-right metaphor that has taken a sophisticated, 21st Century civilization down the path of 18th Century culture war. Is this the intention? Or is it possible the designers of this system might try to “not be evil” by incorporating methods that provoke re-appraisal of simplistic litmus-nostrums?

. . One way to save this idea might be to encourage users to take questionnaires like the one I have long posted at: http://www.davidbrin.com/questionnaire.html But I don’t have the time/energy to contact these guys.

* In the category of yet another predictive hit for EARTH,, crotchety fools are using high tech to harass kids: ”A high pitched "dog whistle" device is to be used by police in north Staffordshire to stop groups of nuisance youths hanging around shops. The Mosquito sends out a pulsing 80-decibel frequency noise which can usually only be heard by teenagers and those in their early 20s. The device is fitted outside the shop and can be turned on by shopkeepers to move youths on.”

For the first time, scientists have confirmed Earth is melting at both ends, which could have disastrous effects for coastal cities and villages.

and coolest yet....

Scientists have discovered a mutant chicken with a full set of crocodile-like chompers.


.

34 comments:

Matzebre said...

I guess that makes hens' teeth as rare as a cyclops kitten

OdinsEye2k said...

w.r.t. the finely tuned cosmological constants, I never hear about just how large the "design space" of universes happens to be.

A lot of people seem to mention this parameter or that being just slightly higher, but these are just walking in one dimension. But - if you walk in one dimension (turn up the proton charge, say), how does this change the ranges of values for all the other parameters to make a life-viable universe?

OdinsEye2k said...

Also, re: Kosmix:

That sounds really cool about the political sorting. Another feature that would be really sweet (and unlikely) would be to establish a visual network diagram of the owners/journalists/think-tankers or whatever. Now, I know ad hominem does not immediately destroy an argument, but it certain throws a red flag to your internal fact checker.

For example, if someone like Angela Logomasini writes an article in USToday about global warming, you might take it at face value. However, if you also knew she was a research of 'Environmental Policy' at the Competitive Enterprise think-tank, you might think a little harder about her words. Up the ante by seeing no science degrees on her resume, and possibly further reduce credibility by seeing her degrees are from Catholic University (as opposed to Stanford, CalTech, MIT, UMichigan or any other science powerhouses).

Now, she may reference true experts in the field, and thus recover her credibility. But, it would be handy to know immediately whether she writes as impartial observer, or as free market idolator.

tvindy said...

Also, our universe has only three spatial dimensions. I'm sure a twenty dimensional computer would have no trouble simulating such a simple universe.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Aaah, people who don't understand Quantum Mechanics, and don't realize it, either...



That said, I personally like Stephan Wolfram's explanation of the universe. (For the curious, he think it's a "replacement network".)

His explanation has the advantage of explaining why there's a minimum time unit and space unit... even of explaining why the speed of light should /be/ a cosmic speed limit.

Of course it has the disadvantage of having no numerical support whatsoever, but neither does Walker, I suspect.

Erik Wennstrom said...

I'm greatly fascinated both by the idea that "universes" (I guess I'm using the word to describe portions of existence isolated from interacting with each other for most practical purposes) can be created from within another universe. I'm even more fascinated by the idea that the laws of physics in different created universes could be different based upon the circumstances surrounding their generation.

And I'm phenomenally fascinated by the idea that there is some extent to which the laws of child universes are influenced (either strictly or probablistically) by the laws of their parent universes because that idea (coupled with the unspoken assumption that the likelihood and/or number of a universe to have "children" is connected to those laws) inevitably leads to the idea of the evolution of universes (a concept I was not at all surprised to hear from a variety of independent sources). And if there's any reason to think that universes conducive to our style of intelligent life are more likely to spawn more universes (or perhaps more likely to spawn more universes like themselves), then there's just as much reason to believe that the presence of intelligent life in some (at least one) of these universes is a result of natural selection as there is to believe it is a result of intelligent design.

Now this selection for intelligence could be that intelligences create universes, but that sort of argument smells to me like the sort of argument that intelligent design supporters seem to believe that evolutionary science rests upon. If that sentence was too convoluted, I point to the arguments against the "uselessness" of an eye-like organ that's not quite fully functional, or to the non-advantage of an almost-flagellum. These arguments hold no water against the biological evolution of complex life because there are advantages to almost-eyes and almost-flagella. But if your only selection method is how many intelligently created (intentionally or accidentally) universes are spawned by a universe, then there's no selective force towards the circumstances necessary for intelligence in general (although there may be significant selective force amonsgst universes that have intelligent universe creators in them). There's still the issue of why the replication method got started.

That's an aspect of the theory I'd like to see explored. What selective forces are there amonst universes without intellgent creators in them? The fact that we live in a universe with intelligence is only support that there are universes with intelligence, not that they are commonplace (anthropic principle, yadda-yadda). So any theory put forth to explain why we live in a universe that has intelligent life really just needs to be an explanation of why universes with intelligent life exist. An infinite, or sufficiently large number of universes does explain this satisfactorily, if boringly. So ignoring that possibility, what else could cause the probabilities of intelligent life to go up? Perhaps the "chunkiness" of the universe has some effect on the number and probability of naturally created universes (black holes, maybe)? Interesting possibilities in this line of thought.

I'm also interested in the following related question, which follows entirely from my own theoretical (at best) or philosophical (at worst) reasoning and certainly not from any sort of scientific evidence. Are the factors that lead people to the 10^500 number influenced by the nature of the universe? Maybe the number and nature of those "possibilities" are really the "genes" of our universe. We consider those possible because those are the possible universes that could be generated by our universe. Perhaps the full possibility-space is much, much greater, but each universe is only capable of generating universes with certain types of laws, which smells like heredity to me. Maybe some universes are sterile (i.e. have laws that do not permit the creation of new universes), and are thus chosen against by lack of offspring. Maybe some universes are likely to spawn universes so different from themselves that selection doesn't even take hold for them (to extend the biological metaphor, this would be like complex molecules that have chemical reactions that usually produce chemicals radically dissimilar to themselves (in other words, most material outside DNA and similars)). Very interesting questions that don't really seem answerable without some sort of mechanism for looking into other universes, but that doesn't stop their interestingness.

All this is a complete digression from the original reason I wanted to post a comment. I'll try to get back on track.

I am somewhat less interested by the pseudosolipistic idea that the universe is just a simulation made by another universe. Unless, of course, it's put forth in conjunction with some clever reasons or better yet, some predicted results about future discoveries. John Walker's article is quite full of the former, so it's mildly interesting to me, but what I'd really like to see are predictions (or at least a description of the types of predictions that could be made) about future discoveries or the results of future experimentation that the hypothesis of imperfect simulation puts forward. Without such predictions, this endeavor is amusing, but completely unscientific. You can't argue for the truth of a hypothesis based on data that the person who came up with the hypothesis had access to before coming up with the hypothesis, at least not in such broad general strokes. I should note that all of the concepts that I just digressed into are just like Walker's: amusing ideas, not arguments that those ideas are correct. It's possible that some of these concepts might be refined by someone into actual theories whose truth could be argued for, but I'm just a mathematician, not a physicist, so I'm not the one to do it.

By the way, I'm not trying to say that Walker said anything wrong. He notes that the sorts of vague predictions that he puts forth are "suggestive (though not probative)," and ends his discussion with a "But seriously," which indicates to me that he is putting his ideas forth in the same vein that I was in my digression and David Brin seemed to use (in the story that he linked). So why do I mention it?

On the off chance that this article is read by someone who might be on the fence about the status of the current arguments for Intelligent Design or other pseudoscientific endeavors, I don't want to give the impression that we (Walker, Brin, and myself) consider this scientific argument. It's absolutely fascinating, and perhaps someone could turn some these concepts into an actual theory (meaning it could be tested by experiments whose outcome is predicted differently by other theories, not merely checked to verify that it fits with what we already know), but as we've presented them, they are merely ideas and not theories.

(Note that theory-hood (theorihood?) is a function of testability, not of truth. The argument that biological evolution or Intelligent Design is an incorrect theory is a completely different argument than the one that it is not a theory. I have been convinced that the former is both a theory and a mostly correct theory and that the latter (as put forth by those who gave it that name) isn't even a theory (so it's correctness is never even in question.))

Okay, I've allowed this comment to balloon to ridiculous lengths, so I didn't even get a chance to do the usual first-poster introductory nonsense. I'll just end with the note that I enjoy reading your books and your blog, Mr. Brin and by thanking you for that time a few years back at the San Diego Comic-Con when you signed my copy of Otherness even though your hand was injured. You didn't need to do that, and I wouldn't have even asked had I known the extent of your injury, but I appreciated that.

Erik Wennstrom

Rob Perkins said...

I don't see, really, why we'd *need* technology to filter out that which we just don't want to believe. It seems to me humans are already best at doing just that sort of thing. You should have seen the conversation I had with my brother when I said to him, "Intelligent Design is not science."

Flip, the coin, though, and you've got a tremendous filter for "what is" in the Kosmix alpha. Consider that no matter how stupid and apparantly useless the left-right polispectrum is, most people still sort themselves along it.

Given that, it becomes a reference for sociology study. For people like me, who wade into any political ideology-stream, panning for idea-gems, it's a help to wonder aloud things like, "I wonder what the "libertarians" are saying about global warming these days?"

Regarding the discussion of whether this universe is a simulation... I'll point out that I can go to the Bible and draw out support for extra spatial dimensions from Jeremiah (I think it was Jeremiah), declarations that the human perspective is not just narrow, it's cripplingly narrow, from either Kings or Samuel, can't remember which, and that people who are coming along nicely get a "stone of significance" with a new name written on it, from the Revelation of John! :-D

(snark snark snark... just for the funnuvit)

Max Kaehn said...

Not yet a predictive hit for Earth, but an article in IEEE Spectrum points at a predecessor for dazers.

David Brin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David Brin said...

Erik, you look to be the kind of guy we want on this blog/community. Yshould read Lee Smolin’s original work on the “evolution of evolvability.” The essence is that black holes make baby universes, hence universes will evolve toward those with greater success at making black holes. Hence at least processes that make stars with properties roughly like those we see.

Once you have that, then fine-tuning can take place according to a myriad criteria that we do not yet know... and the notion floating around is that intelligence may somehow be one of those attributes that increase the effective ness of black hole forma or improve the qualities of the black holes that are produced.

As yet, this idea is so vague as to belong almost solely in sci fi... like my story “What Continues and what fails....”

You are right that some form of ‘heredity’ must be involved. Simple. “Are baby universes likely to carry some degree of law-ness” through the singularity into the new bang+inflation seed that they spark at the other side?” Physicists like Hawking have already said that they feel this is likely. With variation. There you have it. Each seed varies a bit in a distributed way around an inherited average set of traits. You need nothing more in order to evolve.

While the “granularity” argument does seem to be the biggest one in favor of simulation, I do feel it’s a bit disingenuous.
I cannot parse out why. It leaves me uncharacteristically tongue-tied.

As for “intelligent design”... this is the kind of mind boggling stuff that a travelling crew ought to take to every disputed school board meeting across the land, fizzing with enthusiasm that these issues will be discussed! “We’re in a simulation! WHoopee! Granularity proves it!” Watch as the Creationists blanch and start muttering about going back to standard biology.

Finally, thanks Max, for pointing out that new Earth predictive hit. Of course, the one I desperately yearn for is a world-wide revolution of an educated citizenry, rising up to wage all out war against secrecy.

Here’s the “hit list” so far. I am working on an article about prediction, so might I ask for help? I need citations for some things on the list and a person to collect them. That’d be most helpful.


Predictive hits from the novel EARTH (1989)... so far...

. . Blatant and Obvious
The Web as a vehicle for personal expression
Blogging
The Web as a vehicle for mass democracy movements
Privacy as a vanishing comodity
Global warming and rising sea levels
The partition of the Soviet Union
Levees breaking and cities flooded on the Mississippi & Gulf Coast

. . TrendsNeeding Citation

Purely mental control of electronic devices (http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8826&print=true)
Subvocal silent input devices.
Manmade black holes taken seriously
Crisis habitat arks
Eyeglass cams
Eyeglass VR overlays on real environments
Brain imaging->personality profiling
Geological-scale sculptures
Prediction registries
"Dazers" who use biofeedback to alter consciousness in druglike ways without using illegal substances (http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/mar06/3044)
People adjusting their web "shells" or search behavior to only admit views that fit their preconceptions (http://www.kosmix.com/index_politics.html)
Crotchety elders using high tech to harass kids (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/staffordshire/4715526.stm)

.

Anonymous said...

Yep, lots of scientists talking about not aging and staying young, none of them actually doing it as far as I can tell.

Rob Perkins said...
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Rob Perkins said...

A couple of possible counterarguments to the granularity thing:

When humans create simulations, they model them after reality to a varying degree. The simulator my company makes to predict casting flaws uses observations and predictions made possible by the laws of thermodynamics.

Thus, the whole argument becomes that reality is a simulation because it has properties of simulations, without mention that simulations themselves *mimic* what is observed in reality! Beautifully circular, and completely fallacious, and easy with enough flower and eloquence to tongue-tie even the most accomplished educatedperson. For a little while. :-)

Or, it could simply be a correlation implies causation type of fallacy. It doesn't necessarily prove, because granularity has been found in the universe at nanoscopic and nanotemporal levels, that the universe is a simulation. All it proves is that *we perceive granularity*, which is not surprising, since we incorporate it into every early kind of thinking possible, like the concepts in algebra before Newton and his contemporaries figured out calculus.

Do those fly at all? Or have they already been swatted aside?

Kagehi said...

Another problem with the simulation thing is that I seem to remember reading some place that the constants are changing, albeit at a rate so slow that most of the suns in the universe will burn out before it has any major effect on the potential for life. A simulation shouldn't "shift" its laws over time, just so that at some point you get the potential for some sort of life. But this is just another crazy version of, "What if we are all just figments of someone's imagination?" Well... Give me some clue how to actually determine that and I might bother to consider the possibility, otherwise you are just being a bit creapy and wasting time wondering about the unprovable, instead of making real discoveries.

Kagehi said...

It doesn't necessarily prove, because granularity has been found in the universe at nanoscopic and nanotemporal levels, that the universe is a simulation. All it proves is that *we perceive granularity*, which is not surprising, since we incorporate it into every early kind of thinking possible, like the concepts in algebra before Newton and his contemporaries figured out calculus.

Not to mention the fact that some of that granularity is a sort of instrument error issue. How do you measure discrete scales of time that lie "below" the threshold of the device making the measurement? You can't. So, unless you somehow built and instrument which ticked at a rate slower than the smallest measured time, you can't measure below that point, even if such a specific time span existed. Also, it assumes we know really what time is. Its not improbable that the way dimensions form, that time is a side effect of them, not its own dimension, or any number of other possibilities, which play havoc with figuring out "why" any granularity exists. And in some sense, time to us is how long it takes from some object X to get to point Y, no matter how you measure it, so its not necessarilly granularity of "time" being detected, but some general sense of dimensional interactions.

BTW, the reason Xeno was wrong is because atoms have no "specific" location, but more of a general one. At some point you no longer have to move half way again to get to Y, because the object at Y is, at any given moment, anyplace from Y - n to Y + n, where n is the maximum radius any given electron of that atom may be orbiting. And all intervening spaces are in a sense only half way to some point Z, within the limits of Z +- n. Since there are not truely discrete distances, there can be no infinite subdivisions of any given distance between objects. Oddly, people seem to miss this obvious fact, and instead babble about some finite minimum distance that objects can move, thus allowing them to move at all... I don't think they are really looking at it right. Same may be true of the supposed granularity of time.

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Kagehi: Xeno was also wrong because the sum of an infinite series is, after an infinite amount of summing ... well ... /sometimes/ finite. The 1/2+1/4+1/8+... series his paradox suggests is precisely one of those, and it does, of course, add up to one.

And more importantly - he left out another issue.
If you can divide space up indefinitely, you can ALSO divide time up the same way.

So it takes you half the time to get half the distance, a quarter of the time to get another quarter of the distance ...
... and so on, up to the precise full time, when you make the precise distance.

That's WITHOUT granularity or uncertainty... and granularity is only circularly necessary - you only need granular space if you have granular time.




On the "evolvability of evolvability"...
Well... anyone want to challenge the claim that a complicated universe makes it more likely for there to be intelligence?
Taking that as a premise, and also assuming that a complicated universe is more likely to "reproduce"...
...selection for fecundity (the only sort POSSIBLE for asexual reproduction without limited resources or predators, which one would hope applies to universes) would naturally lead to selection for complexity - and thus selection for the circumstances required for intelligence.

A what-if, but a what-if resting on rather plausible premises, at the very least.

(Also, Hi, Erik!)

Rob Perkins said...

Such a thing is a nice way to explain why Xeno was wrong, but I like the maths explanation better, because it doesn't actually have to appeal to uncertainty of where an atom is.

opit said...

When The 13th Floor came out, I remembered Galouye's Simulacron 3/Counterfeit World ; that was a while back.

Julia said...

On the "Mosquito" device -- some people don't lose that part of their hearing range until well into their thirties, some even later, and people with autism spectrum disorders are more likely to fall into this category than the general population overall.

I predict that there's going to be a lawsuit over this before the end of the decade.

Robert Train Adams said...

The Mosquito sends out a pulsing 80-decibel frequency noise which can usually only be heard by teenagers and those in their early 20s.

I was curious what frequency the Mosquito actually sends, since "Decibel" is a measure of sound pressure. It turns out, according to another article, to be a 16 kHz signal, which my 60-year-old ears have no difficulty hearing. I suspect it's more the irregular change in sound pressure levels at an admittedly annoying frequency that does the job (of course, if the youth regularly went to rock concerts, with dB levels usually quite in excess of 80, they might not notice The Mosquito as much as the inventor hopes).

It was interesting to note how many articles used the "80-decibel frequency" phrase, without any understanding that it didn't mean much. That grates on my nerves almost as much as misused apostrophe's (sic).

Fhydra said...

robert train adams said...

"(of course, if the youth regularly went to rock concerts, with dB levels usually quite in excess of 80, they might not notice The Mosquito as much as the inventor hopes)."

Personally I was thinking about how the youth usually listen to iPods nowadays. And they certainly have as much of an effect as rock concerts if you turn up the volume loud enough. Perhaps the teenagers will be using these iPods as protection whenever they want to hang out at the mall.

mungojelly said...

All possible/conceivable universes exist simultaneously (or, if you're being fussy, outside-of-time-ly). None of them can be considered more "real" or primary than any other. (This is the perspective on the universe which in Hindu thought is called "Brahma.")

Many of them contain simulations of each other. For instance, our universe contains many simulations of events that occur in the world we call John Conway's Game of Life. Those events already existed before we discovered them. The Game of Life contains gliders, whether or not any human being in this particular loopy universe bothers to notice such a thing.

Similarly, we exist in our universe whether or not anyone in any other universe has discovered the rules that produce ours. In fact, the consciousness which you are now experiencing, this very state down to any level of detail that you desire to resolve, itself exists in an infinite number of universes simultaneously and there is no reason to consider any of those more primary-- no way to predict which universe your experiencing subject is going to experience next. You are now living simultaneously in an infinite number of worlds, most of which have fundamentally different rules & natures.

For instance, consider the set of universes which are created by a God, but then the God doesn't interfere with the process until late in the game. Imagine, for instance, that in the God's universe it takes no energy at all to do the necessary kind of computation to simulate our universe, as long as you don't interfere, but each interference is very energy-expensive. God, therefore, might sensibly have a huge number of universes open & running which He in his Great Wisdom hasn't bothered to fool around with yet. Perhaps he really enjoys to fuck with societies experiencing Singularities, and he's about to drop in Next Tuesday and start making things interesting. That's just one of an infinite number of truly bizarre situations which would produce exactly the mental state you presently occupy, including your deep conviction that the world is a sensible ordered rational place-- which it has been, up until Next Tuesday.

God in the higher sense, Brahma, doesn't give a damn about whether universes make any sense. Universes that make sense to their occupants are a subset. The set of universes that persist rationally for their entire course is in fact a tremendously smaller set (in the sense that you can talk about such things with infinities) than the set of universes that have random alterations along the way. The apparent fundamental randomnesses in our universe might just be the fact that we have a tremendously large rule-set: A rule-set with so many exceptions that there are a fantastically large set of deviations planned for every moment of the universe for all of time, laid out in a Book of Life whose contents are larger than the entire informational content of our universe itself. There's no guarantee that our rule-set has to be manageably or sensibly small. There's no guarantee that anything about our world needs to make any sense at all. Of course, it does seem to! And lucky us, if that's so.

<3

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

Mungo: You use an interestingly confident tone.

It'd almost be interesting, if it weren't obvious bullocks.

If you hadn't tried assuming things with no evidence whatsoever, it would have been an interesting speculation worth addressing.

As it is ... why should I bother talking with someone who already knows The Truth, Even If It's Wrong?

David Brin said...

You are right. Mungo sounds EITHER like the kid of erudite gamesman we like to recruit for this site... or somebody reaching down and poking a stick into this nest of brighter-than-average ants and stirring!

Think, how would you tell if an alien - or god - were deciding to converse with us via the medium of the internet? In the Bible, angels had to come in disguise to fool Lot. But now all youi have to do is slip in a few keystrokes to comment in a blog!

Drop by http://ieti.org/ to see one of the most bizarre thought experiments going. I tried to set them straight. For example, I suggested most of the procedures at:
http://ieti.org/about/vetting.htm

Unfortunately, these have been tepidly implemented. With such a cool idea, it should have already expanded into a lovely game! With many visitors conversing the the "role" of a nonhuman life form.

See my own contribution at:
http://www.davidbrin.com/setiarticle.html

Regarding "decibels" I can only say, look at the initials. Noisy R Us.

Re: The Conway "Game of Life"... I assume you've all read my novel GLORY SEASON, in which that game is extrapolated to new heights?

Michael "Sotek" Ralston said...

I read Glory Season.

It's been a bit of a while, though, and I entirely don't remember Conway's Life being in it. Hmm. Wish I knew where my copy was.

Tony Fisk said...

Speaking of poking the ant's nest, and generally stirring the possum, consider the ongoing discussion of black holes of significance and baby universes, in the light of this New Scientist article:
Three cosmic enigmas, one audacious answer

As interesting as they are to speculate on and make movies about, one big problem I have with 'simverse' theories is that they come across as a variation on the 'infinite boxes' explanation: that we can explain life, the universe and all that by setting it in the context of another, bigger universe.

Which arose...how?

I think the problem is that we don't seem able to contemplate infinity but must put a boundary to something before we can even define it, let alone try to understand it.
... Parse that last sentence ('define'?) and you will see that our very language directs our thinking (guess that's an uplift predictive hit! Or was it Orwell?)

Come to think of it, when did the 'simverse' idea first come about, anyway? My earliest recollection would be Farmers' Riverworld series, and Asimov's short story 'Through a Glass Darkly'. Then there's Tipler's Omega Point memory sink at the end of time, where it got serious.

(Simverse conspiracy theory: as we get closer to the gaming limits set by our hosts, the 'correction' mechanisms will get less subtle. So just follow the red herrings we poke into the literature while we're expanding the horizons, kiddies, or you'll be sent to your room to play with Scudder!)

The 'Life' reference in Glory Season struck me as a little contrived (I found the biological checks and balances used to maintain a cloned society much more interesting)
Conway's life game was also given a workout in Greg Egan's short story 'Wang's Carpets' (incorporated in 'Diaspora')

Hawker Hurricane said...

Tony, for a early version of a 'simverse', look to Robert Heinlien's "They"...
The grandmaster often led the way.

Tony Fisk said...

Thanks, HH.

..continuing on from approaching the gaming limits.
Of course, while we don't know what sort of computing power the white mice have available to them, I doubt that a simulation would have had much cause to deal with the outer planets in great detail until recently. Newly installed extensions running untested paradigms might produce some odd effects
... and some hurried obstructive tactics, like NASA budget cuts.

(Oh this is awful! Imagine that the cosmic background corresponds to the blue screen of death!?)

A tongue in cheek lead-in to an interesting couple of items from the Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla , reporting from the Lunar and Planetary Science Convention:

- a fascinating bit of ducking and weaving: The Moons of Jupiter and the future of Outer Planet Exploration
The debate centered on what future missions might be politically feasible in light of the NASA's recent bit of budgetary hare-kare: Europa, Titan, or Enceladus?
Hey, mices? The monkeys are a-tinkering!

Plus, some fascinating insights into what gives with Enceladus. It could be tidal after all! Plus, acetylene has been detected in the plumes: either from reactions requiring temperatures in excess of 1770K(!??), or from some catalytic process, (... or yet another programming error?)

Tony Fisk said...

Tagged by Groklaw, and it should be put under the 'stop laughing, this is serious' category:

This Essay Breaks the Law:

Elevated homocysteine is linked to B-12 deficiency, so doctors should test homocysteine levels to see whether the patient needs vitamins.

ACTUALLY, I can't make that last statement. A corporation has patented that fact, and demands a royalty for its use. Anyone who makes the fact public and encourages doctors to test for the condition and treat it can be sued for royalty fees. Any doctor who reads a patient's test results and even thinks of vitamin deficiency infringes the patent. A federal circuit court held that mere thinking violates the patent.


A burgeoning market for 'mindsets'?

What's really amusing is that the author of this piece is...Michael Crichton! (using his 'thinking' head for a change. Either that or he's paid the royalty fees?)

Erik Wennstrom said...

David:
Thanks for the compliments. Though if you keep stoking the egos of those who post to this blog, we might start getting a bit too elitist. Or at least seem that way to others.


Mungo:
While your version of reality is ultimately plausible, it is, like the solipist's view that everything is merely a figment of his or her own imagination, it's completely unverifiable and doesn't seem to help us to make decisions about how to live our lives. More importantly than that, it's not even that interesting as a mental exercise or amusement. You writing style made it so that I enjoyed reading about it, but that was entirely due to the manner in which you chose to present the material, rather than to any inherent quality of the concept itself.

I believe that all the possibilities I discussed earlier are still valid possibilities even if you believe the statement that all possible worlds exist. What I am interested in is not all the potential existences which have no connection to our own, but merely in those that have some sort of strong connection to ours, whether that connection is due to simulation (of our universe or within our universe), spawning and evolution due to black holes and/or intelligent creation, or whatever. So it's not really how many worlds "exist" that is important to me, but rather the connections between those worlds (e.g. which were spawned or simulated within which). To make myself clearer in the future, I think I'll start using the sci-fi and RPG inspired term of "multiverse" to talk about the realm of universes that has possibly spawned our universe through describable (and hopefully verifiable) methods, and I'll use the word "omniverse" (which I just made up, but has probably already been coined by someone else for similar or disimilar reasons) to describe some undetectable Brahma-like entirety of creation that holds all possibilities.


Michael:
"Hi," to you to. Glad to be here.


Tony:
I don't really view the evolution of universes as an interesting or worthwhile concept because it explains how our universe came to exist better than the big bang does. Science is really not capable of explaining to my satisfaction why the universe exists, only the manner in which it exists. Why are some scientific explanations more satisfying to me than others? Well outside of their verifiability, it boils down to the much-abused Occam's razor argument. All other things being equal, the simpler explanations are more satisfying. I should note that this concept has been done horrible injustice by many people who all have either ignored or twisted the "all other things being equal" part of the rule. All other things really do have to be equal. Verifiability and practicality really do have to be completely and utterly equal for the concept to make me accept one theory over another. But as far as explaining why some new theories just seem more satisfying to me than others, (as in which ones will I talk about in comments to someone's blog) that does boil down to simplicity. (Of course simplicity itself can be acheived in a myriad of sometimes unexpected ways, but I'm getting off-topic again.)

What does this have to do with why I like the theory of a multiverse in which many universes with varying sets of physical laws evolve as opposed to a theory in which there is precisely one universe that has a particular set of laws that is very specific? The former allows the possibility of a more satisfyingly simple set of rules for the multiverse; whereas, the latter has a set of laws that is close to being very mathematically simple, but has quite a few universal constants and specific inital conditions that aren't very simple. Maybe someone will find a completely different explanation that makes those apparently arbitrary choices seem much simpler to me. Or maybe they'll all be verified as quite true and no greater unifying theory will ever make things any simpler. That's why science is useful and science fiction is fun. (Not that either can't be both at times.)

Erik

John said...

Another check: The Fermi Paradox.

The average galaxy ought to be infested with technocentric civilizations. Our galaxy appears to have exactly one.

Seems like the sort of thing one would set up in a simulation.

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Shawn said...

I stumbled upon your blog loking for information about the Mosquito devices that are currently used in the UK, and are now hitting our shores in the US.

I happen to be 41 years old, and can hear them quite well despite having been exposed to years of high SPL environments, and find them quite obnoxious.

The simple fact of the matter is that kids will always be kids, and I will have a laugh when they discover the relatively low-tech solution of investing in a set of earplugs to make the obnoxious things redundant.