X-Message-Number: 11653
Date: Sat, 01 May 1999 01:41:04 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Computers, Quantum Mechanics, Dawkins

First, here are some replies Thomas Donaldson, #11638

>To Mike Perry:
>You have been seduced by the emphasis in computer science on COMPUTING.
>The problem with a sequential machine is not that it cannot add 2 + 2
>or even (briefly, to a naive subject) reply on the terminal as if it
>were a real person. The problem is that a Turing machine, necessarily
>sequential, simply cannot emulate a person in the real world because
>it fails to be fast enough to do so.

I never said it would be *practical* to emulate a person with a Turing
machine, just possible in principle, given certain other properties, mainly,
that the universe will be generous to us in the future and provide lots of
room and time, etc.

> Sure, we might use fewer but faster
>processors, but our design must inevitably be parallel, and could not
>even WORK unless it is parallel. 

A sequential device can emulate a parallel device, albeit at a loss of
Not necessarily interact in real-time with processes on the outside, but
emulate just the same. I'll comment on this again.

>And if we produce a machine in a computer-synthesized world responding
>only to that computer-synthesized world, we have no more than one more
>computer program.

But, Thomas, a computer-synthesized world need not be an airtight domain
totally cut off from the "real" world. Instead, there are various ways of
establishing a communication link. One way would be to imagine a computer
program that has characters, some of which are indigenous to the program,
i.e. contained entirely inside it, others controlled from the outside. You
thus could communicate with someone or something inside the computer, by
activating one of the "outsider" characters. You can similarly imagine
events in on the outside being detected and suitably represented for
perception by the denizens within. If said denizens are inherently slower
than us on the outside, the record of these events might have to be stored
and fed slowly to the insiders. Time "inside" the computer might run much
more slowly than outside (even at the cube root of time outside, say, or
even at the log of time outside), yet overall "eventing" would still take
place, and a suitably patient (and hopefully immortal) outsider could still
meaningfully interact. (Again, this could hold in a sequential device.)  So
I would find grounds to consider the "insiders" alive and experiencing. I'm
not saying that characters in books are alive--you don't converse with them.
I'm not saying this scenario is a practical one we would seriously want to
implement. But in principle, a "person" expressed as a computation is "real"
even when the computation is slow, awkward, and ever lagging behind.

You say,
>The problem is that if we consider programmed computer constructions in a
>programmed world to be aware, then we start running into exactly those
>questions. If Tom Sawyer in a computer game is aware, then just how
>does awareness arise? Does the mere fact that the program is running on
>a computer imply that its characters are aware? Sure, you may say that it
>does not, but then WHY NOT? 

I don't have exact specifications of what constitutes awareness, but I think
it depends on the properties of the ongoing computation, the way the bits
are crunched, etc. rather than other things. Awareness, I think, extends
isomorphically. If a system has awareness, then so does an emulation of it.
But I wouldn't say, necessarily, that all programs are aware. Or perhaps we
should say that many programs are only "epsilon-aware," with epsilon very
small. You can raise the same sort of question in regard to subatomic
particles and assemblages of them (of which we are an example). A few
electrons, protons and neutrons may not seem to constitute a system having
awareness, but enough of them, suitably structured, clearly do.

Thomas also says, #11639,
>If and when we can be revived, we will be revived not as computer programs
>but as real creatures living in the world.

Your implied dichotomy would not necessarily hold. In a sense, right now we
are "computer programs" in our brains. This in fact was clearly suggested in
Damien Broderick's posting, #11644:

>This says no more than its converse: we *already* experience only
>`emulated' reality, since the external world is transduced into our mental
>state space via mediating sensors, feature detectors, input reduction,
>representations and encodings of various kinds.

On the other hand, in the future we could start out as computer programs in
a virtual reality, but one with "windows on the world" that would show what
is happening outside and convey other sensory data such as sound, smells, or
whatever we wanted. A simple window on the world might appear as a real
window through which you could see things happening outside (and hear
sounds, etc.) There could well be easy ways to visit the outside, e.g.
download into a suitable robot body, and go from there. Of course, I'm
imagining here that the computers of the future will be very spiffy devices,
maybe quantum computers, and certainly not plodding Turing machines, yet
still in a reasonable sense, computers.

Bob Ettinger raises good points and provides useful references on quantum
mechanics (#11643). QM is our most successful theory to date, I think it's
safe to say. It may be simply "true" but it may only be a good approximation
of reality that will ultimately fall by the wayside like so many other
theories. So far, I find the outlook hopeful, i.e. that it will prove
valid--and I extend that to many-worlds. Bob is worried, apparently, that if
many-worlds is true it bodes ill because bad worlds must be formed along
with the good. But this doesn't mean that the bad must predominate over the
good, or even occupy an equal place. We have to consider probabilities too.
I consider this in my book, and arrive at optimistic conclusions--more
another time.

Finally, I am intrigued by the quote from Richard Dawkins (Steve Bogner,
>It is of course somewhat depressing sometimes to feel
>that one can't go on understanding the universe; it would be nice to be able
>to be here in 500 years to see what people have discovered by then.
> To me it makes it all the more worthwhile to get up in the
>mornings -- we haven't got that much time, let's get up in the morning and
>really use our brief time to understand why we're here and what it's all
>about. That to me is real consolation.

Has anyone talked to this man about cryonics, or even telomerase? Mr. Bogner
adds "Amen" after the last quote--I would say don't give in so easily; I
don't think our time is necessarily "brief."

Mike Perry

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