X-Message-Number: 21644
Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 23:52:29 -0700
From: Mike Perry <>
Subject: Computing and Symbols

This is a response to Thomas Donaldson, #21621.

>First of all it seems to me that quantum computers would be quite
>far from Turing machines.

Not so far, according to David Deutsch, *Fabric of Reality*, though he does 
make some distinctions. But basically you have that all that is happening 
is a kind of computation. Personally, it isn't clear to me whether we 
should really expect quantum computers to compute differently from 
classical computers or just in some cases faster. In any case I think an 
argument can be made that at worst a generalization of a Turing machine 
which was still a discrete-state device could isomorphically simulate the 
universe as we know it, granted you allow enough time (maybe very 
considerable time). The important, underlying property in all this is that 
events--including brain events--happen in discrete jumps and that what 
happens in between is not important, at least insofar as the conscious 
experience of the observer is concerned.

>Second, in what sense does discreteness
>become symbolic?

For me the answer might be "a mathematically valid but not very important 
sense, except in special cases." I don't think the general behavior of a 
computer is limited to the special cases. True, computers generally operate 
with bits, which can be thought of as 0's and 1's, which in turn are 
symbols, but so what? It doesn't mean we have to know the "meaning" of  0 
and 1 to make sense of a computation, as I've tried to say before. 
Discreteness in turn should be modelable, isomorphically, in a computer. 
So, since a computer is at least nominally symbolic, we might say that what 
it models is also symbolic too, though likely it is not in any sense in 
which the individual "symbols" have important meanings that are hard to guess.

>As human beings we do have a fundamental problem in NOT seeing
>everything as symbolic, at least in the sense that we try to
>use our language to describe it. But our language comes from
>us, it does not comes from the events we see happening around

If you worked at it I think you could create a language which would be 
reasonably decipherable by an outsider who didn't know the language 
already. To express simple, guessable mathematical concepts and properties 
would be an easy starting-point.

Mike Perry

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