X-Message-Number: 26068
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 2005 13:28:22 -0400
From: Francois <>
Subject: For Thomas, virtual worlds and life

My discussion about dreams was only aimed at demonstrating that what is
perceived one way on some level can be perceived very differently on
another. Seen from the outside, a dream is a buch a neurons exchanging
electrochemical signals. Seen from the inside, a dream can be a beach, a
forest, a palace, a bustling city, anything at all really. The dreamer also
makes up his own rules, no need for a good general understanding of all the
laws of physics. This can be realized even more clearly during lucid dreams.
Essentially, a person experiencing those percieves the dream as if awake.
Your mental state is that of being awake, but you are still perceiving the
dream world. I have a few of such episodes per year and I can attest that
the experience is quite extraordinary, if short lived. I have read that with
proper training a lucid dream state can be extended for many minutes but I
have never made the effort.

Dreams also demonstrate that creating a believable virtual world does not
necessarely require universe spanning systems. Our brains can do it in their
sleep (sorry, bad joke, couldn't resist) so how hard can it really be? Of
course, doing it the stupid way, by programming each par by hand, would be a
hopeless task. I like to use the level editors of the video games I play and
I can attest that making such virtual environments is a long and hard
endeavor. But artificial intelligence will probably simplify the task. In
Star Trek, when people wanted to progran something in their holodecks, they
just gave the computer a general description of what they wanted and the
computer did the actual design work. They might say something like "make me
an english meadow in the spring with an orchard in bloom and a nice little
cottage" and the computer would provide the environment. No need to
painstakingly put in every blade of grass, every bloom in the trees and
everything else by hand like we do today.

That being said, dreams are only a demonstration that one can create rich,
evolving, believable virtual environments in wich a virtual being could live
happily. They do not demonstrate that virtual life itself is possible. I can
definitely see the difficulties involved in making such entities, and the
even greater ones involved in successfuly converting a flesh and blood human
into a virtual one. Digital Turing type computers might very well not be up
to the task, but there are other types of computing machines that might do
it. We know of at least one kind of machine capable of sustaining a human
mind, and it's a human brain. What we need to do first is determine exactly
which properties of a brain are needed for that task and which ones can be
ignored. I'm pretty sure there's a lot more of stuff in there than we would
need to translate in virtual form.

The Devil fears those who learn more
than those who pray

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