Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Signing Off Until Late June

As noted in title of post. Thanks for reading. Until then, remember, there are three awesome things: metal, science fiction, and space stuff.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I Have the Cast Iron Crow Demo

In fact I am listening to it currently, but I have been told by certain individuals - hypothetically, members of Cast Iron Crow - not to discuss it. So I won't. I can say that the next gig is March 11th at the Burnt Ramen in Richmond, more details TBA.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Combinatorial Explosion, Simulation Argument and Roundworms

Caenorhabditis elegans is a roundworm which has exactly 302 neurons. For this reason it is used as a simple model for neuroscience. Simple is a relaive term. Assuming neurons have only two states (firing or not), this means that the "simple" C. elegans nervous system as a whole has 8.15 x 10^90 states. That is, even if there has been an immortal C. elegans living since the Big Bang, and it can change states once per Planck time (the fundamental time resolution limit of reality), it wouldn't yet have come close to cycling through all possible states of its nervous system.

At first I thought there might be implications here for the simulation argument, based on the economy of simulating so many systems with so many possible states, but this isn't an easy way out. 1) The states of neurons follow lawfully from external object/events and from each other and in this way are like any other type of object, so they are not additional information sources that increase the simulation's computational requirements. 2) If we're being simulated, we can't trust that our experience is actually related to what appear to be neurons anyway. This does however suggest an interesting thought experiment: if we're simulated and can't believe that what feels and looks like our brain and our sense organs are producing the experience, we can still make basic logical and mathematical guesses about the minimum number of interactions or computations you would need to produce the experience that we have.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cooking, New Definitions, Brutal Death-Grind

1) Cooking: Epic Meal Time! Next level breakfast maneuver:

2) New definition - sociopathos: the mixture of glee and contempt you feel when a person who constantly looks for sympathy by playing the victim gets much more badly victimized than they expected.

3) Brutal Death-Grind. Warning: will destroy your mind with non-Euclidean polyrhtyhms and sheer gruesomulence. This may explain why 5 a.m. airport shuttle rides are oddly unsettling.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Iced, Iced Baby

Baby born after 20 years frozen as embryo. (More descriptive, but less fun than the post title I chose.)

1) There are probably not enough of these cases to get statistical power and there is the major potential confounder of the freeze-thaw itself. However if technology allows this to become more common, and the Flynn effect is still occurring, we'll start to have twins born decades or centuries apart to help us find out why.

2) Derek Parfit would have something to say to people who are hesitant to let their frozen embryos get implanted. Your genes are locked in a test tube, never able to experience happiness? Or raised by someone else and on net happy more than suffering, 20 years from now? If there's no chance you're going to use them, then #2 is a no brainer, if you think causing a hypothetical person to miss out on hypothetical happiness is immoral.

A frozen baby from the future. As it turns out, Flynn was only half-right: not just IQ rises over time, but also average birthweight, here up to 35 tons.

How Can You Miss the Religious/Materialist Tropes in the Matrix?

Remember that scene in the Matrix, where Special Agent Smith is having dinner (in our simulated world) with eventual sell-out Joe Pantoliano, and this Judas figure comments that the steak tastes no less delicious for being a neurochemical construct? I had always thought this was an obvious but nonetheless cleverly situated example of the temptation of worldly power subverting morality and higher good. If you grew up in a Christian culture, you can't help but think here of the Biblical story of Satan's temptation of Christ on the mountain. The power to tempt comes from the ability to offer the pleasures of the flesh or "the world", as Christians use the term, and maya, as Buddhists and Hindus consider it.

A submerged assumption in these parables is that they describe tragedies because the these pleasures are less important than higher values and are ultimately temporary and illusory. The stories lose some steam if you start thinking that there might a reason to consider whether there is value in pleasure for pleasure's sake. (Give up? Answer: yes.) What was interesting to me is I ended up in a discussion about this very scene New Years Eve, and the person I was talking to thought of this as a classic secular betrayal scene, e.g. Benedict Arnold. He a) hadn't thought about any possible religious allusions in this scene, even though b) he claimed to be spiritual himself (SBNR, even if not a member of an organized religion.)

Mike Treder has re-posted a question to his readers about what we would do with full virtual reality simulation. For my part, I would actually be quite anxious if I thought such technology to be currently viable (and indeed the Bostrom simulation argument interests me for exactly this reason; it even has implications for the Fermi paradox. In fact if this becomes real my first priority in life becomes looking for a token, a la Inception). I answered Treder's post in the comments, stating that there are reasons to think such technology would largely be used to augment reality instead of replace it, for the simple reason that our continued experience requires the persistence of physical objects, i.e. our bodies, that if neglected tend to change in a way that makes experience stop, i.e. death.

This is the first of two important points neglected by VR proponents, that if indeed our universe is a simulation, it is in an important sense hierarchical; if we're just running on a computer somewhere, and if somebody turns it off or spills a beer on it in that universe, then our experience ends. But in another sense it's not hierarchical: your experience is the result of changes in electrochemical potentials inside your nerves. If something doesn't change electrochemical potentials in your nerves, you cannot experience it. By bypassing your light/vibration/pressure/motion etc.-to-electrochemical transducers, i.e. your sense organs, and hooking your nerve endings (or the nuclei in the brain that they feed) to computer outputs, you're just changing the source of your experience.

In fact this already happens all the time. Mentally ill people hear and see things that aren't "there", though they're genuinely having the experience of hearing a voice. Or two mentally healthy but honest people can look at the same process and see proof of the triumph of capitalism and the failure of capitalism (although their honesty doesn't mean at least one of them isn't wrong.) Shamans and college kids ingest chemicals that make them see concrete, discrete objects and beings that others do not. And it's amazingly easy to forget that every time you sleep, while your eyes are closed and you aren't moving, you live out amazing experiences. The difference is that these experiences, although not resulting from the same kinds of reproducible interactions of our nerves and the rest of the world through our transducers, can't be controlled as we expect VR technology will be able to. So in another sense, VR is non-hierarchical - your nerves are getting data from another object separate from themselves in a different way than before, and that's all; nothing fancy. It is a certainty that the experience of steak is always a neurochemical construct; it's irrelevant to the quality of the experience whether it's evil Matrix computers depolarizing cells in the nucleus tractatus solitarius in your medulla or cranial nerve seven with chemical transducers in your tongue. Calling this non-hierarchical is admittedly more mundane than what most people think of when discussing non-hierarchical epistemology. That is, it's different from some science fiction story or Taoist thought experiment where we find out the simulation is circularly simulating us.