Der Name ist gefälscht, ich habe nie Hölderlin geheissen.
the poet Hölderlin upon seeing an edition of his own poetry
The namesake of this page is German 18th century poet Friedrich Hölderlin. While it is almost impossible to translate poetry, I wanted to share with you these two translations of his poems. They are among the best I could find and I like them almost as much as the original.
This is my first attempt at a blog-style web page format - please bare with me...
What do I have in mind with this page? Not sure yet - I guess this may turn out to be a collection of loosely connected thoughts and ideas, prompted by whatever I read or think about, whatever pops up in my head, and which would otherwise have been lost, had I not typed it on this page - ideally, over time this may develop into something in the spirit of Howard Bloom's Omnologist Manifesto.
Ok, so this isn't really a blog: the entries aren't dated and I mostly write them from top to bottom (and occasionally edit old ones). But I seem to be comfortable with this format, so this is how it is going to be. Also, you may have noticed that my HTML style is kind of minimalistic. I guess I don't want to procrastinate even more by thinking about fancy formatting tricks...
DISCLAIMER: I will be writing about various subject areas I am not an expert on and some of it may even be somewhat tongue-in-cheek (whatever pops up in my head). It is for you, dear reader, to make up your mind whether any of this makes sense. Read at your own risk!
This is to inform all Hölderlin lovers of planet Earth
that, as of Friday, January, 14th 2005, a copy of the poem
Hyperions Schicksalslied rests on the surface of
Saturn's moon Titan,
the most distant celestial body on which humankind has yet left it's mark.
Background: Before the launch of the
Cassini-Huygens space probe on October, 15th 1997, the
European Space Agency (ESA) asked the
public to submit short messages which were to be
copied onto a CD, to be carried to the surface of Titan by the Huygens
I submitted Hyperions Schicksalslied as one of 80,000
messages (nr. 4532) that were sent in. The last line of the poem,
Jahr lang ins Ungewisse hinab, seems to be particularly fitting, given
Huygens' long and perilous journey.
Your host name: ec2-54-198-106-21.compute-1.amazonaws.com; your browser and OS: CCBot/2.0 (http://commoncrawl.org/faq/).
When this computer sleeps, it dreams of Rosetta@home (team page, betterhumans thread). CPU cycles donated to this project help to predict the 3-d structure of proteins. This kind of research may ultimately lead to cures for some of the major diseases. A review of the project, titled Progress in Modeling of Protein Structures and Interactions, appeared in the October 28th, 2005 issue of Science.
This computer has a brain the size of a postage stamp. See here how this may change in the future.
Some quotes I like:
The true adventures take place in the mind. -Immanuel Kant
Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known. -Carl Sagan
There may be intelligent life in space or not. Either thought is frightening. -Arthur C. Clarke
Mathematics catalogues everything that is not self-contradictory; within that vast inventory, physics is an island of structures rich enough to contain their own beholders. ... Are there other islands? -Greg Egan, Oracle
Reality is that property which we assign to a mathematical object which we are a part of. -Stanislaw Lem, Summa Technologiae
Each well told story is true.
I am not sure who invented the last one. It seems to follow from Greg Egan's quote, though, since a well told story should be both complex and not self-contradictory. Extending on Stanislaw Lem's statement, one might go on to say:
Consciousness is that property which we assign to a mathematical object we are identical with.
Wow! How does it feel to be a mathematical object? Is there a complete mathematical description of human emotions, mental states, etc.? What would we gain if we knew this description?
Greg Egan happens to be my favorite science fiction author. I think he is one of the best and I put him in the same league with Stanislaw Lem. Many of his stories and excerpts from his novels are available online on his website, including the one from which the above quote was taken. The novels I liked best are: Permutation City, Diaspora, and Schild's Ladder. The above quote is essentially the main theme of all three of them.
I became aware of Greg Egan through Max Tegmark's website which is a great place to visit if one is interested in cosmology. I absolutely love his section crazy stuff (parallel universes, theory of everything) which includes a link to his paper The Mathematical Universe (an update of the 1996 paper Is "the theory of everything" merely the ultimate ensemble theory?), in which he adresses the claim made by Greg Egan's quote from a scientist's point of view.
The many-worlds FAQ discusses one of several mathematically equivalent, socalled interpretations of quantum mechanics. When, as physics students, we were taught the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, I never could figure out when the collapse of the wave function was supposed to happen or who or what should have the status of an observer - you know, Schrödinger's cat and all that. So when I learned of the alternative many-worlds interpretation shortly thereafter, it felt like the veil regarding quantum mechanics was finally lifted from my eyes. One thing I like about many-worlds is that it is a deterministic theory; no quantum randomnes is required. Einstein who died two years before Hugh Everett published his paper on many-worlds would have liked it, for he is known to have ridiculed quantum randomness; maybe God does not play dice after all. Everett by the way is reported to have written a letter to Einstein as a young boy of 12 which was graciously answered by Einstein who may have recogniced a like mind in that boy. Another aspect I like about many-worlds is its simplicity in terms of Occam's razor, i.e., it doesn't make any unnecessary assumptions like claiming the collaps of the wave function which does not have any observational consequences since many-worlds makes the same predictions. I guess one might say many-worlds takes the mathematics of quantum mechanics more seriously as it doesn't arbitrarily discard some of the solutions of the wave equation - which in a way brings us back to Greg Egan's quote from above. The many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics still only is endorsed by a minority of physicists but it has famous proponents, like Stephen Hawking or Murray Gell-Mann. Two non-technical books that address many-worlds specifically are The Fabric of Reality by David Deutsch and The Quark and the Jaguar by Murray Gell-Mann. Check out Wojciech Zurek's (decoherence, pointer states, environment-induced superselection), Dieter Zeh's (decoherence, etc.) and David Deutsch's (quantum computing) websites for in depth accounts of various aspects of many-worlds and its variants. Also see the review Decoherence, the measurement problem, and interpretations of quantum mechanics by Max Schlosshauer (who it turned out also worked with David Baker of Rosetta@home on protein folding issues - it's a small planet ;-).
This web of time -- the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore eachother through the centuries -- embraces every possibility.
-Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths
Another, more recent interpretation of quantum mechanics which I found interesting is the socalled Transactional Interpretation by University of Washington physics professor John Cramer. However, I still very much feel attracted to many-worlds. John Cramer is also the author of the bimonthly Alternate Views column appearing in the Analog, Science Fiction and Fact magazine in which he discusses some of the more spectacular aspects of physics and science in general in short, easy to understand pieces - highly recommended if you are interested in science. You may also want to listen to his Sound of the Big Bang.
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended. ... we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth.-Vernor Vinge, March 1993
The future is already here - it's just unevenly distributed. -William Gibson, June 2000
I originally became aware of the ongoing Technological Singularity discussion through Hans Moravec's 1999 Robot book which impressed me quite a bit at the time. Read about his quite mind blowing thoughts in the Publications section of his website. Vernor Vinge who wrote the original 1993 Technological Singularity paper was a mathematics and computer science professor at San Diego State University before he became a full time science fiction writer. His recent, award-winning novels A Deepness in the Sky and A Fire upon the Deep, both of them empires and millenia spanning space operas, have the Technological Singularity as part of their backdrop. Needless to say that I enjoyed both of them. I also recently read his early story True Names (appropriately, on my PDA) , said to be one of the origins of the cyberpunk genre of science fiction. It's full text is available on the Web. However, I am not going to link to it, since I am not sure this is endorsed by the author or publisher. I put the last sentence of True Names here (no spoiler!) which is both optimistic and romantic:
Beyond those years or decades... were millennia. And Ery.
Another famous work falling into this group is William Gibson's novel Neuromancer, the full text of which is also available on the Web (on a Russian site) and I am not going to link to it for the same reason. It begins with the sentence:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Wow! Perhaps I should start a section of first and last sentences on this page.
Some more quotes:
The falling stone, if it were conscious, would believe that it wants to fall. -Arthur Schopenhauer
Freedom of will is the ability to do gladly that which I must do. -C.G. Jung
With the world view put forth on this page there is the question of free will and responsibility. I never could figure out whether free will is supposed to mean that I am free to do what I want (well, maybe sometimes) or that I am free to will what I want (I definitely can't do that). What seems rather to be the case is that, the more we want something, the less free we are about it. Or perhaps the free in free will is meant in the sense of many degrees of freedom, meaning that it is hard to predict the actions of a human being. But then, some people are quite predictable, aren't they? Perhaps we are simply constructed in such a way that we have to regard ourselves as the originator and first cause of our actions. This may be the natural way for a complex system like our brain to incorporate itself into its world model. Perhaps our concept of self is modeled after how we see others: since humans are much too complex to be modeled in detail, they are assumed to be first causes of their actions and this concept is then also applied to how we think of ourselves. Interesting theory, and it may even be testable, since this would imply that a person who grew up in a Kaspar Hauser type situation, who has never experienced other people would, among many other things, also lack the concept of free will. I am of course not proposing to perform this experiment, which brings up the question of responsibility and accountability which is discussed here in great detail.
I wonder whether we will ever be able to explain everything that we value, that is dear to us, art and beauty, friendship and love, to name some examples, in this kind of mathematical, cybernetic world view. Having completely understood the mind in terms of its information processing capability still leaves unaccounted for this glorious feeling of being alive, of being conscious of ones existence. Knowing everything that there is to know about colors still doesn't explain that particular quality of seeing 'red' as opposed to 'green'. And while I puzzle about this strange feeling of being alive, there is no doubt in my mind that it is the information processing taking place under my skull that makes me think these thoughts.
Here are a couple of books about how the mind works that I enjoyed reading: The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky, Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett, Oliver Sacks' The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and the very recent On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. I also liked The Mind's I (various essays on the mind collected by Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett).
Zeroth Meta-Commandment: Don't lie to thyself. And the other ten can then perhaps be discarded. Another meta-ethical law: Act such that the complexity in the world will be increased. Intuitively I'd expect that following either of these laws would make me a generally 'nice' person - though I suspect there might be, by general definitions, rather 'evil' people who could claim to live by at least one of them.
There is but one good, namely, knowledge; and but one evil, namely ignorance. -Socrates
What your are looking for is who is looking. -Francis of Assisi
What your are looking for is who is looking, -Trinity, The Matrix
What your are looking for is who is looking. -anonymous Zen master
So what do you think, who really said that? ;-)
There isn't any doubt in my mind that, given enough computing resources, a sufficiently detailed simulation of the human brain would act in exactly the same way as its biological original. Having said that, it is still hard to acknowledge that such a simulation would experience subjective consciousness the same way that I do. Nevertheless, it seems obvious that the simulation would not just act the same was as the original but also "think" and express the same thoughts, including thoughts about the quality of its own consciousness. The simulation would thus conclude (and say so if asked) that it possesses subjective consciousness, even if my above reservations are true and simulations do not actually experience subjective consciousness.
This is a creepy thought. It seems to imply that it is possible (at least for simulations) to subjectively believe to be conscious without actually possessing a subjective consciousness. Reversing this argument, since I am completely convinced that my consciousness is for real, it follows that my original claim that simulations don't experience subjective consciousness must be wrong - the distinction between believing to be conscious and actually being conscious thus does not seem to make sense, i.e., the problem of subjective consciousness will be solved if it can be demonstrated why brains/minds (or simulations thereof) claim/believe to be conscious - which may be a tractable problem, as opposed to proving the existence of subjective consciousness as such - which is impossible (and meaningless). In short, it beats me why people keep on discussing zombies and qualia (as well as the somewhat related Chinese Room Argument). I think these are all non-issues!
Here is a theory which I believe can neither be proven nor disproven: Each night when we go to sleep we die. The next morning version 2.0 of me wakes up, living for that day in my place (and possessing all of my memories and thus believing to be me), to be replaced by version 3.0 the next day and so on. So perhaps this is why children sometimes don't want to go to sleep at night - they still know/suspect that they are going to die?
Lets also consider two related thought experiments: (1) At night, when I am asleep, all the atoms in my brain are replaced by other, identical ones. Will that make any subjective difference for the person waking up in the morning? (2) At night, when I am asleep, my brain is replaced by a functionally equivalent silicon-based computer. Will I (?) notice the difference?
Now I am ending the message being attracted by a personal singularity point that I try to cross daily and that is only an example of a rich variety of identities that constitute something that I [?] call "myself". It's 2 a.m., time to sleep. I am discontinuing my conscious existence, and leaving this message together with all my belongings to the tomorrow's being who I have never seen and who will probably think that he is *me*. Hope he'll mail it.
I found the above quote which is attributed to Sasha Chislenko in one of Ben Goertzel's journalistic pieces. So it seems I was not the first one to come up with this particular thought experiment. ;-)
There are memory structures laid down in my brain about what I experienced yesterday and the day before yesterday and so on. My memories of yesterday also include memories of the fact that yesterday I remembered what happened the day before yesterday and the day before that and so on, i.e., there is an ordered sequence of such memories in my brain, such that each instant of me experiences itself as the endpoint of such a continuous ordered sequence of events, stretching back all the way to my childhood. Since my memory tells me that each previous moment I remember was followed by another such moment, my mind may be excused to assume that the current moment will also be followed by other such moments, hence the illusion of the flow of time and the identity of self. Instead of saying that the flow of time and the identity of self are illusions, I could also say that they are emergent properties...
So why are there (physical) memory structures (documents of the past) in my brain at all? This is simply a consequence of the thermodynamical arrow of time: there was an extremely low entropy (probability) state of the universe in our past (the bigbang) which was followed by states of increasing entropy. So it is much more likely that documents of the past (physical memory structures in my brain, egyptian mummies...) exist because the events I remember actually happened/there actually were egyptian pharos than that these documents came into being randomly.
What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? -Stephen Hawking
Recently I had a discussion with a colleague: he argued that it is a great wonder that mathematics describes the physical world so well, to which I responded that it is no wonder at all since the world of mathematics and the physical world are the same thing. Naturally, I didn't seem to be able to convince him. Here is my argument in brief: if one is convinced (a) of the existence of objective mathematical truths and (b) of the existence of a complete description of the physical world in terms of mathematics, then the assumption of a separate physical reality is superfluous. If all observations (including the purely subjective observations; see the section on subjective consciousness, above) can be explained in terms of mathematics, the claim of a separate physical world distinct from mathematics doesn't add to the explanatory power of our world-model; on the ground of Occam's razor the model thus can be replaced by one consisting of mathematics only. My colleague seemed to have reservations both regarding assumption (a) and assumption (b). Perhaps we need to continue our discussion...
... Are there other islands?
Assuming that this is the case (in the sense of Greg Egan's quote) and assuming that my colleague is right and there is a separate physical reality, distinct from its mathematical 'scaffolding', then who would decide which of these mathematical islands deserves the right to be placed in reality? The picture of a god comes to mind who at a whim selects one object from her shelf of mathematical toys and plants it in her reality garden to watch it grow. I like to imagine her sort of thirtyish with long, slightly curly hair (I know exactly whose hair this is ;-), more akin to a Greek godess than the archetypical God of monotheistic religion, though she seems to wear modern clothes, t-shirt and jeans - I think she likes to walk barefoot when she tends her reality garden. ;-)
...pleasing as this picture may be, I only conjured up the beautiful godess to point out the arbitrariness of this concept. If it is to be her or Occam's razor I will have to side with the latter.
Do you believe in God?
As a child I did. Not anymore. It was a nice idea ... but it made no sense.
Then isn't life unbearable?
Not all the time.
Quoted from Greg Egan's story Oceanic
I found this gem of a post on science and meaning in the forum of the betterhumans.com website and saved a local copy before its drops out of view on the forum page (I hope this is ok Mr. Farlops ;-) - there probably isn't much I could add to that....
And this is what another Mr. F. had to say on the matter:
I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I'm not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here. I don't have to know the answer. I don't feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell. It doesn't frighten me. -Richard Feynman
Yet another quote by a great physicist:
A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest... a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. -Albert Einstein
I am a small piece of the universe observing itself. -Anne C., born 1978
I am a briefly glimmering consciousness spark with which the universe observes itself. -H., ca. 1978
You are the music of the spheres heard from the particular vantage point that is you. -Julian Barbour paraphrasing Leibniz
We are all children of the big bang. We are cousins of planets; we are cousins of space dust; we are cousins of wisps of gas in interstellar space; we are cousins of galaxies. We all come from the same family. We all came from the same handful of rules. -Howard Bloom
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter. -John Keats
How to spend one's time (wish):
Conloqui et conridere et vicissim benevole obsequi, simul legere libros dulciloquos, simul nugari et simul honestari. -Augustinus
(Chatting and laughing and taking kindly turns; reading sweet-worded books together; sharing both foolishness and dignity.)
...and one might say sharing sorrow and pain is also part of the parcel...
Yesterday I was at the top of the Aetna. I thought of the great Sicilian there, who once, tired of counting the hours and knowing the soul of the Earth, in his keen lust for life, threw himself down there into the magnificent flames.
...where will I find flowers, come winter, and where the sunshine and shade of the earth? Walls stand cold and speechless, in the wind the weathervanes creak.
-Hölderlin, taken from the poem Half of Life
People like you and I, though mortal of course like everyone else, do not grow old no matter how long we live...[We] never cease to stand like curious children before the great mystery into which we were born.
-Albert Einstein, in a letter to Otto Juliusburger
So many galaxies, so little time. -John Huchra
Stanislaw Lem - died March 27, 2006.
It is a shame that Lem's main non-fiction work, Summa Technologiae (published in 1964), never was translated into English (I own the German translation, published in 1981). ST anticipates and discusses in great detail (on 650 pages) many of the ideas that today are associated with such names as Kurzweil, Vinge, Moravec and others. I first read ST in the early eighties when I was a physics student - before I even had heard of the Internet. I wonder to what extent those current authors were influenced by Lem's much earlier work. Austrian-born Hans Moravec might for example have read the German translation. The German edition (the only foreign language translation as far as I can tell) is still in print and can be ordered from amazon.de. The link above lists the table of contents and provides some partial English translations. Lets hope that the complete work will eventually be made available to English readers. Also see the partial English translation of Lem's Dialogs (so far unfortunately only chapter one).
This is what accelerationwatch.com (Brief History of Intellectual Discussion of Accelerating Change) has to say about Summa Technologiae:
Of particular note, Stanislaw Lem, published (in Polish only, unfortunately) his nonfiction human-machine convergence masterwork Summa Technologiae 1964, and I.J. Good ("Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine," 1965), published in a professional publication (Advances in Computers) what was perhaps the first clear conceptualization of the coming technological singularity, moving the topic another step closer to legitimacy.
Obviously the statement "in Polish only" is not correct (see above).
When I learned that Douglas Adams had died at age 46 (my age group) of a heart attack I went to see my doctor for a health check-up. I lost some weight (I try to keep my body mass index below 23), and changed my diet (less sugar and saturated fats) and I generally try not to be a couch potato.
Do me a favour, don't be a couch potato, eat healthily (meaning food composition and quantity) and have annual health check-ups (blood-tests, abdominal ultrasound, chest X-ray, occasional MRI scans, etc.)
A while ago I posted this discussion of complexity growth laws on betterhumans.com. Also see the related discussion Moore's law: two models of faster than exponential growth.
It may well be that there is such a thing as a universal law of complexity growth, operating at some deep level of reality. If so, complexity growth would likely be self-similar/scale-invariant, implying, in the general case, a complexity growth law leading to a future mathematical singularity. Historic trends suggest that we may not be all that far away from that point in time...
Well yes, this is more or less what Ray Kurzweil writes in his books but I think I have given it a more quantitative twist. ...and actually my first write-up of these ideas is from 2001, before Kurzweil published The Singularity is Near. ;-)
I guess I spent more time in the last several years than was good for me trying to come up with a simple mathematical framework that would allow to calculate the speed with which complex systems evolve.
I was thinking in terms of a hierarchy of sets of sets (with empty sets at the bottom). This seems to be a very simple framework capable to capture the complexity and structure of the physical world, as well as of minds and culture (all of which seem to be hierarchical in nature). It is intriguing to think about how such hierarchies would evolve and interact. Applied to the cultural domain, the interplay and cross-pollination of different scientific concepts or fields might for instance be studied in terms of such sets of sets hierarchies.
It is also tempting to speculate whether such structures could represent some deep foundational level of physics, from which the structure of space and time itself emerges - the elementary particles in the Standard Model could perhaps be understood in terms of specific interaction patterns of such sets of sets structures, maybe a bit like Conway's game of life. Intriguing... ;-)
The great thing about this concept is that it seems to have the potential to combine all areas of human inquiry, from physics, to culture, to minds and consciousness within one quantitative theory. E.g., perception and consciousness could be understood as forming sets of sets patterns within the set of sets structure that constitute our minds, that are similar to patterns in the external world. If we run a simulation on a computer, we would simply duplicate or approximate some part of the global sets of sets tree structure at some higher level location within that same global tree. I guess, you get the picture, one could essentially give an endless number of examples of how aspects of the physical world, of culture, of minds and consciousness, could be translated into the sets of sets picture, potentially leading to useful qualititative insights, even without a fully developed quantitative theory.
Well, I certainly don't have the brains to develop such a theory. I guess I will just have to try and stay around long enough till those brain upgrades become available - or I might move my mind patterns (at least the worthwhile ones, there are also those that I don't care that much about) to a more capable substrate. Till that time it will probably be best to occupy myself with more manageable intellectual pursuits that my tiny mind can handle... ;-)
One more thing, though, the way to use these sets of sets hierarchies to determine the speed with which complex structures evolve (which is why I started to think along those lines in the first place) would be to come up with simple rules how sets can spawn more sets (there seems to be some arbitrariness which rules to chose) and then to make an assumption about the computing power of these sets, say, one computation per set per unit time. Complexity could be brought into the picture by determining the information content of these structures (how many different sets of sets structures can be made from a given number of sets?). I did some numerical simulations along those lines and I think the results are in broad agreement with a self-similar growth law with a power-law index not too different from what the data seem to imply.
...and I guess I shouldn't have spoken of a tree structure in the context of the sets of sets hierarchies, as these would be trees with potentially multiple roots and multiply linked subtrees.
I read a lot of Ben Goertzel's essays and papers and book manuscripts over the last couple of weeks (and ordered two of his books). His pattern philosophy seems to resonate a lot with some of my own vague thinking (as described above) and it is amazing to see these ideas developed in such detail and put to use for Ben's Artificial Intelligence work. So good luck with the Novamente AGI activities from here. I will definitely keep an eye on how the project develops.
While reading up on Ben Goertzel's work and activities, I also discovered Jürgen Schmidhuber's work, one of whose two offices turned out to be just across the street from mine - as I said: it's a small planet! I haven't yet done a lot of reading on his web pages but there seems to be lots of the kind of material I tend to be interested in...
Yesterday I submitted this page for inclusion in archive.org (the wayBackMachine). Archive.org stores close to two petabytes of snapshots it takes of the Web, growing at a rate of about 20 terabytes per month. Fittingly for such a grand undertaking, a mirror of the archive is kept at the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. It is intriguing that everything I type on this page will now be part of the permanent record of humankind to be passed down into the indefinite future. Hey, so maybe I should add some more stuff to this page to grow this into a true mindfile. This would essentially be an attempt to preserve those of my mind patterns which I value beyond the timespan of my physical existence, hoping that some future AI would ingest those patterns which it finds in humanity's data stores into its own mind. My desire to preserve my existence, if not in its physical form, then at least by documenting it in writing and imagery, does not seem to be all that different from that of Egyptian pharaohs, and who knows, perhaps the information stored by archive.org will be as long lived as the pyramids...
One of the things that sets us most thoroughly apart is the ability to preserve our individual memory. The information of the cave paintings becomes Borges's library, Borges's library becomes a laptop computer. -William Gibson
Here is an interesting article by Paul Broks, addressing the question of consciousness and cybernetic immortality. Also see the cybernetic immortality page on Principia Cybernetica and of course Ben Goertzel's thoughts on the matter. The intended virtual twins product line of Ben Goertzel's Novamente company may perhaps be seen as an initial step towards cyber-immortality along those general lines. It may thus be prudent, even at this early stage, to document in computer readable form one's life and mind patterns in sufficient detail to facilitate virtual continuity by means of future, advanced versions of such virtual twins or similar technologies. So, what would be the amount of data required to preserve one's mind patterns and personal memories in sufficient detail for the notion of virtual continuity to make sense? As I see it, probably not all that much. Assuming that my brain stored about 1 byte/sec of highly compressed data thoughout its waking life of (so far) about 1 billion seconds, a highly compressed 1 gigabyte mindfile would probably be enough. It may be possible to achieve brain-like compression levels by providing much of the data in the form of pointers to external material (links to books I read, music I like, websites of people I met, places I visited, etc.). Preserving the much larger synaptic information content of the brain (petabytes?) may not be necessary, and perhaps not even desirable. I actually quite like the idea (and it is also a kind of therapeutic activity) to think about and decide which aspects of my life and personality I would want to preserve.
I can't totally rule out the possibility that, if all the external conditions and the karmic action were there, a stream of consciousness might actually enter into a computer. -Dalai Lama
Quoted from one of Ben Goertzel's pieces he wrote for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
So why is it that we want to understand things? The big questions, why is the world the way it is? Some people seem to believe that we are 100% driven by a need to maximize our expected future happiness. Would I still want to know if I knew it would make me unhappy? I think I would...
The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things which lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the grace of tragedy. -Steven Weinberg, The first three minutes
What I would not want to miss: thinking thoughts I never thought before - exuberant phantasy: seeing worlds, unseen - a quiet morning, letting my thoughts wander - connecting what seemed unrelated: sudden clarity, the fog blown away - evening twilight on a clear day, the universe soon to reveal itself - hearing your voice - sympathetic minds, sharing memories and dreams - hundreds of shades of green, the smell of rain on a warm spring day - poetry - small creeks in meandering valleys, being one with nature - music, the composer taking me by the hand and showing me new lands - the smells of nature - an early morning, deer grazing on the valley floor - falling leaves, a light wind blowing away nature's ornament
A tapestry of memories and thoughts and emotions, millions of voices murmuring: I expect the artificial scientists of the future to study and model human brains and minds much in the same way as human astrophysicists study stars. What, after all, should they devote their formidable intellectual resources to, if not the most complex thing we know of in the universe - be it to satisfy their curiosity or to challenge their expanding intellects or be it that they are in need of role models to fashion their growing minds after. Humanity's libraries and archives and databases will thus be to them what star catalogues and stellar spectra are to astrophysicists. Every letter or email written and preserved, every poem, every piece of literature, every work of art which documents some aspect of the human condition will be input for their simulations. The number of humans of all times whose lifes and minds are documented well enough to be simulated may well be in the millions. Artificial scientists of the future, dedicating enough of their resources to understanding these minds, will be able to say: I was all of those! - I want to be among those who will be remembered.
If the first real AI doesn't achieve superintelligence locked in a box, but rather through ongoing interaction with humans in all nations across the world, then its mind stands a good chance of being intrinsically human-focused and human-friendly as a consequence of its upbringing. It will be both a separate being, an individual AI mind, and part of a symbiotic mind of sorts involving little bits of millions of people.
-Ben Goertzel, The Path to Posthumanity
I have read all the books that you humans have written ... I know life from many sides and angles, I have swum in a spectrum of cultures, more numerous than the words in your dictionary ... all this information I have incorporated into my mind, and much, much more. Each etching, each record-cover, each toothpaste tube design - they are all lodged in my memory banks, and my appreciation of each object is as intimate as the most sensitive connoisseur's of her most favorite artifact.
-Nick Bostrom, Letter from Utopia
It is never to late to be what you might have been. -George Eliot
You'll never stop changing, but that doesn't mean you have to drift in the wind. Every day, you can take the person you've been, and the new things you've witnessed, and make your own, honest choice as to who you should become. Whatever happens, you can always be true to yourself. But don't expect to end up with the same inner compass as anyone else. Not unless they started beside you, and climbed beside you every step of the way.
-Greg Egan, Schild's Ladder
I just finished reading Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics. One of the things I learned is that there is something called Causal Set Theory (R. Sorkin lecture notes, Lee Smolin: The Case for Background Independence, see these nice 1998 viewgraphs by Fotini Markopoulou) which seems to be somewhat along the lines of my silly and rather vague ideas about sets of sets structures which I described above. A related approach which goes by the name Causal Dynamical Triangulations is described on Renate Loll's homepage (also see The Universe from Scratch). Good to know that such ideas are actually being worked on by those who know what they are talking about (I am not one of them ;-).
Some quotes from Lee Smolin's book and paper I linked to:
there is no background - space is emergent - the fundamental description is discrete - the description involves causality in a fundamental way - the fundamental properties of the elementary entities consist entirely in relationships between those entities - time is nothing but changes in the relationships, and consists of nothing but their ordering
All of which happens to be very much in line with my non-expert intuition of how I'd expect a final theory to look like; it would be cool if the properties of the particles of the Standard Model could be understood in terms of something like the above set of principles and this paper seems to suggests that things may indeed be moving in that direction.
Senator John Pastore, of Rhode Island, wanted to know the rationale behind a government expenditure of that size [for Fermilab to build a new collider]. Did the collider have anything to do with promoting "the security of the country"?
PASTORE: It has no value in that respect?
WILSON: It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture.... It has to do with are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about.... It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.
Since the above quote highlights the connection between painters, sculptors and ...physicists, have a look at this website of the father of one of my colleagues - great stuff!
Last week I attended a lecture by Andrei Linde on inflationary cosmology which prompted me to look for related material on the web. Here are a couple of links (I may add more over time):
Physics of Microwave Background Anisotropies (Wayne Hu - introductory to advanced) - Inflation and the CMB (C.M. Lineweaver) - Max Tegmark's Cosmic Cinema - CMB experiements (Max Tegmark) - Eternal Inflation (Alan Guth slides and audio) - Garriga & Vilenkin: Many Worlds in One - 2001: A Spacetime Odyssey (conference video and slides)
The universe is about to be pried open. -Lisa Randall, Warped Passages
She was mainly referring to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland which will go into operation in early 2008 when she said that, but I think the Planck mission of the European Space Agency, with a projected lauch date of July 2008, also fits the bill of being a tool to pry open the universe (I like that phrase ;-). There is for example a chance that it will discover gravitational waves from the Big Bang (through the measurement of B-mode polarization of the cosmic microwave background radiation) and it will be able to measure the power spectrum of the initial density fluctuations much better than was possible with WMAP (the NASA satellite providing the currently best data), with the potential to test or constrain different scenarios (models of inflation or its alternatives) of how the Big Bang came to be (Bluebook of ESA Planck mission, Tegmark: What does Inflation really predict?).
I guess one could say that these two European projects will have a stab at giving at least partial answers to such weighty questions as: What is dark matter and dark energy made of? Are there hidden extra-dimensions? or What happened before the Big Bang? - though I am sure they will bring up more new and interesting questions than they will answer (which is as it should be). Hey, not bad - the next couple of years should turn out to be fairly interesting...
There is currently an extended discussion of the Fermi Paradox on George Dvorsky's sentient developments. So, here is an idea that potentially explains the absence of advanced civilizations in terms of the Eternal Inflation theory (see, e.g., Alan Guth: Eternal Inflation and its Implications):
In the theory of Eternal Inflation there is something called the Youngness Paradox (see this viewgraph from Alan Guth's talk) which states that, in Guth's words, the population of pocket universes (each starting with their own Big Bang) is incredibly youth-dominated: because of the exponential rate of pocket universe creation the overwhelming majority of pocket universes are much younger than our own. Anthropic reasoning (specifically Nick Bostrom's Self-Sampling Assumption) thus suggests that we should find ourselves in the youngest (or nearly the youngest) pocket universe compatible with our existence, i.e., we are among the very first civilizations that arose in our pocket universe. However, as noted by Guth and others, it is possible that the Youngness Paradox is an artefact of the theory, resulting from the lack of a unique time ordering of the creation of pocket universes - so the jury is still out whether the above argument actually holds. In any case, this kind of reasoning does not help with figuring out why it took 13.7 billion years for the first civilization to arise.
Assuming that the Youngness Paradox holds, it is interesting to note that this would make Eternal Inflation a refutable theory in the Popperian sense. Given that Eternal Inflation predicts that we are the first civilization to arise in our pocket universe, the theory would be refuted if at some time in the future a SETI signal or some other evidence of a civilization more advanced than ours were detected.
It seems the Youngness Paradox of Eternal Inflation also has something to say with regard to the Doomsday Argument. Since the Youngness Paradox predicts that there are overwhelmingly more pocket universes where humankind is at the beginning of its development as compared to later stages, it is more likely that I will find myself at the beginning of human history than, say, in the middle or towards the end (this is the case, even if in each individual pocket universe, most humans live toward the end of human history). Put in another way: we shouldn't just expect to find ourselves in the youngest universe compatible with our existence as a civilization (as was argued in the case of the Fermi Paradox), but also I (a member of a suitably defined class of observers) should find myself in the youngest universe compatible with my existence. In fact, young pocket universes so vastly outnumber old ones that I am led to believe that I am probably one of the first humans (or at least one of the first who tries to think about the multiverse ;-). So it would seem the reasoning of the Doomsday Argument is exactly reversed (I herewith proclaim Hoelder1in's Young Humanity Argument ;-)!
A similar argument can be made regarding Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument which recently made it into the New York Times, causing some ripples in the mailing list and blog sphere. The main point of the simulation argument is that advanced civilizations are thought to run large numbers of simulations of their past. Again, Eternal Inflation and the Youngness Paradox suggest that young pocket universes so vastly outnumber old ones that it is exceedingly more likely to find myself in that past (i.e., the real world) rather than in any of its future simulations (again making use of the Self-Sampling Assumption).
If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon creation, I should have recommended something simpler.
The Creator makes it very clear that he is not embarrassed to repeat himself endlessly.
-Alex Vilenkin, Many Worlds in One
From the perspective of the Novamente Cognition Engine architecture, --there are some components that will work WAY more effectively on a cluster than a broadly distributed network --there are some components that could very effectively be distributed across zillions of users' home computers... So a mixed architecture would be great. -Ben Goertzel on the SL4 mailing list (Sep 07)
How could our approach to AGI synergize with the Croquet model? Well, we could run our AGI on a centralized server farm and have it connect with a P2P virtual world like Croquet... but that's not the most interesting way to do things... The more interesting possibility is that the virtual-agents' brains could be largely distributed across a P2P network, just as the Croquet virtual world is. Roughly, about 1/4 or so of our AGI's thought-processing needs to be on a centralized server farm, just for computer science reasons -- but we could massively distribute about 3/4 of it... So then the AGI brain and the virtual world would both be massively P2P and distributed around the world... in other words, a genuine Global Brain. -Ben Goertzel quoted via UgoTrade (Oct 07)
So, for the record: I am extremely enthusiastic about these possibilities (be it SETI-style @home computing or AGI in distributed virtual worlds) and I will definitely be on board wheneven any of these ideas take off...
A couple of weeks ago the Perimeter Institute hosted a conference titled Many Worlds at 50, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hugh Everett's famous Ph.D. thesis. Video, audio, and view graphs of most presentations are available online (go to advanced search page). So far, I watched Max Tegmark's talk, Which many world worries are uniquely quantum?, as well as his previous seminars, given at the Perimeter Institute, The Mathematical Universe and New cosmic maps & measurements . Oh dear, I definitely need more time to look through all those other interesting presentations on the Perimeter Institute PIRSA server... (another one of those things to postpone till retirement ;-)
The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. -Muriel Rukeyser, The Speed of Darkness
The universe is made of mathematics, not atoms. -Max Tegmark (well, at least he could have said that ;-)
This must have to do with getting older - or perhaps it is the season (falling leaves, cold foggy mornings, days getting shorter): I increasingly feel the urge to think about my past, to flip through old diaries and photo albums; is the person who writes these lines still the same one than the one smiling at me across decades from those scratched, yellowish photographs? Pointless thoughts - here are a couple of examples:
Fiat 500: My first car - and a member of the family. I was in tears when my parents sold it after a relatively short time in exchange for a Volkswagen Beetle.
|New Years's Eve '59: Cheers, 1960 will be a great year!|
|1965: Three generations, each one of them venturing to leave terra firma behind for the first time in their lives.|
The Outsourced Brain: I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S....
-David Brooks, NYT op-ed columnist
Questions or comments? Send email to hoelder1770 at gmail dot com.