0505: "A Bunch of Rocks"

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby janezd » Mon Nov 17, 2008 12:48 pm UTC

m.r.stone wrote:It is indeed "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov. http://filer.case.edu/dts8/thelastq.htm If you're an Asimov fan like myself you'll probably love it, and even if you're not you should enjoy it. It was one of his personal favorites, ranking up with "Nightfall."


No, it's not. The story I was talking about was much more like the XKCD plot.

I found it, it's, "Sole solution" by Eric Frank Russell (1956). You can read it here (scroll down for the text in English):
http://hitomin.spaces.live.com/?_c11_Bl ... %25af%2591

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby brianez21 » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:05 pm UTC

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby greg57 » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:15 pm UTC

Xkcd is the best online comic I've ever come across. Keep up the good work :)

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Paranoid__Android » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:15 pm UTC

This comic is awsome, thanks randal for raising the bar.

*goes looking for some rocks*
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby 6453893 » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:20 pm UTC

SolkaTruesilver wrote:Me and my friend actually talked about recently how it would be like to represent a 5th dimenson, and how they would see us, we wouldn't see them. Clue: start with a 1d world seen from a 2d perspective, and work your way up. Off course, time is always a dimension). This XKCD gave me a glimpse of what it would be like if you were God, if He actually exists.


Middle school students would think this was deep or meaningful. Anyone with a brain realized this years ago. You basically came in here and shouted "Hey guys, I had a wild and original thought: What if the universe exists in our minds?"

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Archena » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:33 pm UTC

BorisTheBrave wrote:Noo, I thought people here were meant to good at physics. Doesn't Bell's theorem imply that it's impossible to simulate the universe with a deterministic computer, such as cellular automata. There is no way to just "work out the kinks", unless you mean overruling some of our present, experimentally verified, understanding (i.e. locality) by thought experiments in the desert.

Also, his computer cannot handle real numbers, which our universe has in abundance. Just to type in a single real number into his computer would require an infinite amount of rocks, so he'd never finish to get onto the next step. Not insurmountable, by using arbitrary precision rationals, but the fact that his computer has a countable number of states he can put it in, while we usually presume our universe has an uncountable number of states, has some interesting implications.

Yes, I had to sign up to the forum just to make this point. I've come close before though, on some other strips with boners in them.


With regards to real numbers, you do realise that no physical quantity is equal to any irrational number or transcendental number, right? the universe approximates values like pi, just as we do, and just as a computer does. There are fundamental limits which seem to imply at least the possibility of discreteness - planck time and distance, as have been mentioned in this thread previously.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Synthuir » Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:37 pm UTC

Indeed amazing, but how do propose the computer would work, then? I'm not good at this theoretical stuff, but I'm pretty sure that if you arranged a bunch of stones in a field, you wouldn't all of the sudden acquire pi through cout.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:17 pm UTC

6453893 wrote:
SolkaTruesilver wrote:Me and my friend actually talked about recently how it would be like to represent a 5th dimenson, and how they would see us, we wouldn't see them. Clue: start with a 1d world seen from a 2d perspective, and work your way up. Off course, time is always a dimension). This XKCD gave me a glimpse of what it would be like if you were God, if He actually exists.


Middle school students would think this was deep or meaningful. Anyone with a brain realized this years ago. You basically came in here and shouted "Hey guys, I had a wild and original thought: What if the universe exists in our minds?"


... did you just insulted me because I didn't had a though process before you?

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby dschuetz » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:18 pm UTC

"The man in the black hat fled across the desert, and the rock-slinger followed."

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby entropomorphic » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:20 pm UTC

Someone's been reading A New Kind of Science...

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Eugo » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:23 pm UTC

SolkaTruesilver wrote:
Eugo wrote:
My God.. that was nearly spiritual. So... Can we say Randall effectively put God in his comic?


Please, don't. You've inserted religion into every nook and cranny of the so-called real life. Can't you just imagine, for a moment, that spirituality is possible without religion? And while you're at it, leave us alone? You own only the rest of the world.


When I said "put God", it's wasn't about making XKCD religious. It was simply about depicting him as a character.


Ummm... go on.

When you think about it, try to put "God" on our level of existence. He is alone, no breathing, no eating, no drinking. For an eternity. In an infinite time.

Well, he decided to create an universe just to pass time.

It's that the story of the Man of the Desert?


The worm, Shai-Hulud and all that? There's a bunch of books on that one, can't say there's The Story. Hard to pick one.

Wouldn't it be God's perspective of things?

If you are a programmer, and you somewhat create a world simulator. The things inside your program have free will, off course. What are you going to tell them if they start worshipping their Creator? Do you tell them "Hi there, please act good toward each others" or you just leave them alone? Will you feel bad for your pixelised creation if you decided to throw a hurricane at them?

I know it's silly, and I usually don't consider myself that much of a religious person. But I like considering alien perspective (Me and my friend actually talked about recently how it would be like to represent a 5th dimenson, and how they would see us, we wouldn't see them. Clue: start with a 1d world seen from a 2d perspective, and work your way up. Off course, time is always a dimension). This XKCD gave me a glimpse of what it would be like if you were God, if He actually exists.


I don't care whether the guy actually exists, and wouldn't bother with a proof (as it would end with a poof, or a puff - see THGTTG and the Babel Fish). And... if he was, hypothetically, doing what Randall imagined, wouldn't he do it with something more efficient than a guy moving stones? A brain, maybe? :D

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby aleflamedyud » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:25 pm UTC

Emperor_Z wrote:Ah, the things I would do if I were godly. Imitating this world sure as hell wouldn't be one of them.

My personal theory is that the main character of this comic is Rincewind from the Discworld. He came from somewhere much more interesting and found himself in a somewhat unfortunate variation of the main afterlife of his reality: rather than ever leaving the desert of judgment, he stays there to be bored (as he dearly wanted) for all eternity. So then he decides to create a proper universe that runs on rules instead of BS magic.

Eugo wrote:The worm, Shai-Hulud and all that?

Unfortunately Randall has yet to create a comic involving Shai-Hulud. There just aren't enough giant sandworms in modern fiction, damnit!
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby thornahawk » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:27 pm UTC

makaveli wrote:Anyway, at least I know what happened to all those missing socks.


I have it on the authority of a appliance-engineer friend that washing-machine manufacturers are required under pain of death by assplosion to install a moderate sized black hole into each washing machine. ;)

...which he told me while tripping on some three-letter stuff. :P

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby DragonHawk » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:29 pm UTC

I can't believe I'm going to be one of those people that posts a "This made me think of this Internet video" post, but this made of this of this Internet video: CollegeHumor.com: CHTV: POV: Guy stuck in class
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Eugo » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:31 pm UTC

Archena wrote:With regards to real numbers, you do realise that no physical quantity is equal to any irrational number or transcendental number, right? the universe approximates values like pi, just as we do, and just as a computer does. There are fundamental limits which seem to imply at least the possibility of discreteness - planck time and distance, as have been mentioned in this thread previously.


Depends whether you think that continuity applies to physical space. If your finger actually goes through all the points between points A and B as you type, for example, then the numbers describing these positions - distance from A or ratio of that distance divided by distance between A and B - must be all of the numbers between zero and the maximum distance (or 1, in the latter case), rational or insane.

Now whether it applies or not - why don't we ask electrons what do they think about it? Can they move continuously, or do they teleport in the "erase me here, draw me there" manner?
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Cartofel » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:35 pm UTC

Ah, XKCD finally confirms that choice does not exist...

"Choice is an illusion in which we believe so that we do not lose our minds"
- Someone (possibly a Matrix quote - I don't know)
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:36 pm UTC

Eugo wrote:
When you think about it, try to put "God" on our level of existence. He is alone, no breathing, no eating, no drinking. For an eternity. In an infinite time.

Well, he decided to create an universe just to pass time.

It's that the story of the Man of the Desert?


The worm, Shai-Hulud and all that? There's a bunch of books on that one, can't say there's The Story. Hard to pick one.


Err... I meant, the one depicted in this XKCD. I'll call him "The Man In the Desert"

I remember one episode of Voyager where Q tried to representing the Continuum to our perspecting. Now, try to represent whatever "Creator" you want. With what's been given to him, he tried to make an universe, just... to pass time.

I do not say it's proof that God exist. I just say, it's a very... interesting perspective that never was presented to me before. It's.. a possibility among others.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Ubik » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:48 pm UTC

Wouldn't the rock computer get slower all the time? The guy is mostly arranging the rocks into rows that represent the state, and the rocks in the pattern look like they are closer to each other than the unused rocks in the desert. When the rocks near the latest row are used, he needs to go further to get more. If he doesn't reuse older rows, wouldn't the distance he needs to go to get a new rock just grow when the computation goes on?

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby DSDM » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:50 pm UTC

This is an extremely advanced version of what the druids attempted to do with standing stones. Stonehenge is actually a rudimentary digital calculator. You can tell because if you look at it upside down it says "BOOBS."

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Archena » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:53 pm UTC

Ubik wrote:Wouldn't the rock computer get slower all the time? The guy is mostly arranging the rocks into rows that represent the state, and the rocks in the pattern look like they are closer to each other than the unused rocks in the desert. When the rocks near the latest row are used, he needs to go further to get more. If he doesn't reuse older rows, wouldn't the distance he needs to go to get a new rock just grow when the computation goes on?


Possibly. It would certainly take a large amount of the man's infinite supply of time to do an update... if that's even meaningful. Wouldn't matter to us though - we should never notice.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby embernator » Mon Nov 17, 2008 2:58 pm UTC

A truly amazing comic. This is how I feel in chem every class.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby ThemePark » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:05 pm UTC

SolkaTruesilver wrote:...

If you are a programmer, and you somewhat create a world simulator. The things inside your program have free will, off course. What are you going to tell them if they start worshipping their Creator? Do you tell them "Hi there, please act good toward each others" or you just leave them alone? Will you feel bad for your pixelised creation if you decided to throw a hurricane at them?

...

Sim City 2: God Mod.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Pxtl » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:07 pm UTC

Comics like this are why I read xkcd.

Now, here's a problem is that the computer looks like a cellular automata, when the "God" is not creating and destroying stones to do it - presumably, he has a stone-repository he goes to fetch stones from.

This creates a nasty problem, since it means he has to ferry and dispose of stones - unless each cell's two states (on or off) both involve a single stone - he moves it into the up or down position. Or he buries the stone in the sand. But it talks of carrying stones... which would, I suppose, be necessary as the matrix inevitably expands in both axes.

Now, obviously, since he has infinite time it would be perfectly reasonable that he could walk back to the repository to grab a handful of stones while he does a row, or to dump surplus, but with infinite time he'd have time to develop a better system.

Again, why use stones? If his world is windless enough that he could invent all math in the sand, he could just as well implement the simulation in the sand. His footprints might muck things up, but he'd just have to widen the rows to keep things distinct.

Alternately, there are computing systems designed around moving finite resources - like organic neural networks, which is the math describing how neurochemicals flow around in the brain.

Perhaps I'm over-thinking this.

Either way, I've always had the creepy suspicion that all the bizarre sub-atomic non-Newtonian behaviours like the uncertainty principle and Planck vibration are really just compression artifacts in the lossy world-renderer of the Matrix. Likewise, the speed-of-light limit is just the maximum size for the "velocity" variable in the simulation, and the sim doesn't implement an "instant" concept, because that would screw up the parallelization of the computer.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby DragonHawk » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:10 pm UTC

Archena wrote:
Ubik wrote:Wouldn't the rock computer get slower all the time?

Possibly. It would certainly take a large amount of the man's infinite supply of time to do an update... if that's even meaningful.

Well, updating the rock computer's state should always take a discrete amount of time -- albeit an unimaginably huge amount. Stickman has an infinite amount of time. So while it will take longer and longer to update the rock computer, the fraction of the total time will always be zero. Right?
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby SolkaTruesilver » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:16 pm UTC

ThemePark wrote:
SolkaTruesilver wrote:...

If you are a programmer, and you somewhat create a world simulator. The things inside your program have free will, off course. What are you going to tell them if they start worshipping their Creator? Do you tell them "Hi there, please act good toward each others" or you just leave them alone? Will you feel bad for your pixelised creation if you decided to throw a hurricane at them?

...

Sim City 2: God Mod.


Ah.. yes, I thought of that. But they don't feel pain. They don't have free will. They are a very, very limited simulation of a city. It's mode about the buildings than the peoples.

The closest thing I would have of a real life-simulator would be Dwarf Fortress...

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby toshiro » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:17 pm UTC

HenryS wrote:The Swiss patent office reference implies that desert guy is Einstein.


Ah. I didn't get that one, I was just being mildly astonished about the fling at patent offices in the country where I live (I've never been in one. I'm daring enough to add a 'yet' to that, though).

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Yuri2356 » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:26 pm UTC

JonMW wrote:Also: What would YOU do if you were in his position?

Live action Dwarf Fortress.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby ThemePark » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:30 pm UTC

SolkaTruesilver wrote:
ThemePark wrote:
SolkaTruesilver wrote:...

If you are a programmer, and you somewhat create a world simulator. The things inside your program have free will, off course. What are you going to tell them if they start worshipping their Creator? Do you tell them "Hi there, please act good toward each others" or you just leave them alone? Will you feel bad for your pixelised creation if you decided to throw a hurricane at them?

...

Sim City 2: God Mod.


Ah.. yes, I thought of that. But they don't feel pain. They don't have free will. They are a very, very limited simulation of a city. It's mode about the buildings than the peoples.

The closest thing I would have of a real life-simulator would be Dwarf Fortress...

Yes, but Sim City combined with The Sims combined with Black & White (I think) combined with Civilization could be somewhat like that. Take the decision making of Black & White, the natural disasters of Sim City, the controlling of people of The Sims and the evolution of Civilization, and you would have a part of a universe where you could play God. Invoke hurricanes, tell them to act good towards each other, have them believe in your existence and worship you, have them feel pain by pinching them and what not. Programming free will would be a bitch, but as this comic proves, maybe our universe is really just programmed as well, maybe our free will is nothing more than a method.

And now I want to make this game.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Minerva » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:39 pm UTC

I don't know if anyone else has posted this - but you really need to fill in the missing arrows on the Feynman diagram. :wink:
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby DSDM » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:40 pm UTC

Just imagine how long it would take for the stone computer to become self-aware and enslave mankind.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Goplat » Mon Nov 17, 2008 3:54 pm UTC

This comic was stupid. 1s and 0s (or "rock"s and "no rock"s) don't have any meaning by themselves. It's just superstitious nonsense, kind of like how people used to think the number 13 meant bad luck, to think they do. I would have expected better from Randall.

That computational process A does a simulation of B is never an objective fact about reality, it's only an interpretation made by the person(s) using A. To consider simulations to be of the same status as the real universe, is to either engage in what amounts to numerology on the simulator state, or nihilism on the real universe.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby xaeon » Mon Nov 17, 2008 4:12 pm UTC

Goplat wrote:This comic was stupid. 1s and 0s (or "rock"s and "no rock"s) don't have any meaning by themselves. It's just superstitious nonsense, kind of like how people used to think the number 13 meant bad luck, to think they do. I would have expected better from Randall.

That computational process A does a simulation of B is never an objective fact about reality, it's only an interpretation made by the person(s) using A. To consider simulations to be of the same status as the real universe, is to either engage in what amounts to numerology on the simulator state, or nihilism on the real universe.

I think you mean determinism rather than nihilism. From my reading of the comic, and from the frames mentioning bits of dust disappearing before our eyes, I get the impression that he is implying that we are actually living in his simulation. As you are a part of the simulation, you have no knowledge of the model that the simulation was based on, which could have been entirely deterministic. Maybe when he created the simulation for this universe he added the randomness of quantum particles to stop us from backwards engineering and looking at the rocky source code? Also, you know... it's a comic.

That being said, is there any kind of consensus drawn yet on whether or not the universe is determistic (someone far more into physics would have to answer this) as I was under the impression that we simply don't know yet? Whilst there certainly is (or appears to be) a level or randomness at quantum level, I don't think we can say with any amount of certainty that it isn't deterministic, but rather it may be deterministic but we're technically not at a level to discover that yet. Also, I'm sure we can predict (especially with infinity on our side as specified in the comic) within a negligable degree of error how particles will interact with each other enough to simulate a semi-workable model of the universe.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Eugo » Mon Nov 17, 2008 4:32 pm UTC

ThemePark wrote:Yes, but Sim City combined with The Sims combined with Black & White (I think) combined with Civilization could be somewhat like that. Take the decision making of Black & White, the natural disasters of Sim City, the controlling of people of The Sims and the evolution of Civilization, and you would have a part of a universe where you could play God. Invoke hurricanes, tell them to act good towards each other, have them believe in your existence and worship you, have them feel pain by pinching them and what not. Programming free will would be a bitch, but as this comic proves, maybe our universe is really just programmed as well, maybe our free will is nothing more than a method.


Free will won't work if it's an afterthought. Last time I wrote a story about this (not really a guy in god mode, rather a bunch of high school seniors doing an universe as a project, and almost making it... but will do better next time, erase, start from scratch), the persons in that universe had free will from the first line. There were only probabilities to what they may prefer to do, but the choices were theirs. The creators' skill was in making them tick the right way so the universe lasts, not in cheap short-term pedagogy. Any computer capable of deterministic control over something would have to be maybe a dozen or a hundred orders of magnitude larger than the controlled thing - how many specks of dust does it take to store the mass, chemical composition, temperature, magnetic properties etc of a speck of dust? - and since in my story I had just apprentices completing a project, the whole god mode, micromanaging an universe etc, was out the window. Wind them up, supply instructions, fill up their lookup tables, give them good learning algorithms and trust your skills, you made them well, they'll find their way.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby mod_a » Mon Nov 17, 2008 4:40 pm UTC

Image

It makes so much sense now...

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Mazzula » Mon Nov 17, 2008 4:53 pm UTC

Goplat wrote:I would have expected better from Randall.
I agree with your take on the philosophy, but not on the comic. It is a worthwhile comic.

To me, the comic is an illustration of why the computational theory of mind doesn't work. The mathematics involved in a simulation exists whether or not the simulation is actually being run. The placement of stones in the desert doesn't come into it at all--that is just Randall's attempt to escape the computational theory of mind and find some substance (the stones) that manifests human awareness apart from the pure mathematics of the simulation. Randall is aware of a particular state of the universe being the current state, and inserted the notion of the most recent row of stones that the creator constructed as corresponding to that current state.

But the operation of a computer program is just a sequence of states, that is a mapping from an index set into states. This mapping exists regardless of whether the computer program is actually being executed, and regardless of what the value of the index is, and thus the state of a computer program can never reveal whether that state is the current state. Thus there is nothing about the "current" row of rocks that reveals itself to be the current row. The creator knows he just created that row, but in a computational theory of mind there is nothing about that row that distinguishes it as being the current row, there is nothing within the mathematical model that distinguishes that row as being the current row.

That is, a computer program doesn't know what its current state is, it only knows the state as a function of some index, but it has no way of knowing what the value of the index actually is. The whole idea of a particular state being current is a function of human awareness--we distinguish a particular state of the universe as being "now" and whatever state the program is in during that overall state of the universe we think of as the current state. As humans, we think of a sequence in terms of things coming into our awareness in a particular order, but mathematically there is no subjective order in a sequence, there is just the eternal mapping from an index set.

Furthermore, the awareness of a particular time as being "now" (which corresponds to Randall's idea that this is the most recent row of rocks) cannot be an objective fact within the universe, because we learn from Special Relativity that the objective consequences of simultaneity cannot be well-defined (e.g. this is how the ladder paradox is resolved). Thus our subjective awareness of "now" cannot be an objective fact within the universe and cannot arise from a computational model involving objective properties of material objects within the universe.

On the other hand, if the computational theory of mind did work, then video game manufacturers wouldn't have to worry about finding people to play their games, the games could create the awarenesses of their players.

Do you ever wonder, while playing a video game, if your awareness might actually be just a part of the operation of the game itself? No. And the reason you do not is because even in virtual realities, the awareness always is the awareness of the real player, it is not created by the virtual reality.

But I really liked your saying that it was superstitious nonsense, because one of the implications of the computational theory of mind is that any mathematical system that is at least as complex as a human brain, and which can respond to its environment, may be considered as aware in the same sense that a human is aware. So the computational theory of mind resurrects ideas such as gods of place--e.g. IBM would not just be a corporation of aware individuals, but would have its own awareness and its corporate rights should be treated on a par with the rights of other aware beings. The computational theory of mind was created to find an objective basis for human awareness, and thus to free it from superstition, and yet ends up bringing back polytheism.

blalien
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby blalien » Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:00 pm UTC

I'm wondering if the man actually enjoys his situation. If not, he should ask his rock people to find a way to bail him out. They'd figure it out eventually.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby moody7277 » Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:08 pm UTC

BorisTheBrave wrote:Also, his computer cannot handle real numbers, which our universe has in abundance. Just to type in a single real number into his computer would require an infinite amount of rocks, so he'd never finish to get onto the next step. Not insurmountable, by using arbitrary precision rationals, but the fact that his computer has a countable number of states he can put it in, while we usually presume our universe has an uncountable number of states, has some interesting implications.


So basically, the uncertainty principle is just round-off error?
The story of my life in xkcdmafia:

Tigerlion wrote:Well, I imagine as the game progresses, various people will be getting moody.


BoomFrog wrote:I still have no idea what town moody really looks like.

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Dezign » Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:43 pm UTC

xaeon wrote:That being said, is there any kind of consensus drawn yet on whether or not the universe is determistic (someone far more into physics would have to answer this) as I was under the impression that we simply don't know yet? Whilst there certainly is (or appears to be) a level or randomness at quantum level, I don't think we can say with any amount of certainty that it isn't deterministic, but rather it may be deterministic but we're technically not at a level to discover that yet. Also, I'm sure we can predict (especially with infinity on our side as specified in the comic) within a negligable degree of error how particles will interact with each other enough to simulate a semi-workable model of the universe.

The historical problem of completeness in any study of the natural world -- including physics in the broadest sense of the field, stretching back into when it was still called natural philosophy -- has been our limited knowledge of how the world works, even after very thorough explanations were presented, incorporating as much evidence as was available at the time. The key to understanding how conceptions of determinism interact with physics is how we chose to define our limit to their knowledge.

Not knowing how to predict something we observe the effects of, even with all the theories and evidence we have at hand, forces us to call that thing unpredictable. Crucially, unpredictability is a different concept from that of randomness, in that randomness specifically implies the cause of the unpredictability is not knowable. Running into a wall and being unable to see the ends of it tends to cause people to say the wall is endless even when such a statement is not required by available evidence (though, admitting limited knowledge, assumptions of infinite extent may be as plausible as any other assumptions).

That's not to say physics is totally predeterministic and we just don't know it yet; rather, it's making the intellectually honest statement that lack of knowledge does not allow us to assert any sort of cause for observed data at all. Hidden variable theories are, as far as I'm aware (grain of salt: physics novice... I love reading science news but don't work in a lab) just about as loosely supported as fundamental-randomness interpretations (Copenhagen? Please correct me if I'm wrong). Just because all our physicists' intensive study has so far been able to produce is a great deal of statistically significant data describing quantum-level phenomena that nevertheless does not completely explain the data, those results by themselves don't prove some inherently unknowable property of our universe. Asserting a particular interpretation of quantum theory based off a persistent inability to obtain evidence is overstepping the claims that can reasonably be made.

Terrific comic though, this one is going to be one of my "You should read XKCD, here's why..." examples.

I might edit this later to make it more readable. I felt it had to be said, though. >_>

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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby andywebs » Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:45 pm UTC

Rule 34....implementation complete.
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Re: "A Bunch of Rocks" Discussion

Postby Melugo » Mon Nov 17, 2008 5:51 pm UTC

If you have an apparently infinite length of time and an apparently infinite desert to spend it in, how long should you spend looking for an edge? Sorry :)


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