Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Not everything ends.

July 27, 2010

Not everything will die.

Pi, for example.  Pi will never cease to be.  It existed, as a cosmic truth of mathematics, before anyone thought to derive it or calculate it or measure it.  It will still exist after all life has evaporated from the Earth and the universe has cooled into a silent, homogenous void punctuated at unbelievably great intervals by solitary atoms of helium.

And pi is more than immortal.  It is infinite.  Its digits stretch on and out forever, in no particular pattern, never looping, always changing.  Because of these properties, pi can be shown to contain any sequence of digits imaginable, no matter how long.  Pi contains your phone number.  It contains your birthday.  It contains your name and the name of your first crush, translated into their ASCII numerical equivalents and concatenated, side by side, as if they were meant to be there.  But of course, they were not meant to be there, just as you were not meant to be here.  They, like you, are the product of chaos.

Pi contains the complete works of William Shakespeare.  It contains the exact same information that is stored on your computer’s hard drive at this moment.  If you dumped the digits of pi into an infinitely long WAV file and played it back, every song in the world would eventually emerge.  It contains your genome, and the genome of everyone else on earth.  It contains the genomes of everyone who has ever died.  It contains the genomes of people who will never be born.

Of course, most of this information lies out in the extreme far reaches of the digits of pi, at a decimal depth so great that not even the most powerful computers could calculate it in the lifetime of the universe.  Because pi, unlike the universe, is infinite.  The universe has a finite amount of matter and energy, but pi goes on.  The digits of pi contain more information than the entire universe.

Because of this, pi contains not only this universe, but all possible universes.  Anything you can imagine has already been dreamt of by pi.  The universe where you can play guitar.  The universe where you can fly.  The universe where there is justice.  The universe where you said No.  The universe where you said Yes.

So start memorizing digits.  Somewhere out there in the zillionth decimal place is the information that represents you.  You as you are right now.  You as you could only hope to be.  You, memorizing the digits of pi, on and on into oblivion, for who knows how long.  Far beyond the digits you know is the information that could tell you when you will stop.

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The God Delusion Debate

May 12, 2010

I promise I’m working on a comic, but right now I’m totally engrossed by this:

http://www.fixed-point.org/index.php/video/35-full-length/164-the-dawkins-lennox-debate;

Clearly, neither side had as much time as they would have liked, even though the debate was over an hour and a half.  If you have an opinion, you can comment below.

Religion Hijacks the Crush Module

January 10, 2010

JesusOr maybe crushes hijack the religion module.  It all depends on which you view as more essential to the human mind.  But in either case, they use the same brain functions.  For example, one of the main features of both religion and crushes is a desire for approval – from a person in one case, and from God in the other. Often, people are inspired to do good deeds to secure said approval, and continue to make efforts to impress even when their labors are met with apparent indifference. Elaborate fantasy conversations are central to both religion and primary-stage affection, and may reflect a desire for telepathic communion or simple proximity. We tend to cling to any utterance that the object of our admiration lets drop, seeing great significance where perhaps none was intended. Cognitive dissonance reduction plays a major role, too, since it allows us to see what we want to see and makes less pleasant details easy to ignore.

So religious belief and crushes use a lot of the same thought processes and patterns. What’s the point? Really, I’m drawing this parallel because I just thought of it and want to know what other people think about it. It’s also partly for the benefit of the subset of atheists who see religion as a blind rejection of reality in favor of fantasy.

Which it very well may be. But my point is: atheists do it too. No one is perfectly realistic and logical; our irrational quirks are often the most dear to us, and trying to argue anyone out of their irrationality is likely to make them defensive. Because – let’s face it – it’s the subjective, personal, unprovable things in life that keep us getting up in the morning. Perfectly rational people just know that eventually everyone will be dead.

I’m not trying to trivialize religion, or say that atheists are hypocrites. I’m just saying… we all use the religion/crush module of our brains. We should embrace it, whichever purpose we use it for. It makes life good.

Some Zen Wisdom

September 5, 2009

Soyen Shaku has this advice, which I think ranges from good to revelatory:

  1. Upon awakening, quit your bed at once, like discarding a useless pair of shoes.
  2. In the morning, before dressing, light incense and meditate.
  3. Eat at regular intervals and only to the point of satisfying hunger.
  4. Retire at a regular hour.
  5. Receive a guest as when you are alone. Be alone as if you had received a guest.
  6. Be aware of what you say. Say only what you would do.
  7. Do not forego opportunity, nevertheless, think twice.
  8. Do not regret the past but look instead to the future.
  9. Have the fearless heart of a hero and the loving heart of a child.
  10. When you retire to sleep do so as if it is your last night.

(Soyen Shaku, The Zen Housewife)

My favorite is the one about receiving guests. To be mindful and considerate but true to yourself – that is pretty awesome, guys. The last one reminds me a bit of this comic though. I tend to agree with T-Rex on this one. Any advice that says “exist as if you were about to die” seems weird to me. I don’t know much about Zen Buddhism, but maybe it means that you should go to bed with good karma, so if you happen to die you don’t come back as a poo bug.

Okay I think I have linked to Dinosaur Comics enough for one day.

Sci Fi

August 5, 2009
In the year 2012, invisible aliens visit the earth. "I don't see anything unusual!"  They replace certain people with robot replicas.  The robots behave just like real people.  Indistinguishable from those around them, they infiltrate society. "Wassup" "Hey man" Anyway, no one notices, and eventually the robots die very realistic natural deaths. Leeroy: "Worst movie ever." Bartholemew: "Agree."

They didn't even do autopsies.

Oh look, a comic!  What a surprise!

I blame Dysaniak for at least some of the delay.  He gave me a sci-fi story to read, see.

The book is called The First Immortal, by James L. Halperin, and it is available free online for you unscrupulous sorts.  It’s quite an ambitious book, covering a span of 200 years; about 100 into the past and 100 into the future.  The focus is on the technology of cryonics, which, in its current manifestation, allows us to freeze the recently deceased at liquid nitrogen temperature in the hope of reviving them later once medical science becomes sufficiently advanced.  The book delves deeply into the technological, societal, and ethical implications of cryonics and certain other oft-hypothesized future techs like nanotechnology, cloning, and commercially-available immersive virtual reality.  It’s a great introduction to the kind of technology that may become feasible in the relatively near future, and I recommend it solely for that reason.  As a work of fiction, it’s actually pretty lacking.  The characters are shallowly drawn, and whenever some sort of interpersonal issue actually arises, you wish they would just stop whining about it (a good example is the implausible resentment between the main character, Ben, and his son, Gary, which drags on ad nauseum.)

It’s also quite amazing how many of the world’s problems just get swept aside as soon as future hypothesizing starts, presumably to make room for Halperin’s darling cryonic technology.  He completely ignores the unrest in the Middle East, the global warming crisis, the widespread famine and poverty all over the world, and the not-quite-dead struggle between capitalism and socialism, especially in China.  Rather than work these issues into a compellingly detailed vision of the future, Halperin cursorily sketches a single world government (created without conflict!  what a trick!) that secures perpetual peace and is scarcely mentioned again.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to.

In the Future

July 14, 2009
In the future, computers will be intelligent, but we will still spend decades in school learning to negotiate with them.

So basically, we'll have Microsoft Windows, but the error messages will actually be intelligible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about singularity AI recently, and what it would mean for the future of humanity.  Sometimes I think the world would be a lot better if people could run off solar energy, didn’t need to interact in a physical, spatial universe, and could communicate with each other instantaneously.  So basically, I think we should aim to develop intelligent machines, and then hand the world over to them, effectively making ourselves obsolete.  Kind of like the Elves in Tolkien’s books, who developed all sorts of magic and technology and then handed the world over to the more robust, albeit less beautiful, mortals.

There is no spoon

July 12, 2009

But if there is information that represents a spoon, and it is consistently perceived as a spoon, then in what way is it not a spoon?

Basically, it doesn’t matter whether the universe is real, fake, simulated, impersistent, in our imaginations, or whatever.  The fact is that there is something that is storing the information that we perceive as reality; and there is a consistent 1-to-1 correlation between that information and our perception of it.  Saying that the universe might not be “real” is like saying that a vinyl record is more “real” than an mp3 file.  You might not be able to point to the part of the hard drive where it’s stored or see the grooves in it, but that doesn’t make it any more abstract.

So Descartes was only a little too hasty when he said “I think, therefore I am”.  If there is something that thinks, and it perceives itself consistently to be Descartes, why not call it Descartes?