February 10, 2004

Meanwhile, Here in the Matrix...

Work with me on this:

Ironically, the most significant consequence of the view that the natural world is computational may be the death of the notion that technology is applied science. If both the physical universe and the biological world are best understood in terms of information and computation - concepts that arise from the artificial world of technology - it no longer makes sense to think that technology results from an application of science. Indeed, if computation is the basis of all nature, then science is just applied technology.

If that's the case, then science becomes less purely contemplative and more purposeful, and as fraught with social and political goals as technology is. Scientific theories are more properly viewed not as discoveries but as human constructions. It's already happening in physics: Philosopher of science Andrew Pickering suggests that the quark, which in its unbound state has not - and some say cannot - be observed, should be regarded as a scientific invention rather than an actual particle. In the future, we may come to see the second law of thermodynamics (entropy) as a consequence of information theory and not the other way around.

I know from my discussion with John Smart (check it out; this is an expanded version of the interview, which I have yet to update on this site) that virtually all physical systems that follow an evolutionary/developmental path can be described as computational systems which encode increasing complexity. So, for example, the universe produces stars, which collapse and produce second generation stars, which produce planets rich in organic-friendly elements, which produce life, which produces human beings, who create computers, etc.

But...I strain my brain as I try to formulate the question...where does the encoding take place? A good portion of my personal complexity is encoded in my DNA, so I can see that. And the complexity of the universe that creates stars and then more stars and then Earth is encoded in the laws of physics (I think) so I guess I can see that, too. So the second law is a consequence of Information Theory. I don't have a problem with that.

I guess my question isn't really where does the encoding take place, but rather, who is doing it? If Quarks should be viewed as an invention rather than a discovery, who the heck invented them? Or by an "invention," do we simply mean the product of an advanced information-encoding/information-processing system?

If that's the case, then I think it makes just as much sense to say that quarks were discovered as to say they were invented. Is somebody running the Matrix? Or is it just running itself?

via KurzweilAI

Posted by Phil at February 10, 2004 09:25 AM | TrackBack

That "invented" thing from the original article irritates me; it's pure solipsism to say that quarks are invented.

Sure, the concept of quarks is an invention, a model of reality, but if someone is prepared to say that quarks are an invented thing in reality, it's a brief bootstrapping process to full blown solipsism from there.

So my take is that this Andrew Pickering is either heavily misquoted/misused (most likely), or floudering around not understanding basic concepts models and reality, or he is a solipsist.

Founder, Longevity Meme

Posted by: Reason at February 10, 2004 02:22 PM

The Matrix part is that if the entire universe is both quantized and follows precise mathematical functions, then that is the halmark of a digital simulation. Science would then be most property described as the reverse engineering of our simulation. Welcome to the Matrix, my friend.

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