Category: Science and Technology

Can a god be bored?

Point 1: We can make computers that do more than one thing at a time (parallel process or multitask). God is omnipotent. Therefore, God can multitask.

Point 2: We get the most happiness by overcoming challenges. When we don’t have any, or when those we have are being particularly difficult to overcome, we invent some (games, sports, etc.) In these invented challenges we typically submit to rules which limit what we can do to achieve the goal.

Putting these two points together, when we, as gods, get bored, why won’t we use our ability to multitask to use a part of our consciousness to continue working (bringing to pass the immortality and eternal lives of our own spirit children) while using another part of our consciousness to overcome an invented challenge?

I imagine myself reliving particularly enjoyable experiences. Further, I imagine that I will restrict the access that part of my consciousness I assign to reliving the experience has to my memory so that as I relive the experience it will seem to me that I am not reliving it but experiencing it for the first time. Imagine experiencing your first date, your wedding day, the birth of a child, over again, as many times as you wish, but not merely as a memory but as if it were happening for the first time.

What about that game winning shot you made? That overtime goal? The day your business started to make a profit? That painting you finished? The book you wrote? We’ve all had so many experiences where we had that irreplaceable sense of accomplishment for having successfully overcome a significant challenge. Reliving them but as if for the first time could relieve an eternity’s worth of boredom.

What about tweaking those memories a bit to improve them? What if you missed that last second shot and lost the game? This time you make it. With part of your mind you simulate what the rest of your life would have been like had you made that shot while another part of your consciousness experiences that newly simulated life, or as much of it as you wished, as if it were real. (And why wouldn’t it seem just as real as your real life? And if it seems just as real, why wouldn’t it actually be just as real?)

Modern video games let you assume the role of a basketball star playing through an entire season or even an entire career. Couldn’t a god simulate the same thing only in perfect full immersion virtual reality down to the most exquisite detail? And if you enjoyed basketball in this life, and were now a god, and could multitask so you could do your work while simulating a basketball career, why wouldn’t you? The only reason not to would be because you had something even more enjoyable to do.

So, if reliving, as if for the first time, your most joyful experiences, or creating new joyful experiences for yourself and experiencing those, always as if for the first time, is the least fun you can have as a god, while concurrently being able to share this delightful mode of being with your spirit children, I conclude:

Conclusion 1: Gods don’t get bored.

Conclusion 2: Maybe you are already a god and this is exactly what you’re doing right now, in which case, you may be in for a very, very exciting day!

Truth is Truth

Just completed a survey about a BYU exhibit and wanted to record a couple of my answers.

Q. How do we gain knowledge of truth?

“Revelation and scientific discovery represent complementary approaches to learning truth. Although there are significant differences between them, there are also many similarities in the processes they follow. For example, the process of revelation starts with faith in God, but also requires study, action (i.e. “experimenting upon the word”), and prayer. Similarly, science often begins with a hypothesis, and then conducts experimentation to test it. Whether truth comes from a scientific laboratory or by revelation from the Lord, it is all compatible because God is the ultimate source of all truth.”

I don’t actually think that revelation and science represent different means of discovering truth. In both cases we gather evidence by observation, we form a hypothesis, and we test that hypothesis by establishing parameters, changing variables, and observing results. In both cases we receive what we suspect may be truth, we tentatively accept it as being truth so that we may act on it as if it were truth, and we assess the resulting changes we experience as a result. The first statement uses scientific terms and the second uses terms language more likely to be heard in church. They both describe the same process. Through Joseph Smith we learned that there is no such thing as immaterial matter (sounds pretty obvious). The Holy Ghost has a body of spirit that He may dwell within us. The heart is not an organ of sense or cognition. His touch is the touch of mind to mind. And that touch is sensory input like any other and subject to the same evaluation. Just as all truth may be circumscribed into one great whole, so may the process by which that truth becomes known.

Q. How can we make sense of evolution in light of the restored gospel?

The LDS Church has no official position on the theory of evolution. “Organic evolution, or changes to species’ inherited traits over time, is a matter for scientific study. Nothing has been revealed concerning evolution. Though the details of what happened on earth before Adam and Eve, including how their bodies were created, have not been revealed, our teachings regarding man’s origin are clear and come from revelation.” (New Era, October 2016).

Whether an individual accepts or rejects evolution has no bearing on the truth of the restored gospel nor an individual’s eternal salvation. Church members may hold a range of beliefs regarding evolution. There are many faithful positions that individuals may take to make sense of evolution in light of the restored gospel. Many LDS biologists accept evolution and have formed an integrated view of how it is compatible with revealed truth, while other members do not accept evolution.

Evolution and creation need not be seen as mutually exclusive ideas. Through the restored gospel, we understand that God created and prepared the earth for a specific purpose: to provide the conditions where His children could receive a physical body, learn and grow through mortal experiences, and ultimately progress to become like Him. Pairing this knowledge with what we know through science about the history of life on earth can help us more fully appreciate and reverence our God for the incredible care and the love that went into the preparation of the Earth for mankind.

There is much general talk about the fact that human evolution can be reconciled with a literal Adam and Eve but little by way of specifics. I believe that is because if anyone ever got into how they may be reconciled they would be quickly shut down by a creationist or a teacher wanting to avoid contention. In the meantime, the lack of specifics about how to accomplish this reconciliation can leave some faithful evolutionists with an unnecessary crisis of faith. There is nothing speculative about this topic and there is no “deep doctrine” to avoid. It is simply a necessary part of the search for truth to participate in a discussion that aims to reconcile allegedly conflicting facts.

The Reality of Our Simulated Reality

“Everything is “real” if you experience it. And a simulated universe is as real as the universe that simulates it because reality is defined by the information it represents — no matter where it’s physically stored.” So says Maxim Roubintchik in “We Might Live in a Virtual Universe — But It Doesn’t Really Matter“, and I agree. It is unfortunate that people tend to dismiss the simulation hypothesis upon first encounter because they fail to grasp that it doesn’t in any way diminish the reality of what is being referred to as a simulation. And it’s not really their fault because there is usually so much to get your head around that this conclusion is inevitability left until fairly late in the discussion. But by then many have already established their bias against the proposition. Once that happens most are not open minded enough to reconsider their antagonism. Oh well, there’s still the rest of us.

Roubintchik makes the case well and so there’s no need for me to go on about it. I just wanted to heartily endorse his conclusion and add that it matters. It matters. Reality is real whether it can be thought of as simulated or not. But that it is likely simulated does have implications for many fascinating questions. One of them is the Fermi Paradox, which is very thoroughly explained in this article by Tim Urban. Aaron Frank, in “Is Virtual Reality the Surprising Solution to the Fermi Paradox?” offers the simulation argument as a possible “surprising solution”. This is sort of what I’d concluded some time ago. He says:

“If technology trends toward a world of microscopic computers with infinitely complex realities inside, this might explain why we can’t see any alien neighbors. They’ve left us behind for the digital wormholes of their own design.”

Why colonize outer space when inner space is so much larger, richer, and accessible? Seriously, why? I mean, maybe someday a few million years before the Sun is ready to swell up and swallow us, then we’d want to relocate at least to the outer reaches of the solar system. And then again billions of years later when universal heat death becomes a thing we might decide we need to squeeze every scrap of computronium out of it in order to achieve something like the Omega Point.

(If we really do need to achieve the Omega Point and if achieving it does require a universe full of computronium then we’d better be right about there being a whole bunch of similarly simulating civilizations out there because we’d all need to pull our heads out of the simulated sand at around the same time and work together to build said Omega Point as too much of this potential computronium will have sailed over the horizon of our respective visible universes for any of us to do it on our own. It’s unlikely that a disaster so remote in time would galvanize us to expand into outer space much sooner.)

I said that Frank’s conclusion was “sort of” like my own because he is suggesting that there are scads of equally or more advanced civs out there, all of which are foregoing outer space for inner space. But I think he is picturing them as “out there” in our universe. But our universe is likely one of the virtual realities occupying our own inner space, or at least our descendant’s inner space, though I think the former is more likely as who has better motivation to simulate our lives than we, ourselves.

In my view the 2 trillion galaxies, each with hundreds of billions of stars and trillions of planets that we see in our telescopes, are just elaborate desktop art for us. We are alone in our universe. What saves me from crass geocentricity is my conclusion that there are countless other universes, corresponding to the simulated backdrops of similarly simulated and simulating civilizations.

So, where are the other civilizations? They aren’t merely “up there” but preoccupied. They are literally out of this World.

We are not Sims.

Nowadays almost everyone who writes an explanatory book on physics for the masses has to address the simulation argument. In his excellent book, Hidden in Plain Sight: The simple link between relativity and quantum mechanics, Andrew Thomas says:

(T)hese theories consider the possibility tat our entire universe might be a simulated construct in a vast supercomputer run by an advanced civilization (as if we were simulated characters in the computer game The Sims.) The motivation behind such a simulation being just the same as why we enjoy playing games such as The Sims: for entertainment.

This statement, the one in bold, stretches the analogy too far. Have you played The Sims or any similar game? Are those game characters really like you? Hardly! I am not going to try to convince you otherwise, if you disagree, as in your case it may then be true. I address myself to those who realize that our capacity to think and feel make us of vastly greater worth than these superficial caricatures.

Have you ever made a model plane or a paper doll? If so, you more than likely did it for entertainment – your own or a child’s. Have you ever made a baby? Created a life? Raised him or her to think and feel and to enjoy the wonder of life? Was your motivation entertainment? Or were you motivated to share the joy of living with another who in some sense was, and in other ways would become, your equal, or even surpass you? To stretch the definition of “entertainment” to include such a motive is to divest the term of any utility. We create and nurture life out of love – a love of life and of life-sustaining and enhancing values.

So what would be the motive of a superiour intelligence that created “simulations” such as ourselves? Love. Any other motive necessarily ascribes an inferiour ethics to those we are required to acknowledge as having superiour technology. Give that superiour technology almost certainly entails superiour firepower – the ability to destroy (everything), it is reasonable to assume that ethical superiority is a necessary corollary. Writers who wring their hands about the possibility of discovering our technological superiours treating us as our ancestors (and ethical inferiors) treated the technologically inferiour civilizations they encountered are just being silly.

Even in these days of “Earth Days”, pleas to “Save the Whales”, and of carelessly ascribing make-believe “rights” to every beleaguered subset of humanity we can conceptualize, we are still ethically underdeveloped enough to remain at risk of blowing ourselves off the planet on about 15 minutes notice. It is unreasonable to suppose that an even more technologically powerful civilization has managed to wield such power without acquiring greater empathy, compassion and appreciation for their fellow creatures.

As bad as they are, Trump and Putin are a vast improvement over Hitler and Stalin. (I’m not sure the same is true of the Ayatollahs.) I would much more readily entrust our civilizations future to the ethics of a civilization advanced enough to create this world we experience as a “simulation” than with the cohort that leads our modern nation states.

It is not a logical necessity that advanced technology implies advanced ethics, but it is a reasonable assumption. A very reasonable one in my opinion. One I’d characterize as beyond reasonable doubt, achieving the level of scientific certainty (~95%) while allowing that it is no logical certainty (100%).

To dismiss the problem of evil arising from the notion of technology and ethically superiour creators all one need do is realize that evil is a necessary consequence of moral agency, which in tern is a prerequisite for moral development. Amoral evils (natural disasters and the like) offer challenges which, when met, further the advancement of our moral characters.

If we are simulations (better: “mathematical substructures”), as I believe we are, we are not castaway “Sims” but valued creations, offspring who can reasonably expect to be raised better than we raise our own.

Technology can bring people back to church

I was recently reading some articles about why church attendance is generally in decline. One of the main factors cited was that churches are failing to provide for people’s need for community. Interesting. What is a “community” in this age of instant, free, global communication? Geographic proximity is fast becoming irrelevant. Yet churches are nearly invariably organized around a geographic sense of community. Think instead if it was organized around a community of interests, ties of friendship or family, etc.

My perspective is that of an LDS Christian. Picture a typical Sunday. Members from our local area get out of bed, get washed, dressed, travel and arrive to sit and listen to 3 of their fellows (usually a youth, a less experienced speaker, and a more experienced speaker) speak on assigned gospel topics. Each talk might or might not be relevant or interesting to those in attendance, but each speaker takes his or her turn addressing the entire congregation.

Now consider what it would be like to use technology to transcend the limitations of a geographic organization. I can picture excitedly rolling out of bed each Sunday morning to explore that day’s interactive, customizable itinerary. Thousands of members all over the world have indicated their willingness to accept speaking assignments. A few dozen, of varying experience and abilities, have been selected to present talks on assigned topics. I choose from among these, which I am most interested in. I can watch, listen, and/or read these talks. I can avail myself of the latest virtual reality technology if I wish to experience something close to a traditional setting. I can interact with others doing the same thing or choose to participate from more of an arm’s length. I can experience these “talks” in any order and at any time and in any manner I choose. Repeatedly, throughout the day, I have to option to participate in discussions with others on the same subject as the talks. I can see the choices made by my friends and families so I can factor their choices into my own decision about which talks and discussions to join and when.

In this way my church community is now much more relevant to me. It is based on freely chosen associations with friends and family and base on my interests rather than the increasingly irrelevant factor of geography. A global resource pool exposes me to speakers from around the world and to their varying perspectives. This makes me more a part of a worldwide family than an insular community.

Another factor in declining attendance was said to be the “quality of the preaching”. Extracting volunteer speakers from a global pool on varied topics almost assures both quality and relevancy. The quality of the virtual reality experience can provide as much or as little of the traditional feel of going to church as desired. And again, the global resource pool assures that there will be a community of others with whom to share whatever that level of interactivity might be. Physical limitations due to age, infirmity or distance are no longer relevant. People who like to sleep in can do so and still participate when they wish.

Most traditional pastoral care can be offered by members irrespective of distance. Again, with virtual reality increasingly able to simulate the personal touch proximity permits. Certainly there will be some needs where actual physical proximity is necessary but geographic community will not become anathema, but merely relegated to a subordinate role to more relevant bases for community.

As technology inexorably progresses, especially virtual reality, I expect to see all churches evolve along these lines offering greater opportunity for increased and improved participation. I would hope, and expect our church to be at the forefront of progress.

AI and the Consciousness Issue

It is supposed by some that we ought to reserve human rights for humans and that artificial intelligence (“AI”) ought to never be afforded such rights. More enlightened individuals would temper that by saying that the rights of AI ought to be respected at least if were believed to have acquired consciousness. But then the problem becomes how one can tell whether an AI is conscious when we cannot even know for sure whether another person is conscious. One feels safe in assuming so since the evidence is that other people are physiologically and behaviorally similar enough to oneself to warrant the assumption that since we are conscious, so too are these otherwise similar others.

I believe there will be good reason to warrant making this same assumption with respect to AI at some point. The argument against doing so would be something along the lines of thinking that a computer sufficiently powerful to constitute AI might still just be a bunch of machine parts producing outcomes while lacking sufficient unity or whatever it is that gives rise to consciousness to attribute consciousness to it. But I think this argument is completely defeated by an appreciation of the significance of the Turing test.

Imagine that an AI passes a vigorous Turing test. It’s behaviour (including communication) is indistinguishable from that of a human. Is not the fact that we are conscious and that we know we are conscious a factor influencing our behaviour? If AI behaviour had to precisely mimic human behaviour, would it not have to at least perfectly simulate consciousness and the appreciation of being conscious? If there were deficiencies in that simulated consciousness, would there not also necessarily be deficiencies in its behaviour preventing it from passing a sufficiently vigourous Turing test?

If AI behaviour is to be virtually indistinguishable from human behaviour then AI consciousness must logically be indistinguishable from human consciousness. I am maintaining that an intelligence that knows it is only simulating consciousness would be missing an important factor influencing its behaviour, i.e. an appreciation of truly being conscious.

If a simulated consciousness, including the appreciation of being conscious, was sufficiently powerful to allow the AI to pass a rigourous Turing test, then the simulated consciousness is virtually indistinguishable from human consciousness and out to be treated no differently.

Thus, a sufficiently rigourous Turing test ought to be all we need, without getting into the irrelevant issue of whether the AI also has consciousness. The flip side is that I don’t believe an AI will pass vigourous Turning test (be virtually indistinguishable from human intelligence) unless it has somehow acquired a simulated consciousness and an appreciation of it.

The weirdness of reality

Send light through a beam splitter one photon at a time. Send one of the resulting beams to one lab and the other to a second lab. In the first lab, use a device to change the phase of each photon that arrives. Then measure its phase. In the second lab, just measure each photons phase.

Conventional logic would tell you that the photons arriving at the second lab would not be effected by what was happening in the first lab, and so the phase of the photons measured there would be unchanged. But no, it’s phase was changed too.

Now remember that an individual photon acts like a wave, until you measure something about it, like exactly where it is, or its velocity, or its state (like measuring its phase). Then the wave “collapses” and it is no longer a wave, spread out over space, but a particle, occupying just one location in space.

So, until the phase is measured, the photon really is a wave. It really does “exist” “in” lab 1 and also lab 2 at the same time. That’s the only way changing its phase in lab 1, also changes it in lab 2. So superposition (the idea that a particle exists simultaneously at more than one location) is not just a way of explaining what happens – it really is what happens. Else how can the particle, which arrives in lab 2 and does not arrive in lab 1, nevertheless have its state altered in lab 1?

The photon is a wave which is extended through space to include both labs. It is altered in lab 1 and then, when measured, is found to be a particle (no longer a wave) in lab 1 and not present at all in lab 2.

The really, really weird thing about this is that (iirc) this means that when its phase is being changed by the device in lab 1, so long as the device does not alert us to whether it is, or is not detecting the presence of a photon right “now”, then the device also enters into a state of superposition – it exists at the very same instant as both a device which is altering the state of a photon and a device which is not altering the state of a photon. If we were to set the device to alert us when it is altering a photon, that would collapse the superposition and the photon would either be in one lab or the other but not both. Since this would happen before the photon’s state was altered, it would defeat the purpose of this new experiment as so that’s why the device had to be operating at all times the same whether or not it was then acting on a photon. (I didn’t get to the really, really weird part yet. That’s next.)

But the device is really no different than the scientist in the lab. Not as far as physics goes. So, just as the device is in a state of superposition to the scientist before it alerts him as to whether it is or is not acting on a photon, the scientist is in a state of superposition to people outside the labs, until he tells someone about whether he did or did not detect the photon in his lab. And this new experiment tells us that superposition is real. So the scientist really exists, at the same time, as a scientist who did detect a photon, and a scientist who did not detect a photon. (Ok, that’s the freaky part.)

This experiment was done and summarized here.

Take that Krauss

I really like how John Horgan put that bigoted, pseudo-scientific, anti-religious tag team of Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins in their place. The idea of offering the fact that quantum fluctuations can result in virtual particles becoming real as an answer to the question of why there is something instead of nothing is an insult to the intelligence of their audience, or worse, an appeal to their anti-religious prejudice as being sufficient to blind them to the absurdity of the proposition. As Horgan correctly rejoins, just where or where do the quantum fields that can give rise to virtual particles come from? Surely quantum fields are something and not nothing. Krauss’ thesis would be just plain silly if it weren’t so clearly intended simply as a rallying point for equally rabid atheists whose own pseudo-religious fervor trumps any appeal to reason and quest for truth.

I disagree with Horgan’s view that science is incapable of discovering an answer to that question but only, I think, because I prefer a broader conception of science than he apparently does. If by science we only include testable hypotheses then of course this question will always remain outside because there will never again be, if there ever were, a condition where literally nothing exists. Even if everything that is, ceased to be, there would always remain the fact that it had been. Besides, it would surely leave any test without anyone to observe the results.

I prefer to characterize science broadly as the search for knowledge about the nature of the world and that would include philosophy. I think if you construct a hypothesis which does not allow for testing but does permit you to make a reasonable assessment of probabilities, perhaps by eliminating the alternatives, or at least assessing them to be less likely, then that counts as science – especially if more narrowly scientific procedures can provide evidence that helps you make relevant assessments.

Some cool formulas

A few formulas I came up with and want to save.

S = 1/I
The measure of entropy is inversely proportional to that of intelligence. So this might be a catchy little way of expressing extropy.

AI > I – AI
The measure of so-called artificial intelligence will exceed the measure of “organic” intelligence before the previous formula will become of any practical consequence.

These would be catchier if there was a neat symbol of intelligence. Oh well.

Thoughts on a transhumanist interpretation of the King Follett sermon

I am a member of the organization called the Mormon Transhumanist Association. The group is fortunate enough to have an articulate and highly intelligent founder and spokesperson, Lincoln Cannon.

I just read this excellent essay where Lincoln interprets Joseph Smith’s famous King Follett sermon. Through this literary device Lincoln reconciles the vital doctrine Joseph Smith taught on that occasion with both transhumanism and Lincoln’s adaptation of the simulation argument which he calls the New God Argument. Such a reconciliation is easy because, as he and I agree, Mormon doctrine mandates transhumanism.

I do want to comment on something he says at page 9.

“Imagine a posthuman child. Using the tools of quantum archeology, she traces backwards through time and space from effects to causes. Sampling a sufficiently large portion of her present, she rediscovers you. Attaining a desired probabilistic precision for a portion of her past, she recreates you. The future-you is distinguishable from the present-you, but only as the today-you is distinguishable from the yesterday-you. As if awaking from a night’s sleep, you are resurrected, and you learn to do the same for your parents. “

I commend and agree with his attempt to conceive of how we will play a role in the resurrection of the dead, which I have heard taught, will be a Priesthood ordinance for us to perform and so, obviously, will have some role to play. I think everything he says here is plausible and consistent with what has been revealed and accepted as doctrine. Not just not inconsistent, but consistent, as Lincoln does a great job of tying family history research, performing proxy ordinances for the dead, and the actual mechanics plausibly at play in the actual resurrection process.

However, as in most things God lets us do, I think that here too there is a part which only he can do. I think that a posthuman’s quantum archeology, no matter how impressive, could not discover all the nuances that constitute a human mind.  To think it could suggests a deterministic view of how the world works which I believe we can avoid thanks to the inherent indeterminism of quantum mechanics. Also, to think that one could resurrect ancestors many generations removed at the end of a long series of resurrecting all those in between, one by one, and relying in part on their memories of their ancestors is wildly optimistic. The results could only bare a superficial likeness to the actual person.

I have trouble believing that a process like the one Lincoln describes would not be a part of the resurrection. Even as posthumans we will have much to learn and the best way to learn is by doing. As humans, and as posthumans, I don’t believe God will simply do for us anything we are capable of doing  for ourselves, even after much trial and effort. It is in achieving results through trial and effort that we learn to become like Him.

However, being believers in God, we need not postulate a resurrection wherein He plays absolutely no part at all.

The New God Argument is an adaptation of the Simulation Argument for Mormons. I made this adaptation for myself long before I encountered Lincoln’s statement of it. I discuss it in another post so here I’ll skip to the conclusion. The reality we experience is actually a “virtual reality” just like we can envision ourselves creating in a not-too-much-more technologically sophisticated future. No doubt such virtual realities require powerful computational processing and impressively large storage capacity.  In other words, vast intelligence and perfect memory. Initially we might think of the posthuman creator of our reality (virtual reality to Him) as sitting down at a powerful desktop and typing away. But surely a second’s contemplation of progressive miniaturization and improvements in brain/computer interfacing should prompt us to replace this image with one closer to the actual God whose omniscient mind produces the thoughts memories which represent the code upon which our reality relies for its existence.

Surely after the nascent posthuman’s ability to recreate her dead ancestor through quantum archaeology has been exhausted, He whose thoughts originally organized the information that became her ancestor could add the final touches and produce a perfect likeness.

I believe God’s continued contemplation of the dead’s consciousness, His awareness of precisely what it is like to be that person, is sufficient to maintain identity between the quantum bits that were the deceased and those constituting the newly resurrected person. According to Mormon doctrine, that consciousness is not even inactive between bodily death and resurrection, but remains engaged in a course of learning and growth toward godhood.

I find it extremely satisfying and intensely faith promoting that Mormon doctrine is so easily reconciled with these scenarios as they are not arbitrary science fictions but logical extrapolations from clearly discerned technological trends.

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