22 January 2009


So all this may be a hologram. Should this worry you? I don't think so - at least no more than the idea that everything may be composed of tiny vibrating cosmic strings or that all possibilities are actually played out, as in the many worlds interpretation.

The holographic universe idea does not equate to acceptance, tacit or otherwise, of the simulation argument. But the notion of us playing out an ancestor simulation isn't as laughable as it may appear.

To me it's an issue of resolution. How grainy is reality? Of what type of "pixels" is our universe composed? It seems logical that there must be a smallest unit of reality and that that unit may be fiercely insubstantial. But at the same time it feels counter-intuitive because we think of ourselves and our world as solid and not "projected" in the way that pixels are. If you can accept the idea of our being "projected" at any kind of resolution, albeit a mind-bogglingly high one, then you can accept that something might be running the projector.

None of this implies God. Any intelligence capable of running ancestor simulations must have itself evolved from something less intelligent. The very idea of such an intelligence wishing to run the simulations indicates that they are doing so in order to see how they themselves evolved. God never gets to evolve. How dull.

Enough of the wild speculation and back to holograms. We accept that a moving image on a 2-dimensional surface can give us the illusion of 3-dimensional reality. We will soon have to accept holographic "televisions" that sit in the centre of our rooms, so that we can walk around them and do such banal things as looking at the back of the actors heads while they recite their lines. It is a big leap from that point to accepting our universe as a holographic projection but would it make us any less "real" if it were true?

I am a thinking entity utilising synapses, neurons and glia. Beyond that functional level the units of the thinking substrate become markedly less tangible, but that doesn't affect my ability to think. I would like to know how small the units get because that is the kind of thing that brains ponder? But if I eventually come to discover that I am actually living in a kind of Flatland that won't invalidate me as a thinking entity.

Being part of an ancestor simulation wouldn't either.

16 January 2009

I am a Strange Loop

Some time ago I read 'I am a Strange Loop' by Douglas Hofstadter.

His style can appear pedantic but there is a core of succinct truth in his work. Hofstadter clearly accepts himself as a purely material being. He attempts to put his finger on what "I" means within this context.

The core of his explanation is that the Self must be generated within the atomic structure of the brain. "I" is a "loop" generated by the brain feeding its own output back into its own input. But it's no ordinary type of loop; not one that is constrained to repetitive, mundane processes. The complex and chaotic nature of the feeds creates something unique within the system: that which we call "me".

The unpredictable output of "loopy" systems is demonstrated in video feedback experiments, on which Hofstadter is keen. He gives other examples including Godelian mathematical anomalies and language experiments, which can be made to exhibit a similar type of capricious behaviour.

I picked up an older book in a charity shop some time after I had read "I am a Strange Loop" - "The Creative Loop" by Erich Harth. His theme is similar but perhaps easier to understand and I think he may have been influenced by Hofstadter's earlier work. Harth uses the analogy of a hall of mirrors to describe the Self. We're not always directly responding to the input of our senses, we're responding to our inner reflections of those inputs chaotically mixed with all the other inputs we have ever had, and all of their component reflections.

I like this explanation. All Hail the careenium. I accept my loopiness and revel in it.

09 January 2009


I have signed up with Alcor to be cryonically stored after my death.

Of course we don't have the technology to 'wake' a human from death. But everything is made of atoms, so one day the techniques may exist to intervene at the atomic level to fix the massive degradation that happens to a human brain after death and the subsequent storage.

This isn't something I would wish for. It's just practical. Once you reject the concept of an immortal soul you can simply accept your eventual non-existence, or you can take some faltering steps towards retaining something, anything of the unique construct that is you. I have chosen the latter option.

08 January 2009

Learning things

I have been learning things.

The things that I have learned have changed my mind - physically. That's what happens when you learn. The process alters neuronal connections to create new ones; to strenghten some, to weaken others so that over time the physical structure of the neocortex changes.

Those of us who don't hold any fuzzy Cartesian dualist notions of a mind/body split will not find this surprising. After all, everything is made of atoms. It's difficult to shake the notion of mind being separate though. We have so much ingrained vocabulary that reinforces it. But it's a straightjacket - carrying around this ethereal element which we think of as 'me' but which we cannot explain.

Learning about neuroscience is important. Surely it's an essential grounding for any field of human intellectual endeavour. How can a philospher, for example, opine about the nature of the mind and the human condition if she has no idea where or how her opinions are being generated, stored and reinforced?

Dendrites, the antennae of neurons, are a little like trees - hence the name derived from Greek. Some types of dendrite have 'spines'. The dendrite as a whole and the quality and quantity of the spines are affected by many environmental factors. The 'trees' can grow well or poorly. Their environment may be the cortex of a Downs Syndrome child, in which case many will be stunted and withered, as we would perhaps expect. But a similar 'withering' effect can be observed in the neurons of children with a poor social environment, bereft of proper human interaction and nurturing.

Cartesion dualism is wrong. We are biological and our 'minds' are generated by biochemical processes within our brains. Isn't that liberating.

Time to return

A lot has happened since my last post. I will explain some of this in due course.