What It All Means: Running Headlong at the Grand Existential Implication in Under Two Pages

Nov 24 2014

I think every human being has spent some time asking, “What am I and why?” Occupations come and go. Money accumulates and dwindles. Significant others enter and exit. These occurrences bring situational happiness and sorrow, but none of these factors generally bring us directly any closer to a satisfactory existential raison d’être. We formulate attempts at explanations, forget them, get frustrated with them, decide they’re unimportant, come back to them, and sometimes form completely different explanations every time we ask. Here is one such attempt. Such attempts never reach arbitrarily high confidence levels and theoretical and empirical support, but these are my leanings. This is the meta-physics I would bet on, the hypotheses I would figure are at least ever-so-slightly more likely and reasonable than not.

Consciousness is a Turing state. A Turing state is the program of a type of fundamental computer. The “Turing machine” is a useful theoretical device because it is basically a perfectly bare-bones medium that seems to fully encapsulate all computation. Any computation can be reduced to a binary state memory tape, a pointer to the current piece of memory, a set of fundamental computational instructions, and a pointer to the current instruction (or similar machines with multiple memory tapes, or arrays of machines working on the same tapes, and so on). The Church-Turing thesis asserts that an algorithm is computable if and only if it can be performed by one or more Turing machines. We have no evidence to suggest that the capacity of the human mind to think exceeds the Church-Turing thesis. I conclude that “qualia,” loosely referring to experiential elements of consciousness, are then fully encapsulated in the descriptions of particular Turing states. Douglass Hofstadter, a doctor of physics who studies artificial intelligence and has written a number of popular science and philosophy books, suggests that qualia arise in certain cases where internals of computational operation are fed back into computational systems as inputs; we are “strange loops.”

Yes, the machines can have souls. Basically, I think we can call a Turing state a “soul.” There’s evidence against the soul being a second substance mediated by say a new fundamental force; there is no missing fundamental force leaving gaping holes in our pictures of the ensemble of all physical interactions. If a second substance has no physical effect, it has no significance to my physical body writing this piece.

We have will; it is not “free.” Our thinking is deterministic. We generally do or attempt to do what we decide to do; in this way we have will. Determining to do something correlates with attempting it, strongly. We introduce no non-deterministic influences in determining to do something.

Determinism incorporates an element of chance. Quantum mechanics predicts probability distributions for certain physical events that provide more (correct) information about the outcomes of experiments than non-probabilistic theories with local hidden variables can offer in any possible case; this was demonstrated by folks including Bell. No theory that posits that additional information is hidden in the local states of particles can reproduce or better the accuracy of quantum mechanics without requiring that some of this information about particle states is communicated faster than the speed of light. Quantum mechanics can still be modelled as deterministic, but then determinism either happens at a scale bigger than the typical scale of direct human experience, as in Everett ontology, or relies on faster than light communication of information about hidden variables between particles, as in de Broglie-Bohm ontology.

It’s likely that life occurs on planets which are distant compared to our ability to directly observe; most physicists would probably agree with this statement. I extend this reasoning in a way most physicists don’t; I lean toward the likelihood of our Turing states recurring elsewhere. That is, taking the state of your neurological computational apparatus at any point in your life, the fundamental array of your instruction sets, instruction pointers, and memory “tapes” likely recur in other physical situations, with different “sensory input tapes,” if the universe is large enough, to speak loosely. Draw what conclusions about the implication of an “afterlife” from this in my philosophy that you will. Extending this further, I lean toward the recurrence of any selected Turing state together with any valid “sensory input tape.” Your Turing-type self on the Earth you’ve directly experienced still continues to follow a set of quantum mechanically likely or deterministic physical state transitions.

There is no significant evidence of deity. The “first cause” or “unmoved mover” argument, for example, is unnecessary by modern physical understanding. The Big Bang we hypothesize implies the separation of the vast majority or entirety of “stuff” we see in the universe from gravitational potential energy. The observables of the universe as a complete system, its energy, momentum, charge, and other conserved physical quantities taken as a whole appear unchanged from a state of “nothing.” Rather what appears to have driven all this “stuff” into being is the instability of a zero-volume, uniform universal system; it’s like a pencil balanced on tip which any tiny jostle can cause to fall. The jostling could be provided by quantum uncertainty, for example.

The notions of distance and space are entirely self-contained in our accepted cosmological models. We don’t think of the Big Bang as a point exploding to fill infinite empty space; there is no space “before” the Bang. Spatial volume arises from the Bang. There is no well-developed concept or necessity of a concept of the space arising in the Bang being embedded in another space or time. “When did the Bang happen?” is a question that only can have meaning within the universe. “When will another universe happen?” is not necessarily a well-formed question; if we define our single “universe” to be the same one following continuation after a hypothetical “big bounce” scenario, then the question, “When will another universe happen?” is basically malformed, like “How much does blue weigh?” If this universe exists with self-contained notions of time and distance, then I wonder “Why not others?” I think the fundamental property equating to the existence or nonexistence of a universe is a self-contained logico-mathematical consistency. There is no difference between the map and the territory, so to speak; we are the self-consistency of a mathematical “form,” like the Platonic forms. Our universal form appears “perfect” in a limited sense, and this is tantamount to its existence.

This is one of the most important things I wanted to do with my life. I am happy for the moment, but I am not finished. I always ask the people around me to share their thoughts, but they rarely indulge me. Here is my practical advice based on this: destroy the weapons, never raise a fist in anger, grow some plants to eat, abandon your excess possessions, and focus on the minutest beauties of the commonplace in your day.

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