Tag Archives: Consciousness

Everything’s an Algorithm (well, almost everything)

I started out at Ohio State University majoring in Fine Arts. Two years later, I switched majors to Psychology. When I graduated OSU, I went looking for a job, thinking I’d combine my fine arts background with the psychology I’d learned. Five out of five companies I interviewed showed little interest in fine arts, psychology, or any combination thereof. It was 1969 and all the companies were looking for computer programmers back then, so I went to work for Sears, Roebuck and Company as a computer programmer.

Sears had an excellent training program and I fell head over heels in love with computer programming. I remember my first day of training. We were told to draw a flowchart that would direct a hypothetical robot to enter our office building, go up three elevators, get off on the 47th floor, and go to our office cubicle. We hadn’t learned any computer language yet, so we had to write our instructions for the robot using basic English commands that wouldn’t lend themselves to misinterpretation, like “walk straight until you reach the first elevator” or “press the button with “47” printed on it”.

I later found out, after reading Donald Knuth’s “Fundamental Algorithms” (The Art of Computer Programming Vol 1), that a flowchart is a graphic representation of an algorithm. Knuth stated that algorithms were similar to processes, methods, procedures, or routines, but also possessed the following attributes:

  • finiteness: algorithms have to terminate after a finite number of steps. They can’t go on forever;

  • definiteness: operations (steps) have to be rigorously and unambiguously specified for every possible case;

  • inputs: data may or may not be given to an algorithm before or during its operation;

  • outputs: data generated by an algorithm’s operation that bears some relation to its input;

  • effectiveness: an algorithm must be able to be precisely performed within a finite period of time and must be exactly repeatable.

These attributes imply that not everything is an algorithm as the title of my post suggested.

Algorithms are the cornerstone of all computer and robot programming, including machine learning and artificial intelligence. The implementation of algorithms requires that the operations, cases, inputs, and outputs specified for each algorithm be converted to a format that can be processed by a specific machine or operating system. Computer hardware is built to perform certain basic operations efficiently. Unfortunately, the formats a computer can “understand” are usually incomprehensible to the average human. Computer software allows general or special purpose algorithms to be written by humans (or other machines) to operate on a specific set of computers.

Remember that algorithms are processes, methods, procedures, or routines with extra attributes. We’ve implemented them on computers and robots. Nobody ever said that algorithms are limited to just those systems though.

What about cellular organisms, bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals? What about human beings? Why couldn’t we substitute plastic for flesh, organs, and muscles, metal for bones, gold and wires for nerves, or vice-versa? What about life itself, the brain, consciousness, or love? Could there be an algorithm for life, consciousness, or love?

It seems reasonable to me to assume that life, consciousness, and love possess the following attributes:

  • they are processes;

  • the processes are probably composed of a finite number of steps;

  • the processes probably have inputs and generate outputs.

but life, consciousness, and love are currently missing a couple critical attributes:

  • we don’t know all the operations required or the cases in which those operations occur;

  • we don’t know how to go about encoding the algorithms to make them effective.

Maybe we don’t need to know all the operations involved in life, consciousness, and love. Maybe we just need to know enough to create viable processes or processes capable of bootstrapping whatever else they need whenever they need it.

There are more questions on this subject than answers. I’m ok with that. There’s no known algorithm for whittling a huge block of ignorance down to a beautiful piece of knowledge or for whittling a piece of goodness out of a huge block of evil. That’s probably because those are processes that go on forever,

or at least as long as hope springs in the human breast.

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The Stone Conjecture

Today I was listening to my favorite Saturday morning radio broadcast, Dr. Yitzhak Noy reading and commenting on interesting newspaper articles from around the world. I had just come back from walking Daisy and tuned in to the tail end of an article he read about these strange bursts of radio energy and how some astronomers at Harvard had suggested they might be alien space travelers zipping around our galaxy at close to the speed of light.

Well, since I didn’t think Harvard was your usual source of unsubstantiated “Abducted by UFO” headlines, my curiosity was piqued and I Googled some key words and phrases I remembered from the article Dr. Noy had talked about and found Fast Radio Bursts Might Come From Nearby Stars from 2013 and then Harvard Scientists Theorize That Fast Radio Bursts Come From Alien Space Travel from a couple weeks ago (March 9, 2017).

Why was I intrigued? Although the conspiracy theories about incarcerating little green beings with elongated heads in Area 51 or UFOs coming to us from millions of light years away just to make crop circles, mess with our minds, and leave before we can talk to them may very well be true, I tend not to believe them because there seem to me to be many alternate explanations that could be offered that would be just as good if not better. Remember Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation of those available to us is most probably the correct one. Here’s what intrigued me about the Fast Radio Bursts: since 2007 when they were first discovered by astronomers, nobody had ever come up with an explanation of how they could occur naturally. In other words, there were no other competing theories. The Harvard researchers went one step further and used currently accepted engineering principles to show how an alien technology could propel space craft weighing a million tons at 20% of the speed of light and be visible to us in the frequency and amplitude our radio telescopes recorded.

Anyway, I didn’t want to talk about this particular speculation about Fast Radio Bursts. If you want, you can read the articles yourselves. But the articles did get me thinking about what other kinds of conjectures might be made.

So, without further ado …

The Stone Conjecture:

  1. Life is probably pretty common in a mature universe. The first generation of stars after the Big Bang were made of relatively simple elements, but subsequent generations of stars were composed of increasingly heavier elements in a variety of configurations. Atoms of various elements bound together into increasingly complex molecules, giving rise to organic molecules. When the circumstances proved adequate, organic molecules combined into organelles and cellular structures igniting the engine of life. Cells differentiated into colonies of specialized organs giving rise to plants and animals on our planet to adapt to its ecosystem. When the variety and complexity of these adaptive systems reached a critical mass, consciousness arose and then self-consciousness. The same kinds of processes probably happened with other kinds of systems in other kinds of ecosystems randomly occurring around our galaxy and others throughout the universe. A system beyond a certain level of quantity, variety, and complexity would be unlikely to remain integrated in a dynamically changing ecosystem over a certain period of time without developing self-consciousness. Entropy would cause the system to break down. This is what happens when we die.
  2. Given #1, self-conscious life that developed significantly before us would possibly be significantly more advanced than us. The stars in the center of our galaxy probably gave rise to civilizations far more advanced than civilizations in our solar system located pretty far out along an arm of our galaxy. Our local star was created long after the stars clustering around our galactic center. What I’m talking about is only orthogonal to the Kardashev scale.
  3. There may be more dimensions of space than the three we perceive. Given #2, an advanced civilization might know whether there are more than three dimensions and take advantage of those dimensions in traveling from one point to another or they would perceive only the three dimensions of space that we perceive.
  4. Given #3, if space spreads out over more than the three dimensions we perceive, then an advanced alien civilization would either know the short cuts through higher dimensions from one point to another or know how to warp one of the observable dimensions to access hyperspace.
  5. As far as we can see with our telescopes pointed in every direction from the vicinity of our planet, there is something: meteors, moons, planets, stars, and galaxies. What we can’t see is probably dark matter. These are all potential obstacles for us to travel in a single vector at or near the speed of light. In other words, in order to avoid running into these obstacles we’d probably have to slow down our speed significantly and jinx up, down, left, or right, to go around.
  6. If there are only the three dimensions we perceive, then traveling through the galaxy at close to the speed of light would require tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy. Tunnels of emptiness through our galaxy or any other would not appear naturally. It might be an indication that an advanced civilization had ploughed that tunnel to allow near light speed travel. Travel between galaxies at light speed could probably be made without tunnels because the space is mostly empty. Of course there is the issue of dark matter, but current theories posit that matter does not interact with dark matter. See Why Doesn’t Dark Matter Interact with Ordinary Matter.

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Chapter 18: The Leap of Intent

“That box of kibble is starting to look pretty good to me,” Cadmus said to whomever might be listening.

“Sorry,” Galen said, “I’ve been remiss. Just be patient a moment longer and I’ll fix something for us to eat and drink after I get us going. Besides, it’ll be better for you if your stomach is empty during the leap.”

“What should I do? Where should I be?”

“Just put your hand over Lonesome’s goggles and close your eyes.”

Cadmus did as he was told. At first nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then there was a crescendo of rumbling. He felt a vibration in the chair. Then he felt it in his skin, his muscles, his stomach, and his bones. It was as though somebody had reached inside him and pulled his internal organs down, up, or sideways – he couldn’t tell which direction. He opened his right eye, just a squint, and saw only whiteness out the window.

The pull on his innards diminished somewhat. The vibration lessened and the rumbling turned to silence. He opened his left eye and saw Galen puttering around in what looked like a kitchenette against one of the walls. He looked down at Lonesome who was panting and smiling, seemingly ready for anything. He removed his hand from the dagu’s goggles.

“What’s going on now?” Cadmus asked.

“I’m making us something to eat.”

“No, I meant what’s going on with the ship?”

“Oh. We’ve leapt off your moon, left 763, left Draco, and are traveling on a vector toward the center of the universe.”

“Didn’t you say the Frats might be in the opposite direction if there was a big bang?”

“Firstly, the big bang is not very likely because it’s a singleton. Secondly, if the Frats are not at the center of the universe then we’ll travel to the edge and try to find them there. Thirdly, it doesn’t matter where we think they are because they will find us by our intention.”

“So why didn’t we just stay put in my cabin in the middle of a rather picturesque lake or your cave?”

“Because that would not have broadcast our intention. Besides, we are only going where we went in our future, at least until we reach the event horizon.”

“So everything is determined in advance?”

“That’s the only rational conclusion.”

“Well, I don’t think that.”

“That’s why you and Lonesome are onboard.”

“And that’s why you don’t know what I’m going to think before I think it. So how do you know what I’m going to do in the future?”

“Do you think you can come to the table without any help?” Galen asked Cadmus.

“I’ll try.” Cadmus got up from the reclining chair tentatively and tried to think himself over to the table near the kitchenette. He walked unsteadily at first until he got the hang of it. He pulled out the chair and sat down.

Galen brought over a kettle of tea and bowl of fruit, laying it on the table. He put out plates, cups, and a loaf of bread. He sat down and poured tea for Cadmus and himself. “Consciousness and thought are not the same as action and physical being,” he answered. “Consciousness and thought are totipotent. They contain all possible states. Anything non-physical can develop from them. They are only limited by the structures through which they pass, structures which they create for themselves. Action and physical being are only multipotent at most and monopotent at least. They are limited by the structures of physicality, what you might call reality, at least the part of it you are aware of.”

“Don’t I have to think of doing something before I do it?” Cadmus asked through a mouth full of bread.

“Most of what you do, you do without thinking about it,” Galen answered. “You do it automatically, predictably.”

“But sometimes I think and then I act on that thought.”

“That’s what I’m banking on.”

After they finished eating Galen took Cadmus and Lonesome on a tour around the ship.

They walked up one hallway and passed the sleeping quarters. There were two hammocks suspended between walls in opposite corners of the room. There were a shower room and a personal service room for evacuating waste products. Up the hall was a simulation room and, beside that, an audio-visual communications room.

“After I give you the tour I promised Remi I’d give her a call.”

“Can you only call her from here?”

“No, I can call her from anywhere in the ship but the visuals are better in this room.”

“What is the simulation room for?”

“For exploring possibilities.”

They walked past an exercise room, a library, a music room, a storage room, and finally they came back to the main control bridge.

“Is that it?” Cadmus asked.

“No, there’s more downstairs.”

They walked down another hall past a huge engine room, a telecomm room, and a situation room. A little further down the hall they passed a closed door.

“What’s that room?” Cadmus asked.

“The war room,” Galen answered without embellishment.

Finally, they came back to the control bridge.

Cadmus tried to stifle a yawn. “What time is it?” he asked. He hadn’t seen a clock since he passed through the portal into the ship. He remembered he hadn’t seen a clock in Remi’s and Galen’s cave either.

“Time for you to get some sleep,” Galen smiled. “Besides, where we are, your question doesn’t make much sense.”

Galen walked Cadmus back to their sleeping quarters.

Lonesome was lying in his usual heap underneath one of the hammocks fast asleep.

“Should I take off my suit and goggles before I go to sleep?”

“No, leave them on in case you have to get up to go to the personal service room. You can take the suit and goggles off before you shower. Put them in the recycle bin before you step into the shower and they’ll be refreshed by the time you’re out. The molecules maintain their programming throughout the recycling.”

“Good night Galen.”

“Yes, I suppose.”

Cadmus lay down carefully in the hammock and turned off the bright lights, leaving only the soft ambient lights in the base boards. Soon they were snoring a soft duet.

The ship accelerated two orders of magnitude faster than the speed of light, leaving behind the local cluster of galaxies, known as the Draconian super cluster, and the largest artificial structure in this part of the universe.

If anyone had been watching this pin-point speck of a ship from afar, he would have surmised that its intention was lonely but brave.

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

 

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Chapter 15: A Walk around the Island

Cadmus’ cabin was the only one on the island. When the door opened, Lonesome leaped through and ran ahead of them over the familiar paths he loved so much. The two men ambled down one of the paths along the edge of the lake. There was a light breeze caressing them. At least that was how Cadmus felt.

The late afternoon was turning into evening over the mountains to the south. There was no hurry so they walked in silence awhile. The dagu was nowhere in sight but he knew the way home.

“I dabble in astronomy,” Galen began. “I suppose you’d call it a hobby. I do other things too, when they need to be done, but this is what most interests me.”

“I like to look at the stars too,” Cadmus said.

“We built ‘observers’ or robotic perceivers connected with trailing Q-bit Entanglement Boxes throughout the universe. The observers allow us to observe the universe in each of the eleven dimensions all the way to each event horizon.”

“What for?”

“To obtain a composite view of our universe.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“What’s interesting are the cross-section snapshots we get every yocto-second at a resolution of 1.6 x 10−35th of a meter. The snapshot shows us what is happening and what has changed in the universe in any given time slice.”

“A yocto-second? What the hell is that?”

“It’s 10-24th of a second.”

“That’s an awful lot of data.”

“Yes, we need another universe just to store it.”

“Another universe?”

“Virtually.”

“So what do you do with all this data?”

“We usually discard it after examining it, if it’s not very interesting.”

“So did you find anything interesting?” Cadmus asked.

Galen paused and then continued, “I had fallen a bit behind, two or three time slices. I wanted to look at them before discarding them. That’s when I noticed something unusual.”

“What could be unusual in our universe?” Cadmus quipped sarcastically.

“We saw major multi-hyper-cubes near the horizon disappearing. They were there and suddenly they were not anymore. The size of each multi-hyper-cubic section was roughly the size of a galaxy containing a hundred billion stars. These cubes have been disappearing at an alarming rate.”

“So what? Even I know that matter can come into contact with anti-matter or be sucked into a black hole and disappear, and exotic matter and energy can cancel out baryonic matter and energy.”

“Yes, but although these disappearances were occurring in the far future, major sections of our future were also disappearing at an alarming rate. We may run out of future before we run out of space.

“Some of us think that the hyper-cubic disappearances might be naturally occurring phenomena, that there is something fundamentally wrong with our universe, while others think that the disappearances might be caused by an alien civilization possessing an advanced technology that it has weaponized. If the second conjecture proves to be correct, we may be up against a force far greater even than us.

“Let’s call them Future Rationals or Frats for the sake of discussion. These Frats might very well come from the oldest parts of our universe.”

“Would that be where the Big Bang occurred?”

“That depends. If there was a big bang, then reason dictates that the oldest parts would be in the outermost shell of the universe. If there wasn’t a big bang then, like most galaxies, the oldest parts would be in the center of the universe. Besides, there should have been a trace left in the substrata.”

“What substrata?”

“Reality is hierarchical. All matter and energy, exotic or baryonic, map onto a substratum, which is the fabric of space-time.”

“Every school-age child knows that.”

“You also know that the fabric of space-time can be distorted by massive matter and energy. That means that the fabric of space-time is also made of something. Do you know what?”

“We never learned that in school.”

“It’s made of fibers of vibrating virtual particles. The names are unimportant. These virtual particles map onto a more fundamental substratum, the field of consciousness. Time is the consciousness of time and space is the consciousness of space. All else is information. The field of consciousness underpins our universe.”

“This is getting a little too abstract for me.”

“I was afraid of that. I’ll try to make it more concrete for you. Parts of the universe are becoming unconscious.”

It was night now. The stars were twinkling, most of them anyway. Cadmus wondered whether any of them had stopped twinkling since the last time he looked. He wondered whether he would have noticed.

“So what? I mean the universe is infinite. You can subtract big clumps from it and it’ll still be infinite.”

“It’s not infinite,” Galen said quietly.

“Well, you can still subtract big clumps from it and there will still be a lot of it.”

“The problem is that someone or something may be causing this and it’s not one of us. We don’t have the technology or the means.”

“So you’re not guilty.”

“You still don’t get it. Whoever is doing it may be orders of magnitude more powerful than we are. It appears they are attempting to annihilate everything through an attack on the substrata.”

They could hear the water lapping against the pier.

from Out of Time

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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Out of Time

Well, it’s about time. Literally. I’ve been cooking up a sequel to Whirlpool, the third novel of the Rational Series. On a back burner so far back that I was hardly aware of it.

The title I’m considering for it is “Out of Time”. Of course it doesn’t mean what you’d think it means. Think literally.

This is all I’ve managed to flesh out so far.

Assumptions “Out of Time” is based on:

  1. A creature (a Rat or Rational, a more advanced human-like species appearing in the second (The Rats and the Saps) and third (Whirlpool) novels of the series from the intermediate future of our universe, warns a human (a Sap or Homo Sapien) from the present (sometime in our future relatively speaking) of an imminent attack on them by creatures from the distant future.
  2. Rats can see in any dimension as far as the event horizon.
  3. Frats (Future Rats) can see all the way to the end of every dimension.
  4. Think of it like chess. Most people who barely know the rules of the game can’t think more than one or two moves ahead. People who have played in chess tournaments can often think ten or so moves ahead. A chess master sees the entire game sequence from beginning to end before he makes his first move.

The Story Line:

  1. There are still a few human planets spread ever so thinly across the local cluster of galaxies, but none are aware of the others.
  2. Rat planets far outnumber Sap (human) planets. Rats are not only aware of each other’s presence on other worlds; they are well organized with a Dyson sphere in every solar system. They had to in order to keep warm.
  3. What the Rats weren’t aware of, at least they couldn’t be sure of, was the existence of the Frats. Rats surmised them but they never found any hard evidence or came up with any solid proofs that Frats existed.
  4. Frats understood the nature of time and space; for instance, they knew that time was the consciousness of time and space was the consciousness of space. Underpinning the fabric of space-time was consciousness. A field of consciousness pervaded the multiverse. Somewhere or other there was always a Big Bang going on as universes became self-aware. Space and time spew forth and collapse, each in their own isolated event-islands, bubbles of insignificant cause and effect. The multiverse always was and always will be. But what of consciousness? In the beginning was the word and that word contained all meaning.

That’s all that has come to me so far, but I’ve been through this process thrice before. Once I get it down on paper or digital ether, I empty my head and it starts to fill up with more ideas, as the story organism gives birth to its own logic. The storyline is incomplete. It will develop in its own way, in its own time.

If you’re interested, you can look over my shoulder while I write.

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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The Other Side of Consciousness

It has been said that nobody has ever come back from death to tell us in any really credible way what happens to our consciousness after we die. Of course there have been a lot of near death experiences or experiences of being flat-line technically dead and then revived. People have described a tunnel and a brilliant white light at the end of that tunnel or floating over their dead bodies and watching the people standing around, listening to them. Then they are gently pulled or yanked back into consciousness and our banal daily world.

I would venture a guess that the reason some of us experience these phenomena is that we don’t always die all at once. Once the signal is passed down to all the cells in a body that it’s time to die, the cells start to power down, to stop their functions that differentiate them from non-living organic matter, functions like organization, using energy, growing, responding to changes in the environment, and reproduction, but it takes time to shut down all the cells in a body and, while some of the cells might be dead, others might be still alive and at least partially functional.

If the brain were the first to shut down before the rest of the body, then dying would be a lot easier on us. People often say that it’s a blessing to die in one’s sleep. I think that people are more afraid of dying than they are of death. We mortals don’t seem to be equipped with the ability to conceive of our own deaths, the end of our consciousness forever and ever, in spite of the fact that we all die and many of us have seen someone else die.

But the brain is not always the first to shut down. Imagine for a moment that your conscious mind is trapped in a brain that is trapped in a body that is in the process of shutting down. Our minds are used to being in control of our body functions. Whenever we are in unpleasant situations we try our best to overcome them or to escape them. This experience of entrapment goes against our previous experience and programming. “What can’t be, is happening to me!” screams silently in the outer space of our minds. Maybe we think to ourselves, “This is finally it! I’m really dying now. But I don’t know how to do it or even what to do. I wonder how long it will last.”

But the body has its own logic. Dying is a natural consequence and part of living. The body doesn’t need the brain to tell it how to die. All the mind has to do is to relax and record what is happening for as long as it can.

I am certain that the mind achieves some wisdom or understanding in the last moments before death that would benefit all living mortals if only that dying mind could somehow pass on to us that wisdom, what it’s like to transition to the other side of consciousness.

But nobody really has, have they?

Mike Stone

Raanana Israel

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