Schmidhuber on philosophy

From: Hal Finney <>
Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 19:22:25 -0800

This is the conclusion of "A Computer Scientist's View of Life, the
Universe and Everything,", by Juergen Schmidhuber, from

Although much of the paper was interesting, I was disappointed by this
concluding portion.

: Philosophy
: Life after death. Members of certain religious sects expect
: resurrection of the dead in a paradise where lions and lambs cuddle
: each other. There is a possible continuation of our world where they
: will be right. In other possible continuations, however, lambs will
: attack lions.

In the context of the paper, these continuations are presumably
different worlds with histories the same as ours, but with different
futures, including worlds which cease to follow the laws of physics.

It's not clear where this resurrection is supposed to take place; is
it elsewhere in our own universe? Is it here on earth? You also have
Tipler's model where people are resurrected as simulations by
benevolent beings in the future, and those beings might well be
motivated to set things up so animals get along better than they do in
our world. That seems more plausible than that the laws of physics
will be violated.

: According to the computability-oriented view adopted in this paper,
: life after death is a technological problem, not a religious one. All:
: that is necessary for some human's resurrection is to record his
: defining parameters (such as brain connectivity and synapse
: properties, etc.), and then dump them into a large computing device
: computing an appropriate virtual paradise. Similar things have been
: suggested by various science fiction authors. At the moment of this
: writing, neither appropriate recording devices nor computers of
: sufficient size exist. There is no fundamental reason, however, to
: believe that they won't exist in the future.

This seems different from the "continuations" mentioned above. Maybe
I misunderstood him.

: Body and soul. More than 2000 years of European philosophy dealt with
: the distinction between body and soul. The Great Programmer does not
: care. The processes that correspond to our brain firing patterns and
: the sound waves they provoke during discussions about body and soul
: correspond to computable substrings of our universe's evolution.
: Bitstrings representing such talk may evolve in many universes. For
: instance, sound wave patterns representing notions such as body and
: soul and "consciousness" may be useful in everyday language of certain
: inhabitants of those universes. From the view of the Great
: Programmer, though, such bitstring subpatterns may be entirely
: irrelevant. There is no need for Him to load them with "meaning".

I really don't see what he is getting at here, other than that someone
outside the universe could just choose to ignore what people say.
Well, sure; so could someone within the universe. But much of the
discussion about body vs soul actually has some interesting content,
related to the issues mentioned in the previous paragraph quoted.
What constitutes the essence of a human being? Is there some aspect
of him which can be reincarnated separately from his body such that we
would feel that it was a legitimate continuation of the original
person? These are interesting issues and just because this Great
Programmer chooses to ignore them, they don't go away.

: Talking about the incomputable. Although we live in a computable
: universe, we occasionally chat about incomputable things, such as the
: halting probability of a universal Turing machine (which is closely
: related to Godel's incompleteness theorem). And we sometimes discuss
: inconsistent worlds in which, say, time travel is possible. Talk
: about such worlds, however, does not violate the consistency of the
: processes underlying it.

It would be more interesting to speculate on whether a universe is
possible in which, say, time travel "seems to work", in the same sense
that the laws of physics seem to work. Could there be a short program
running the universe which allows some form of time travel?

: Conclusion. By stepping back and adopting the Great Programmer's
: point of view, classic problems of philosophy go away.

Well, I think he is throwing out the baby with the bathwater, choosing
to ignore too much which can still be of interest.

Received on Sun Jan 18 1998 - 20:18:11 PST

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