Miscellaneous ideas, for what they're worth.

From: Saj Malhi <sajm.domain.name.hidden>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 13:43:54 -0000

Let's try to establish a few cogent premisses. I realise you probably won't agree with them all, but I'd be interested to know why:
1]. Consciousness is neither dependent upon nor implied by intelligence (a man with Downs' syndrome is no less conscious than a genius).
2]. Consciousness is neither dependent upon nor implied by memory (a man suffering from amnesia is no less conscious than a man who remembers every detail of his life).
3]. Consciousness is neither dependent upon nor implied by knowledge (you cannot increase your consciousness through memorising the Encyclopaedia Britannica).

4]. Consciousness is fundamentally a physical phenomenon since it is clearly affected by physical processes (alcohol, injury, sleeping).

I have been following this discussion for a few days now and there seem to me to be some things which either I simply haven't understood (quite possible - I confess I'm not a physicist (yet)) or have not been addressed in the discussions.

Firstly, on the subject of quantum suicide and what happens to your consciousness at the instant of the terminal event. It seems to me this question is closely linked with the idea that someone else raised about somehow proving the validity of the MWI. Topologically speaking, if one can travel from one structure to another it would suggest that the two structures are not only connected, but actually part of, or existing within, the same thing. Hence, if it were possible to prove the existence of another 'world' it would mean that it is not really another world at all. Furthermore, I have considerable difficulty with the idea of an uninterrupted 'flow' of consciousness. This invokes the idea of a massless entity travelling between physical structures. While I am not averse to the notion of consciousness being without mass (it may for example be some form of field generated by the brain) I fail to see how it can exist unchanged, even for only a Planck-length of time, without the physical body that is generating it.

And apart from the moment of death, what happens at the moment of birth? More particularly, what happens at around the age of two when human children become self-aware, an ability which I believe is crucial to the notion of consciousness. Are we all dependent upon some version of us dying in another world so that we can receive their consciousness? Is there therefore a 'Conservation of consciousness' law? But there is not a single instant at which a child suddenly realises to himself "Hey, here I am!" It is a more gradual process than that. I must qualify my first three opening assumptions here by saying that though the properties listed may play a part in creating a consciousness, they are not necessary to maintain it and therefore consciousness is not defined by them. It's like climbing a flight of stairs - once you reach the landing the stairs are no longer relevant.

On the subject of computers generating random programs in the hope that among them there will be the seeds of consciousness, I am reminded of an analogous proposition put forward by the physicist George Ganong in his book "One, two three... infinity." He described the construction of a printing press that, with its 50 mechanical wheels each bearing all letters and symbols of the English language, would be set the task of printing at random. Such a machine he said would ultimately print everything that can be written - all history, all scientific discoveries, all human thoughts, all literature. Among the unimaginable reams of nonsense would lie the discoveries of the future and even, if it exists and be expressed in words and symbols, the Theory of Everything. The problem of course is that of shear numbers. He showed that even if every atom in the universe was a printing press working at the speed of atomic vibrations, it would take vastly longer than the age of our universe to gain anything useful from the experiment. This is surely a prohibitive statistic for own experiment, particularly in view of the massively more complex nature of the brain. This is not to say that artificial consciousness is non-realisable, only that we cannot hope to achieve it through a purely random process. We must have some parameters to limit the flow of nonsense and in order to do so we must have a better understanding of consciousness.

I appreciate you guys might not have the time or inclination to bring me fully up to speed on what I understand to be the two main quantum theories concerning the outcome of an event, namely the Many Worlds Interpretation and the Wave Function Collapse (or Copenhagen) Interpretation. However, some time ago I asked :

Two people make a bet based on the toss of a coin while a third unobserved person looks on discretely from the corner. The probability of heads or tails is fifty-fifty, 0.5. The coin lands heads, one of them loses, fair enough.
Having seen this, our voyeur steps out of the room, gets in his time machine, and returns to witness the same event. But what are the probabilities of heads and tails now? Are they still fifty-fifty, or are they now 1 and 0 respectively?

This little argument seems to pose 3 possible conclusions.
1. Time travel is impossible
2. Probability (and therefore our human concept of free will) is an illusion (assuming of course, that someone with a capital S is watching over the proceedings).
3. There is a fundamental flaw in this line of reasoning.
The responses I got (thanks by the way) were based entirely on the MWI which said that the probability remained unchanged. However, in the context of the WFCI I believe this question remains valid. In response to Russell Standish's comments I wrote:

Would the split
> created by an event of uneven probabilities of outcome give rise to
> identical universes? That is, a 2 to 1 event results in a three-way split,
> two of which are identical and will forever remain identical. If so, what is
> to determine that the split proceeds along the lowest common multiple, i.e.
> why not 4 & 2, or 6 & 3, or even 1 & 0.5 (whatever that means)?

And his answer:

That is not the way I look at it - a 2 to 1 event gives rise to two
universes, one of which has twice the measure of the other. In fact
most splits I believe are on a continuum, but we use the finite split
case in discussion as it is easier to visualise.

Your view of the 2 to 1 event splitting 3 ways, with 2 identical
universes is really an equivalent way of looking at it when there are
only a finite number of outcomes. I don't believe it is a useful
picture when there is a continuum of outcomes.

These answers do not seem so clear-cut to me, particularly as there seems to have been so much confusion about what 'measure' is. Furthermore, I do not understand the notion of 'splits on a continuum'. Either time is discrete (with the unit of Planck-length) or it is infinitely divisible. If it is discrete, then the MWI seems to limit the splitting process to once every Planck-length. However, it is reasonable to suggest that there may be two totally different events occurring far away from each other at the same time. Does this mean therefore that there are multitude of universes springing up at every instant?
 How are simultaneous events integrated into the MWI? On the other hand, if time is continuous we are faced with the possibility of an infinite number of universes springing up at every instant - a daunting prospect. A third possibility which gets around these problems is that time is indeed continuous but we define an instant as the time between the two most closely separated events ever to occur. This will mean that no two events can be simultaneous since we can proceed to the nth decimal place along the measure of time to find a difference.

Anyway, I've probably said enough for now.
Received on Sun Jan 31 1999 - 05:45:24 PST

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