RE: God has the intelligence of an amoeba

From: Doug <>
Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 10:31:06 -0800

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Higgo James []
> Sent: Friday, February 26, 1999 6:46 AM
> To: 'Doug'
> Cc: ''
> Subject: God has the intelligence of an amoeba
> The 'great programmer' could have the intelligence and consciousness of an
> amoeba. And why bother talking about him if he's not needed - Ockam would
> not approve.

Ah, getting rigorous, eh? That's okay, I don't mind.

I have no problem with the notion of there being no "THE" great programmer.
This is one of the points Jürgen makes in his paper, that there isn't just
one; any of us can imagine numerous ways of enumerating all possible finite
programs, and can also imagine a variety of abstract computational systems
to "run" such programs on, so we can all be the same "great programmer",
potentially at least. (One could argue that if we only imagine programs
that we will never possess hardware capable of running, we shouldn't be
labeled "programmers", but let's not get personal.)

Of course, we don't really have to refer to such ideas as "great
programmer", but nonetheless, if you accept Jürgen's starting assumptions
and his arguments, his paper concludes that such programmers exist, so is it
really necessary that we avoid talking about them? After all, the paper is
about Life, the Universe, and EVERYTHING.

We have all seen examples of papers (or letters or statements to the lay
press or whatever) that refer to The Great Programmer or to God or some such
concept, written by serious people who are perfectly aware that such
concepts may be unnecessary to the essential ideas in the work, and who are
quite possibly atheists anyway. There are lots of reasons why people do
this. Probably some people do it because a work that refers to universes
that don't require a God will immediately turn off certain readers who might
have something to gain from reading such a work (a defensive strategy).
Perhaps some people do it because they have deeply held beliefs of their
own, and are as yet uncertain how these beliefs tie in with the results of
their research. I think some people do it because anthropomorphizing can
make a paper less abstract and impersonal, and more accessible to a wider
audience. And for many, I think it's just an In Joke. (Why Jürgen did it,
I cannot say, I don't know what he believes.)

When I read such things, I take it as an In Joke, and enjoy the humor. I
have no difficulty mentally stripping the anthropomorphization out, to get
at the meat of the paper. Some people may not find such humor to their
taste, and they are welcome to write with utter rigor (somebody's got to do
it). But I think it's important that somebody writes with humor too.

One thing I have noticed lately is that a number of rather high concepts are
starting to get exposure in non-specialist publications (and on the Web.)
More and more, the educated lay public is being exposed to things like
Many-Worlds and Fisher information and all manner of bizarre quantum
mechanical stuff. Some of these ideas don't fit well with many traditional
beliefs, so there is a frightening aspect to all this. The fact that nobody
can really prove much of anything ("these are all just 'theories'") is
comforting to some, but the more serious people get about Theories of
Everything and such, the more important it becomes that people hang on to
their sense of humor. So Jürgen did provide a service by writing his paper
that way, in some sense. But whether people anthropomorphize or not doesn't
necessarily affect the underlying ideas in their work, and I don't mind
either way.

Personally, I enjoyed Jürgen's paper immensely. Whether it has anything to
do with the world we actually live in, I cannot say, but to this casual
observer it vaguely looks like it (or something like it) might be another
elegant, simple, parsimonious piece of that big Puzzle we're all wondering
about. As to whether Ockham would approve, I have no idea, I suspect he
might be as confused as I am.

> The great program (Juergen, please correct me) looks something like LET
> A=A+1 GOTO START. Any ideas on how a program runs when you don't have a
> flow of time, but a static block universe?

If there is no flow of time, then there's no present tense, and phrases like
"how a program runs" have no meaning to me... ;->


> > -----Original Message-----
> > From: Doug []
> > Sent: 26 February 1999 14:32
> > To: Higgo James
> > Cc: Everything-List
> > Subject: RE: delayed reply
> >
> > While it's true that you don't NEED infinite chains of Great
> Programmers,
> > they happen anyway. Since all possible worlds exist, then all possible
> > programmers exist, and all possible (finite) programs will eventually be
> > written by them given sufficient time.
> >
> > And they don't necessarily have to be great programmers. Obviously, the
> > vast majority of the infinite collection of programs that are written
> > within
> > these infinite worlds will be buggy, ill-behaved, or even ill advised,
> > resulting in many worlds containing no self-aware-substructures
> at all, or
> > perhaps even lawyers and politicians. But an infinite number
> of them will
> > give rise to things like chocolate and love, and even more programmers
> > capable of great programs. (Actually, I just thought of a
> Great Program,
> > but alas the margins of this message are too small to contain it.)
> >
> > Of course, even the greatest of these great programs may not be fully
> > appreciated by their authors, who generally only have time to observe a
> > very
> > small portion of their output bitstrings. How many times throughout the
> > multiverse has a careless slip of the hand sent a blast of particularly
> > strong caffeinated beverage (or a particularly hot cup of tea) cascading
> > into the mechanism, prematurely terminating one of the greatest of all
> > Great
> > Programs?
> >
> > Fortunately for us, there are lots of worlds where the program
> doesn't get
> > aborted. For any given Great Program, there ought to be a very large
> > number
> > of worlds wherein that particular program is written, and in
> some of them
> > that program may have the opportunity to run long enough to give rise to
> > beautifully complex worlds, which give rise to even more programmers
> > writing
> > more programs that define even more worlds, and on and on, until someone
> > writes that original program again. And of course it doesn't stop there
> > (and it definitely doesn't start there either).
> >
> > So for any given world, there are a large number of programmers
> in a large
> > collection of worlds who can justifiably take credit for writing it, and
> > also no credit at all, since there is also a large collection of worlds
> > containing mindless automatons busily enumerating all possible programs.
> >
> > Seems to me there may be somewhere in all this a proof of the
> existence or
> > non-existence of God, depending on which God Model one subscribes to (if
> > any). Perhaps a proof of the existence of the immortal soul can be
> > glimpsed. Of course, all this is impossible. But then, I long ago
> > reconciled myself to the notion of living in a world of measure zero.
> >
> > Gotta go, the water is boiling and my teacup awaits.
> >
> >
> > Doug
> >
Received on Fri Feb 26 1999 - 10:34:45 PST

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