RE: Back to Existence: Physically Real vs. Platonic

From: Stathis Papaioannou <>
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2006 15:05:22 +1000

Lee Corbin writes:
> > A book is the analogy that came to mind, but there is an> > important difference between this and conscious experience.> > Books, sentences, words may not need to be physically> > collected together to make a coherent larger structure,> > but they do need to be somehow sorted in the mind of an> > observer; otherwise, we could say that a dictionary> > contains every book ever written or yet to be written.> > Okay, suppose that there are no observers, and the Earth> has been burnt to a cinder except for one copy of Milton's> "Paradise Lost", and one copy of the Oxford English dictionary.> It seems to me that we should say that just two books still> exist. Do you agree?
> Supposing that you do agree that these two book in our> spacetime still exist, then as you have said, all the> words in "Paradise Lost" can be found in the Oxford> dictionary.> > Next we begin the slippery slope argument where Paradise Lost> is broken apart into its separate pages and scattered> throughout the cosmos. I agree with you that in one sense> Milton's book no longer exists, but it still does exist in> the sense that there is enough redundancy to piece it back> together again were a new sentient life form to come into> being, and to find those pages, and to bind them.
It depends on how much it's chopped up. If there are chapters, pages and sentences then it is a gain on the dictionary, in that there is still some structure preserved. If you got it down to individual letters you would have the situation of the proverbial chimpanzee at the typewriter, and if you broke down the letters into ink or into the constituent subatomic particles... well, maybe the book is in some sense still there, but the information has been completely randomised and is of no use to anyone, even if the human race somehow started up again.
> What I disagree with is your statement that the mind of the> observer really played any key role. True, in most realistic> situations it helped for the new sentient race to have minds> and to exercise them in the conscious collection of these> far flung pages; but accidental solar winds from millions> of stars per chance could have done exactly the same thing.> So the book would come back into existence again, totally> without observers being present anywhere in the universe.
OK, but first you would have to wait for chance or or whatever to put the book back together again, and then you would have to wait for someone to read it if it's going to be of any use, right? It's not performing its bookish function at any given time unless it is being read, and it's not going to be readable until it's assembled in the appropriate way. Chopped up moments of conscious experience, on the other hand, do *not* need to be specially ordered nor do they need to have an external observer to appreciate them (although they would be less lonely if they did), because (a) they have their own observer built in, by definition, and (b) their ordering is a function of their information content, not a function of specially being linked up by someone. This is expressed well in Greg Egan's "Permutation City", in which the upload's moments of conscious experience are implemented here, there, backwards, forwards, etc. on a distributed computer network, but the result from the inside (as it were) is of a single continuous conscious stream. This is not the case for an external observer: the widely distributed computations have to be specially ordered and interpreted to make any sense, just as the words in a book have to be specially ordered, and without this ordering they are so much noise. But for the observer implemented by the computations himself, the ordering follows implicitly from the nature of the information being encoded, as surely as 3 follows 2 and precedes 4 .
  Stathis Papaioannou
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Received on Tue Jul 04 2006 - 01:06:23 PDT

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