Sunday, 15 July 2007

Inspiring... but up its own arse?

I enjoy Edge. More than that I think it is the online equivalent of an ancient learned academic institution, a font of ideas and a hub for intellectual cross pollination. But it does do a lot of 'Wanking' as well.

For example:

"There's no need to use scientific jargon when it doesn't pertain. Nor is there cause to fall into radical epistemological relativism..." from the essay REGARDING A NEW HUMANISM.

If this is deliberate it is supremely dry humour, otherwise it is a contradiction embedded within the proof.


Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Dualist or Reductionist?

An Experiment to Establish the Dualist or Reductionist nature of the Mind.

Philosophers must ultimately reach an impasse at the Hard Problem. Today, as in the time of Des Carte, the ultimate nature mind and self, whether monist or dualist, remains opaque to the tools of abstract logic or subjective introspection.
A new third way, Dennet's way: denying that the thing exists at all, is a rather unsatisfactory clarification, especially to someone who strongly believes that he exists...
(full post after the jump)

Science has also failed to peer any deeper into the matter. Scientific reductionism has begun to produce good theories of behaviour based upon the structure of the brain, but does not seem to have the tools to address subjectivity and the Hard Problem itself.

This is a thought experiment I concieved of while reading
a paper by Don N. Page. (for references see my essay Lost In The Mind Maze.)

The experiment outlines a test could concievably be carried out to ascertain whether consciousness is reducible to physical reality, or whether it comes from the soul, some remote brain stuff.

1. Entropy = Information
At a fundamental level entropy and information are the same things. An ice cube with all molecules aligned in an ordered crystal lattice is far easier to describe than a cloud of steam. Thus the ice cube has less information than
the steam, even though both may have the identical number of atoms. This is because to describe the cloud of steam the position, and velocity, of each the atom must be specified. But the ice cube’s crystal lattice puts bounds on where the atoms may be, allowing only the departure of the atoms from their ideal position to be noted. The gas with more entropy requires more information to
describe it.

2. Entropy = Energy
Much more apparent is the direct relationship between energy and entropy. This is formulated by the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics:

The total entropy of any thermodynamically isolated system tends to increase over time, approaching a maximum value.
The Wiki-Pedia unpacking of this:
When one part of a closed system interacts with another part, energy tends to split equally between all energy states, and the system approaches thermal equilibrium.
Using the example of the ice cube and the steam - a box full of steam, with a block of ice in one corner will eventually settle down to give a box with a pool of uniformly warm water (assuming the steam had enough energy to completely melt the ice to begin with). The entropy of the ice plus the steam will equal the entropy of the warm water. Just as the total energy of the ice plus the steam will equal the energy of the water.

Further the first law of thermodynamics states:
The increase in the internal energy of a system is equal to the amount of energy added to the system by heating, plus the amount added in the form of work done on the system.
This is the familiar “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another.”

3. Information Loss = Energy Loss
Taken very seriously by physicists the correlation above implies that if information is lost from a closed system, e.g. from the universe, it would be in direct contradiction to the laws of thermodynamics. To illustrate that this is
not a purely hypothetical problem, take the paradox of Information loss due to evaporating black holes(7):

- The universe is a closed system; therefore information should not enter or leave it.
- Physicists used to think that dropping an encyclopaedia into a black hole would hide the information inside the event horizon, effectively partitioned of, but preserved.
- Hawking Radiation shows that black holes evaporate, eventually disappearing completely.
- This radiation has a perfect black body spectrum and cannot transmit any information.

Therefore black holes will eventually delete the information that they consume,violating the laws of thermodynamics.

This is still a real problem for current cosmology and scientists are working hard to find mechanisms that may save the information, thus removing the paradox.
(Note: I realise that recent theoretical theories may now have explained the paradox above. This example was used only to show that physics takes the idea of conservation of information seriously.)

The experiment:
Place a subject in a closed system, where all energy flows in and out are prevented or at least measured minutely. Measure the total energy, and therefore the entropy, of the room at all times. Place in the room a human subject. Allow
the subject to make decisions, perceive, enjoy, and otherwise interact with the contents of the room.

In a monist universe all decisions/experiences will be the result of physical processes within the room, and no information will arrive or leave.

In a dualist universe experiences will pass information into the realm of res-cogitans and information from decisions made or influenced by the soul will flow from there to the physical world.

If no energy fluctuations are measured in the room the subjects mind is reducible to a collection of atoms and fields. (The soul could still conceivably be purely epiphenomenal without any chance at free will.)

If the energy mysteriously appears and disappears we can conclude that information is passing to and from a soul.

Any mysterious results can be confirmed by having an identical room, but without a living human subject.

If only consciousness produces the anomalous behaviours, the room will be a Zombie Test.


Got a Roomba.

It was bound to be a disappointment - It would get stuck, the battery would be insufficient and it would do a crummy job - but I bought one anyway... and it is incredible.
We have had it for 2 months now and it does just exactly what it says on the tin. To be fair we do have a flat that is basically designed with the robot in mind. Open plan, wood floors, a small amount of furniture with decent floor clearance - it can even get under the sofa.

(more after the jump...)

It is like a dishwasher: not really a necessity but it would be a huge pain to give up on now we are used to it. Imagine shutting the door on a grubby flat and coming back to find the robot charging in its hutch, a spotless floor testament to the hard work it just put in. Dust motes, re-dried corn-flakes from the kids breakfasts (and Lego) are no problem (remember to fish the Lego out when emptying the hopper).
It seems to mostly sweep up the dirt, the sucking is pretty week, but it maximises its vacuum power by sucking through a thin slit. This works fine on our wood floor, but I can't imagine it sucking dust-mites out of a deep shag carpet.

It has a low IQ, it ricochets off the furniture to get the job done. This is the equivalent of my generation's grandparents' first TV. It is a milestone, but will look pretty dim-witted pretty quickly.