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Is Virtually Real synonymous with Really Real?

By Farq Q. Fenderson in Op-Ed
Wed May 16, 2001 at 03:38:37 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)
Technology

I think so. Steve Grand says, [...] life is more than just clockwork, even though it's nothing but clockwork.

I'm going to examine one of his points about virtual reality - probably his most important foundational point in the fight for the existence of life and intelligence within a machine.


In Steve Grand's book Creation, life and how to make it, he covers a lot of topics quite effectively (for example, it has the quickest, most effective and most relevant biology lesson I've ever encountered) even though he mostly touches on things in just enough detail to give the reader to understand what he's getting at: how life can exist inside a computer, and with that life, intelligence, setience, consciousness and all of that fun stuff.

He gives a roundabout introduction to things like nondeterminsim (via emergent systems) and reflectivity without even mentioning them by name (not entirely true, he does mention nondeterminism by name, but not 'til later in the book than I've read up to.)

But what I'm interested in is the topic of virtual reality... and how it can be made to qualify for "real" status just as much as the reality we exist in. He has some interesting things to say about simulation, which, addmittedly, seemed dubous to me at first, primarily that first order simulations are "just simulations" and not "real" while second and higher order simulations are (or at least can be) really "real".

His point is illustrated thus: a simulated neurone is just a simulated neurone (his spelling, being an aesthete, I'll keep it), but a mind made of simulated neurones is a real mind. After some explanation on his part, and some contemplation on mine, I agree fully. He justifies it by saying that simulating a neurone will fail to be 100% accurate but that the relevant behaviour of said neurone can be simulated to give rise to the exact same phenomenon (at the higher level - and this is important) - thus it is equally as real.

The fact that it's at a higher level is important because as we know it, it happens at a higher level as well. The chemicals in our brains are not sentient or intelligent, nor are the neurones or any of the constitiuent parts - it's an emergent phenomenon, which is a virtual reality in its own right - indeed, the reality we inhabit, even on a purely physical level is likely an emergent phenomenon itself. Grand suggests, lightly, that perhaps matter is emergent of spirit (or, process, less offensively, but I too prefer "spirit" for aesthetic reasons) like ripples in a pool.
<rant>
I've had many of these ideas presented to me before, but never as lucidly as put in Grand's book. In fact, I doubt that any of the propagators of these ideas that I've encountered before this have had any good reason to suggest them, other than trying to ascribe some process they don't understand the implications of to some function they don't understand the process behind.

That, by the way, is the same kind of nonsense that caused Penrose (who is one cool cat, despite this) to suggest that intelligence, sentience, etc are a result of quantum phenomena. The same kind of thinking that gives rise to the notion that breaking things apart reveals the process by which they were formed (y'know, atom smashers) - but I'll be damned if I can find the recipie for cheesecake by throwing it against a wall.

When I thought of the possibilty that by breaking things apart we're really just "building down" (like we build up, but in the opposite direction of scale) instead of breaking apart, I wrote a illustrative passage in my diary starring Mr. Science and Li'l Miss Nature. Here's a link if you're interested.

I was a little perturbed at the time, so I ended the story with this: Mr. Science doesn't seem to care, though. He's looking for the truth, by asking a little girl to tell him tall stories.
</rant>
Anyway, with that aside, my new bag is emergent phenomena that are just as real as the underlying reality, despite having "virtual" status. It's crazy, because the only actual virtual part is the abstraction between the two realities. Indeed, any reality could be built at any level relative to any other reality... so a picture of a picture still contains a real picture, 'cause it could have been the other picture of the other picture in the first place.

I do believe there is a "completeness" measure to realities, though. In the field of computation there is a trait known as "Turing Complete" - any system which is Turing Complete (or TC - a "Turing Machine" - TM) can implement (or emulate) any other Turing Machine - this is also the height of computation - any TM can compute anything that is computable. I would like to extend this metric to realities - to say that any sufficiently complete reality can provide the virtual foundation for any other possible reality.

Spooky, no?

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Is Virtually Real synonymous with Really Real? | 28 comments (21 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
it's all about patterns (5.00 / 2) (#1)
by DesiredUsername on Mon May 14, 2001 at 12:54:41 PM EST

Imagine two programs playing tic-tac-toe against each other. When program A wins, is it a "virtual win" or a REAL win? "Winning" is a patterned concept. Even though the players are virtual the win is "real".

Another example is music. Write a simple program that generates notes according to some rules designed to produce at least semi-pleasing sequences. Is what emerges "virtual music"? No, it really is music (bad music, probably). It starts out "trapped a level down" inside the computer, but ends up applicable a level up from that.

If life and or mind are pattern, then the same idea applies to them.

But what is this all about: "The same kind of thinking that gives rise to the notion that breaking things apart reveals the process by which they were formed (y'know, atom smashers) - but I'll be damned if I can find the recipie for cheesecake by throwing it against a wall."

I can. First, smash the cheesecake. Collect all the bits and figure out the identies and proportions of each. In order to find out cooking temperature, check the temperature (choose "earlier" and "earlier" cheesecakes until maximum temperature is reached). Now add those ingredients to a bowl and cook for "a while" at the appropriate temperature. Check to see if outcome is similar to original cheesecake. If not, vary a parameter and try again.

Play 囲碁
Contention (none / 0) (#4)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:24:13 PM EST

But what is this all about: "The same kind of thinking that gives rise to the notion that breaking things apart reveals the process by which they were formed (y'know, atom smashers) - but I'll be damned if I can find the recipie for cheesecake by throwing it against a wall."

I can. First, smash the cheesecake. Collect all the bits and figure out the identies and proportions of each. In order to find out cooking temperature, check the temperature (choose "earlier" and "earlier" cheesecakes until maximum temperature is reached). Now add those ingredients to a bowl and cook for "a while" at the appropriate temperature. Check to see if outcome is similar to original cheesecake. If not, vary a parameter and try again.
My contention is this: breaking the cheesecake up will not imply the oven it was cooked in, or how the parts arrived. It will give you a recipie for cheesecake, but that will involve having smaller chunks of cheesecake.

If by some magical process, one could convert lead to gold, that process is not the apparent cause of gold, as we know it.

But look! We do know how to convert lead to gold! It's not magical at all... but we only know of this lead-to-gold notion because we know of lead... gold isn't composed of lead, nor is it likely that lead goes into the process of creating gold.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
I still don't get it... (none / 0) (#5)
by DesiredUsername on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:55:01 PM EST

Is your point that "even if we find *a* way to do something we still don't know if it's *the" way to do it"? If so, duh. I mean, there's NO methodology (except time travel) that'll tell you that.

If that's not your point....try explaining it again because it went totally over my head.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Heh... (2.00 / 1) (#8)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon May 14, 2001 at 02:19:43 PM EST

Okay, you're right, I was a bit ambiguous.

What I'm concerned with is how it actually *was* made, not "the way" (a rather silly notion).

The problem I have is that I'm seeing self-delusion on the part of particle physicists, because they seem to think that they're explaining something, when they're really just creating something else.

Not that creating something in this way has no merit, on the contrary - it's just not getting where it's going, it's not explaining anything about how atoms, and their constituent parts, are assembled. It's also possible that those constituent parts never existed until the atoms were smashed to bits in the first place. "Building down."

I've already taken your point of view ad absurdum: I've got more faith in prediction of the future than I have in history.

Of course, all of this is tangential to the main point of the article.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
The Way (4.00 / 3) (#10)
by Kellnerin on Mon May 14, 2001 at 03:42:09 PM EST

They made up their minds, so they took the cheesecakes
I baked before the sun came up that day
And when the cakes were cooled they started smashing
But why were they throwing without ever knowing the way?

The pieces fell down, and they got to looking
"We'll find out how to make this thing," they said.
But when they got down to the actual cooking
It tasted just like they had sculpted a cake out of lead.

Anyone could see that some parts are made up
of cottage cheese,
or maybe ricotta, it couldn't be brie ...
And someone thought flour
could possibly be in there.
You can see them earnestly arguing over the crust
but when it was baked it turned out more like rust
The recipe mocked them,
they'll never find it today
Today

They tried adding milk, but it got too watery,
They couldn't get the cracker crumbs to stay
They saw the mess and said that they were sorry,
for why were they throwing without ever knowing the way?

[chorus, guitar solo, end]

--Stop it, evil hand, stop it!--
[ Parent ]
Cheesecakeology (5.00 / 2) (#16)
by brion on Mon May 14, 2001 at 10:40:17 PM EST

Well, supposing somebody gives me a tasty piece of cheesecake and a recipe, saying "this is the recipe for this cheesecake". Or, they give me no recipe and I determine a possible cheesecake recipe by trial and error based on my observation of cheesecake contents after smashing it against the wall and looking, or shoving it in my mouth and using my chemical sensors to determine the reactivity of its constituent molecules, or whatever.

And I try making some cheesecake from the recipe (theirs or mine), and it seems the same as the cheesecake I recieved in every way I can test. BUT, what I don't know is that the person who made the cheesecake actually didn't follow that exact recipe! They did several steps in a different order, or with different overall quantities, or with a different brand of sugar. Or perhaps they assembled it atom-by-atom and didn't do any cooking at all.

I can't determine this in any way from the data I have... (even if I ask, they could lie or not remember) but I can determine the most plausible known way that the cheesecake could have been made with the data I have. That's science! If anybody's saying "this is without doubt the exact way that the universe/cheesecake formed, I know for certain because I'm a goddam scientist with a particle accelerator", well they're an idiot and not a very good scientist.



Chu vi parolas Vikipedion?
[ Parent ]
Not quite (none / 0) (#13)
by DranoK on Mon May 14, 2001 at 05:45:20 PM EST

The problem you seem to be having is the notion of patterns. Nihilism seems very appropriate at the moment, so you may see a tinge of that school of thought in my comment... =)

According to your comment, a real event can occur based on interactions of non-real (ie., computer) components as long as the outcome fits the pre-ordained pattern sought out. The problem here exists within the notion that the pattern itself is real.

A very simple example: Suppose you write a simple program which generates notes according to some rules designed to produce at least semi-pleasing sequences. But instead of directing this at a sound device, instead pipe it to another program which judges the intent of the music. Ah, but now you're talking about two so-called non-real events; the act of playing music and the act of interpreting music. Thus the patterns which the interpreter must find are in themselves abstractions as to what the current idea of music is.

You cannot judge an event to determine if it is real or not based upon rules or patterns as there is no evidence which supports these very rules and patterns are themselves real. These patterns are based in a reality which has thousands of layers of abstract processes.

Let's take language for example. Language exists entirely in an abstracted sense; when we say a word, like rock, we are refering to a standard concept as to what a rock is. Plato be damned, there isn't One True Rock Form, but there is the abstract concept of what a rock is. Another example could be the word down. In most cases, this means below. It can be used symbolically to represent Hell. Simple point is, there does not exist an object 'down'. It is a concept. One which is based completely on gravity. Of course, gravity itself is a completely abstract concept...

Before I go on confusing myself and anyone else, let me try to sum up my point here. It is impossible to determine what is real and what is not real because our patterns and notions as to what is real and what is not real are abstract and based upon a multitude of layers of abstractness, therefore are themselves not real, and thus inadequate tools to determine what is real and what is not real.

Argh, blimey, well respond if you like and I'll try to be more coherent...

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
To put it concicely... (3.00 / 1) (#25)
by RadiantMatrix on Tue May 15, 2001 at 05:16:51 PM EST

What you seem to be hinting at, albiet on a more practical/applied level, is what Zen Bhuddists have claimed for ages:

everything is an illusion

--
never put off until tomorrow what can be done the day after.
Express Yourself

[ Parent ]

Why yes... (3.00 / 1) (#27)
by DranoK on Tue May 15, 2001 at 06:04:42 PM EST

yes I am =)

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
Turing, virtual reality and the universe (4.00 / 1) (#2)
by DesiredUsername on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:00:29 PM EST

Check out "The Fabric of Reality" by David Deutsch. He applies concepts of computability and virtual reality to formerly philosophical ideas like "possible universes" and so forth.

Play 囲碁
Other books (none / 0) (#24)
by greycat on Tue May 15, 2001 at 04:05:54 PM EST

Two other books spring to mind here:

  • Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, by Hofstadter. The book does not directly address the question of what constitutes reality, but I see some overlap of themes. In any event, this book deserves your attention.
  • Donnerjack, by Zelazny (posthumous; my apologies, but I can't remember the co-author's name). There are two realities in this story, parallel worlds -- but is one of them "more real" than the other? Or are they really the same world?


[ Parent ]
cheesecake on the wall (4.00 / 1) (#3)
by cory on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:17:41 PM EST

Of course you can find the recipe for cheesecake by throwing it against the wall. After you sort through the remains, you can determine the ingredients and how those ingredients were chemically altered (eg, at what tempature and how long in the oven). In the same way, by breaking down large, complex systems, into their smaller, "simpler" components, you can get a picture for how the whole thing works together.

Cory


Well, most of the article was pointless blather... (4.00 / 3) (#6)
by DranoK on Mon May 14, 2001 at 01:55:36 PM EST

but you caught me off-guard with the concept that any sufficiently complete reality can provide the virtual foundation for any other possible reality.

At first, the quasi-nihlist in me smiled and was about to flame. After all, can *any* full-fleged reality provide the virtual foundation for any other possible reality? No, of course not. However, any reality can give rise to an infinite number of virtual realities, and each of these realities can give rise to another multitude of infinite realities, and so on, until, even if the reality sought is five hops away from the initial point, the foundation was still placed there.

I would caution the author, however, for construing any book, concept, or idea as to what reality is to indicate the reality we live in currently is the archetypeal reality; that is, the 'actual reality'. I would argue quite the contrary, in fact; I would argue the reality we live in now is a virtual reality created over a few thousand years of culture, probably not the first virtual reality. God only knows the number of layered realities between the reality we currently exist in for the most part and the actual reality we inhabited at the time of evolution.

The author's view of reality is nothing new; the basic premise is that there is a base layer to reality, actual reality if you want to call it that (although we lack the words to accurately describe this concept), then any number of layers of abstraction. This is where morals come from, for instance. Our laws, etc are at an even higher layer.

What the author suggests, however, is that these abstraction layers themselves can become base line realities in which new realites are created from. Interesting notion.

Ironically, since it is impossible to look upon our current baseline reality without going through the layers of abstraction we have in place, I have long believed it impossible to accurately view the base reality. Interestingly, the suggestion (however small) is within the article which suggests that as any other reality can be created from a current reality, possibly even more abstraction on our current reality could yield, in time and chance, a reality identical to the baseline reality reguardless of abstraction layers intermitten. Interesting notion; especially considering there exists the power in a poet or other artist to create an outline of a new abstracted reality, possibly eventually finding baseline reality by mistake.

In any case, interesting to think about.

Peace

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



The Great Turing Machine in the Aether (none / 0) (#7)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon May 14, 2001 at 02:11:18 PM EST

I would caution the author, however, for construing any book, concept, or idea as to what reality is to indicate the reality we live in currently is the archetypeal reality; that is, the 'actual reality'. I would argue quite the contrary, in fact; I would argue the reality we live in now is a virtual reality created over a few thousand years of culture, probably not the first virtual reality. God only knows the number of layered realities between the reality we currently exist in for the most part and the actual reality we inhabited at the time of evolution.
I don't think the caution is necessary, since Steve Grand suggests that what we know as the physical could be merely emergent from some lower-order reality.

Indeed, I'll go a step farther. The nihilist in me would suggest that at the real baseline there is absolutely nothing, and somehow something emerges. It's the only thing that makes immediate sense to me. The other option is a circular realality, and that's just a headache to contemplate.

I do maintain, though, that any sufficiently complete reality can be host for any other sufficiently complete reality. I can reduce it to a tautology by suggesting that perhaps there is only one "sufficiently complete" (or even perhaps even none, but it doesn't invalidate the concept) reality. The burden is to then discover a reality, or set of realities with this trait. I believe ours has it... mostly because the concept occurred in ours, so completeness is easily limited to what ours can realistically do.

In view of this, my new name for the universe is The Great Turing Machine in memory of the sod (literally) by the same name.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
I'm unfamiliar with the work, but... (none / 0) (#9)
by DranoK on Mon May 14, 2001 at 02:58:05 PM EST

I'll refrain from sticking my nose into meddlings of reality. What I will dive into, however, is my own point of view (however redundant it may be, I don't know, I don't read much) as to the nihilist in you.

I would never go so far as to say at the baseline nothing exists. Indeed, the whole notion of reality is something which only an inteligent self-aware creature can maintain; after all, a rock has no thoughts one way or another about what is real or not, and a dog exists in whatever setting he is placed in. I would question how a dog feels about his own dreams, in which it might be possible for animals to be aware enough to have abstracted reality interfering between dream-world wake-world realities, but that's kinda going off subject...

My point is, at baseline, no meanings exist. I would argue, however, that physical acts still exist.

For example, at baseline, when a rock rolls down a hill, there would be no meaning to it. As the concept of rock could not exist (thus hopefully removing in platoism from the abstract layer), nor could the concept of rolls or hill or even down, which could be taken symbolically for Hell. Point is, at baseline, simple description would be impossible as description denotes common reference and common reference denotes allusions to prior concepts, which would give the rock far more meaning than it should have at baseline. Thus my belief that even though description of baseline is impossible, events still take place, and actions still occur.

I love getting into thought like this, so much better than being a drone at a keyboard fixing UNIX user's mistakes ;) Thanks for the wonderful escape from my own 9-5 reality *grin*

Peace man,

DranoK


Poetry is simply a convenient excuse for incoherence
--DranoK



[ Parent ]
Newtonian Minds and nonVirtual Reality (none / 0) (#14)
by Woundweavr on Mon May 14, 2001 at 08:02:17 PM EST

Reality is filtered through flawed language, skewed perception, and frail senses. There is no "real" reality. You could create a reality, or actually any system since they are all abstract by definition and thus equally unreal, based on less real conceptions and or devices that is equally real. However, you could say that elephants fly and due to the weakness of language and abstract concepts, it could also be true.

Also, you seems to support a theory of a purely physical mind and nondeterminism. I don't think you provide sufficent (or truly any) evidence to support that. You seem to assume that the human mind is merely a reaction to stimuli, and indeed an automatic result of actions reaching back to the Big Bang, or your universe creation theory of choice. Penrose's theory is not unbacked by evidence, and would explain sentience (which merely adding chemicals does not). For instance, 'Quiet zones' within microtubules have shown quantum activity during cognative abilities. Do not be so quick to dismiss this theory.



Concessions, contentions, hydras - oh my! (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Tue May 15, 2001 at 08:36:12 AM EST

I assure you, I'm not trying to prove points via jumping throug linguistic hoops... if I were doing that, you'd have read a much more entertaining writeup, submitted to the humour section.

I don't support a theory of a "purely physical" mind at all, I propose that the mind is emergent of a process and while it can exist as we know it physically, it can also exist in nonphysical space.

I will admit, though, that I do support the nondeterministic notion (which should be obvious through my use of the word "emergent") and that I haven't fully supported that, but I have touched the phallus (even though Steve Grand hasn't died yet) by referring to Steve's book.

If you're going to cut me down in the academic style, I guess I'll just defend myself in the academic style. I've provided sufficeint reference.

Penrose's theory isn't necessarily untrue, no, but his claim is full of holes. He states that there's no other way - without actually proving it. That's my case for dismissal.

When there's evidence that quantum phenomena are required - not just convienient for the application - then I'll give Penrose's argument some merit. You see, my issue is not with the theory that quantum phenomena *can* play a vital role in consciousness, but with the claim that it *must* - a yet unqualified claim. The reason why this claim is so fishy is that it seems like a cheat by saying "there's a *magical* substance that imbues life, consciousness, intelligence, etc" which I find to be a rather cowardly thing to stick to without proof.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Realities (none / 0) (#26)
by Woundweavr on Tue May 15, 2001 at 05:37:55 PM EST

I wasn't trying to say you were jumping through linguistic hoops. Rather, I meant that reality is only known through our own limited facilties[sic?]. I just meant to point out that reality isn't clean cut. There could be a completely seperate aspect of reality, or any section of reality, that is unsimulatable and/or undetectable. In the mind, it could be a non-physical mind, or soul. It could be irrelevant to function, a metaphysical checksum.

Also, one thing that is hanging me up is "reality" and what you mean by it. Is it merely any system? Surely a system could simply have an inherant rule that it cannot be simulated by, or even easier it cannot simulate, another reality. "Sufficently complete" is also vague. Physical reality could not create a reality with no inertia for instance. At least not one of equal or larger size and based on physical phenomena.

But then perhaps reality means something else entirely?

[ Parent ]

bla bla bla (3.66 / 3) (#17)
by delmoi on Tue May 15, 2001 at 04:16:14 AM EST

It's all just a bunch of meaningless abstractions. a "Win" is just an arbitrary concept, something interpreted by the mind. It has no physical reality

Your fallacy is in thinking that any more then 1% of the stuff we think about has anything to do with 'reality'

Not that your story wasn't interesting
--
"'argumentation' is not a word, idiot." -- thelizman
My fallacy... (none / 0) (#18)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Tue May 15, 2001 at 08:08:05 AM EST

I don't think I have committed any fallacy, because I'd just as soon shed the notion of "physical reality" altogether, save for reference to the stuff around us.

I suspect that what we know as the physical has emerged from something else... and isn't just a bunch of something superimposed on a bunch of nothing.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]
Here's whats spooky: (none / 0) (#28)
by Skeevy on Thu May 17, 2001 at 11:11:28 AM EST

When I play Virtual Virtual Skeeball, it's just like playing Virtual Skeeball.

Now that's spooky.



Is Virtually Real synonymous with Really Real? | 28 comments (21 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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