An Epistolary Dialogue

The Nature of Reality
(About Reality, Virtual Reality and In-Between)

Between Roberto Calvo Macias and Dr. Sam Vaknin
 

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My dear Roberto,

I suggest the following map of the terrain we are going to explore together. It is by no means terra incognita. It has been visited before. But a long time has passed and new features have emerged. In short: it should, definitely, be revisited. As for myself, I prefer to be a cartographer and a taxonomist rather than a philosopher. I feel awed and midgeted by the giants in this territory, chilled to the bones by Kant's shadow and by strangled by Descartes' inescapable logic. No, I prefer to be the casual tourist.

Humans get a handle on their world through words. It is therefore wondrous and wonderful that words like "real", "natural", "artificial", "reality", "nature" and "virtual" are so ill defined. To me this dialogue ought to be mainly lexical. The various philosophical possibilities (for instance, idealism versus realism) have been mapped long ago. Intellectual giants have fervently debated question like "is it all in our mind or is it really out there" without first bothering to define "mind", "really" and "there". The result is by far the biggest philosophical muddle.

The whole thing got more urgent with the digital revolution. The ability to convert one type of reality (say, music produced by real instruments and real players) to another (bits) strained the distinction between symbol and reality to its breaking point. Bits do have a "real" (read: physical) dimension - but this is not their "essence". In other words: bits without interpreting minds are meaningless and bits without meaning are not what we mean by saying "bits". Moreover, more and more physical phenomena are in the process of being converted to bits and bytes. Virtual reality - now only in games or clever simulations - will shortly encompass all known reality. Everything - including physical objects, including humans - will be translated and transmitted as bits. The first successful experiment in teleportation (albeit of a particle) has been carried out a few months ago. Quantum mechanics being what it is - particles are the physical representation of (probability) functions or (as the many worlds interpretation has it) the intersection between an infinite number of universes. But shortly, information will be carried through by particles (read: by mathematical ideas, functions). Moreover, the computers that will process this information will be the "artificial" equivalents of strands of DNA. Organic (carbon based) computers pose a big problem: are they life forms - or are they "machines"? This is another distinction which is blurring fast together with the dissolution of the oxymoron "artificial intelligence". Only the other day I read that computers beat most humans in generating creative advertising using a three step algorithm.

David Deutsch in his book "The Fabric of Reality" (Allen Lane - Penguin Press, 1997) makes a distinction between "solipsist" theories and "realist" theories concerning our world (that is, concerning reality). The former place a boundary beyond which no knowledge is possible. The latter keep trying. He gives positivism (among others) as an example of a solipsist theory. He defines positivism thus (p. 29-30): "An extreme form of instrumentalism which holds that all statements other than those describing or predicting observations are meaningless (this view is itself meaningless according to its own criterion)".

But then one can say that positivism is a statement describing and predicting an observation. The observation is that all statements other than those describing or predicting observations are meaningless. And the prediction is that statements which do describe or predict observations will be meaningful (or that statements not describing or predicting observations will be meaningless).

So, you see, cher Roberto, we may have grasped more than we chew but, by Jove, it is a meal as delicious as any we have had together. Get out that red wine you are keeping for such occasions, let fill our glasses and let us commence the dialogue.

Inebriated Sam
 

Dear Sam

I have read your letter with much attention. With some things I agree, with others not.

Your first comments  - about your point of view - are especially interesting, because it is precisely cartography that new theories and maths are about. Fractals are, in some way, a branch of cartography - it might be good to explain to our readers what fractals are, but my English is really bad, and in trying to explain fractals to someone I feel like Saint Augustin when he wrote about time: " Si nemo ex me quaerat, scio; si quaerenti explicare velim, nescio".

On the other hand, you say this dialogue ought to be lexical.

That is a good idea but we may not get very far, because only language can define language (this very thought indeed preoccupied Nietzsche - the thinker who has gone far in self-analysis: "Could an instrument criticize itself?".

So, remaining purely lexical we would be in quicksands. Language is like quicksilver, so mobile! Instead, I always regarded reality as a diamond, with multiple facets. The more facets I observe, the clearer does the complete form appear. Obviously, there always remain many hidden facets, this is to say: mystery.

The analogue/digital matter is, as you have said well, a r-evolutionary step (compared to it, the french revolution is less than a simple revolt). I studied it deeply (as you know well) within my studies about tech(nology). The "idea" its not new. Leibniz´s "monads" are of a kind and some pre-Socratic philosophers were grasping at the same. What is new is that today such ideas are "in re".

You are right about its effects: the changing and blurring of the old lines between reality and the symbolic realms. Specially in the visual framework (TV, Video, etc.), human visual limits are transcended by digital manipulations (as we can see in recent films). Obviously this special con-fusion creates new challenges to philosophers (Mcluhan made some good assertions on this matter) that we can explore in our next letters.

But I think that you go too far  with the "realm of (total) reality". The quantum experiment is not very "scientific" (how did they label the particle, with a "marchamo"?:-).

We don´t know - and we´ll never know - what ideas are, so, how could we send them with our "trekkie machine"?:-).

Furthermore, let us not forget that an object - especially a living one - is more than the sum of its particles. Let us remember, all the way, that this "clever simulation" is only "visual". Sometimes, the "clone" simulates the function, sometimes the form but never the two simultaneously (I use function and form as extremes of a whole).

The artificial and genetic replicants are much too complex to analyze. They take us to a new world, wherein classic, historical, human points of view don´t work. They take us too far. They can be seen only through theological concepts (as anybody can attest reading the latest "physical" theories - which are really metaphysical assertions). But, what kind of theology can we have without gods?:-). It seems that we are attending to a evolutionary step that goes far beyond our comprehension. But, even in that case, we shall not forget that "man is yet a choice".

In a more down to earth vein, I have some questions for your next letters.

Don´t you think that DNA is "nothing" without its environment?

Do geneticists know the "modus operandi" of its interaction?

Though these questions seem to exceed our theme, they do not.

Precisely through this half-baked perception (the belief that genes are the one-and-only basis) do techno-geneticists cannot grasp "reality".

Regarding carbon computers, just some  "Turing" questions:

Do you know a computer capable of creating another computer - that would be the perpetuum mobile, the philosopher´s stone?

And why not go far beyond and ask:

Can you imagine a computer capable of creating a human?

In Newton's times we humans used to think of the universe as a clock, today we see it as a computer. We were wrong, we are wrong.

Wishing you the best and looking for your answer

roberto
 

Dear RCM,

As usual, your letter is a feast of erudition disguised as ignorance dipped in provocation.

I ask you to trust me. That is, to close your eyes and to follow me, holding my virtual hand. In this letter, I will pose two questions. On first blush, they may seem all but irrelevant. They may provoke your ire. You may be tempted to end our epistolary (ad)venture here and now. But, please don't. A clear answer to either of them - or even the attempt to obtain such an answer- will carry us a long way into the territory we are both trying to explore. Meaning, choice, natural and artificial - will all follow from this digression. Forgive the enigmatic tone. It is not meant to put you to the test - rather to stimulate you into one of your prodigious rebuttals...:o))

The first question, therefore:

Why is meritocracy considered more equitable and just than an aristocracy?

Why does the possession of a superior brain (the fundament of meritocracy) entitle one to superior benefits and perks, status and position, assets and reputation, career and future? Why this linkage between the quality of a specific tissue of the body and the life of its lucky possessor? And why prefer one tissue (the brain) to another (the blood, the genes)? Aristocracy is based on the ownership of certain genes inherited in societal-organizational units known as "families". Why is this to be neglected in favour of meritocracy - the ownership of a brain and the use it is put to?

One possible answer is that the inheritance of the "right", "aristocratic" genes is not dependent on the individual so endowed. He contributes nothing to it through his labours (as opposed to the meritocrat whose whole life is dependent on the effort he puts into it). But then the inheritance of a brain is equally the outcome of an arbitrary genetic lottery. The inheritance of genes or of a brain (= a specific protein translation of specific genes) both are equally random events, entirely outside the control of the lucky beneficiaries.

Another part of the above answer is that it is not sufficient to possess a brain. One has to put one's intellectual faculties to use to qualify as member of the meritocracy. One is born an aristocrat - but becomes a meritocrat through work and the investment of resources. This process of becoming is what sets the two elites apart.

This is a poor answer for two reasons. The first is that the preference of becoming over being is rather arbitrary. One can just as easily (and arbitrarily) prefer being to becoming (as, indeed, humanity has done for thousands of years). The second is that one used to work hard to earn one's title as an aristocrat. Noblesse definitely obliged. The life story of the Marquis de Sade demonstrates how easily one could lose his de facto membership - if never his de jure affiliation. Thus, both elites demand that their members go through rites of passage, learn the catechism and practise the faith. To be a meritocrat or to be an aristocrat - is a full time job.

Another argument is that meritocracy is self-evident. It is "scientific" and falsifiable in the Popperian sense (through unambiguous achievements, objectively testable) and that it contributes to the survival of the species (for instance, through scientific achievement) - presumably, as opposed to aristocracy which lacks these commendable qualities. And yet, that aristocracy was self-evident is ... well, self evident. That it was objectively determinable - that is: rigorously and falsifiably so - is also clear. Records of birth and of upbringing used to determine its membership were more reliable and consistent criteria than the SAT or GMAT scores employed by meritocracy (as the sorry state of American "education" can demonstrate). And aristocracy contributed to the well being and development of humanity no less than meritocracy. The latter has been with us for less than half a century. All that preceded it was achieved by humans who lived within aristocratic, stratified, class societies.

My second question has to do with whores and with consultants.

Whores (and gigolos) rent out their genitalia to customers. Consultants rent out their brains to customers. Both collect fees for allowing perfect strangers to make use of their respective organs for a limited period of time.

Why is it, then, that whores are abhorred and degraded while consultants are praised and elevated? Why is a brain different to a vagina? Doesn't the use made of a brain have more indelible and irreversible consequences than almost any use of a vagina? Shouldn't the mundane use of a magnificent and breathtakingly exotic machine (such as the brain) be considered more degrading than the use - however mindless - of a more basic organ such as the vagina? After all, in whoring, the whore's vagina is put to the full use it was designed for to start with. But a consultant (or a lawyer, or an accountant, or a college teacher) often under-utilizes his brain to an offending extent.

True, the whore provides us with an emotion-less imitation of an act which is often emotion laden. Often - but not always. And this is the redeeming feature - that sex is a mode of communication capable of expressing a wide range of emotions and of conveying a wide variety of messages, many of them devoid of all emotion. Thus, prostitution sits well and comfortably within this spectrum. But not so mental prostitution. We hold in disdain and contempt he who disavows his own beliefs, or disowns the things and people dearest to him - and all this for material gain. Shouldn't we be doubly repelled by he who disowns his own intellectual potential, his own capabilities and capacities and compromises by prostituting his brain? If a person is capable of writing a great novel but instead writes dispatches for a daily paper - shouldn't we be taken aback by him? If another has been a brilliant physicist in his youth only to become a mediocre financial consultant due to his own laziness and lack of perseverance - shouldn't we be appalled by him more than we are by a prostitute? Verily, isn't he himself a prostitute albeit of a different kind, prostituting a different organ?

What is it that makes our judgement of the vagina materially different in this critical and analytic age in which all prejudices were proclaimed dead (even the biggest one of all, God)?

I think in both cases (meritocracy versus aristocracy and consultant versus whore) - we react to the real as opposed to the imitated, the genuine or authentic as opposed to the fake, the natural as opposed to the artificial, the full path as opposed to the shortcut.

But enough said. Your turn now.

Sam

Dear Sam

I have read with due attention your two questions and the final knot - I must confess I didn´t catch your final argument; what do you mean exactly? That we are irredentist dualists, or that we are replete with "mental sins", or that we, in the wide range of reality, always prefer the "idea" to "the shocking truth"?

Especially enigmatic remains to me your last phrase: "The full path as opposed to the shortcut" (it links with "my problem" and I have been meditating on it very deeply). Or, perhaps you may choose to leave them to the end - in which case I shall continue my letter.

Meritocrazy or aristocrazy?

Sincerely, I don´t care about these questions - I am out of those childish games. They are for those intelligent people that write and talk in the media. It is the same stupid circle of progressives versus conservatives. Those are matters of age, of dynamism, of money and fear, etc. You have nothing, you are a socialist, a revolutionary. You have something to lose, you are a conservative, a tyrant. There have always been aristocrats (in that sense that you propose), the only democratic people till this day were in fact aristocrats! (Athens). Meritocracy is only the dynamic phase of aristocracy.

More interesting is to see what kind of new aspirants to aristocracy are coming to dominate the earth. As you have well described, they are no longer the beautiful, or the valiant, or the well-born. No! In the world of reason, they belong  to "the braingifted", and of those to a very special species: THOSE WHO ARE CAPABLE OF SURPASSING THE TEST. This linking with "the test" is so marvellous, so symbolic, so traitorous! The men of "the test"! The elite of "the test"! As far as I know this very process (including the erasing of the remnants of the old elite) was public knowledge as early as 1931 (Der Arbeiter; Ernst Jünger) and completed its dark side in 1938 (Der Perfektion of Technik; Fiedrich George Jünger).

And more interesting indeed, about meritocracy, is this question:

Why people such as socialist demagogues and other actors are not satisfied with all the glory and the power, why the hell did they also want to appear as saints "at tout prix"?.

About meritocracy and regarding all those questions of tests, statistics and so on, the Romans (who thought about questions of power better and with more seriousness than us) had a marvellous inquiry: cui bono?...And also another pretty one of Pilato's: where is "the merit"? (freely translated):-)

Vaginas or brains?

This question has been debated for centuries in the clubs of that punctilious people: the scholastics.

Nothing more far of my intention  to contribute to that joke with another turn of the crank.

Those questions of prostitution, hypocrisy, double moral were resolved a century ago (Aurora; "Old PowderHead") - and also all the contradictions between matter/idea. Please, nothing of morality in this epistolary " joint venture"!:-).

The brain´s prostitution is a fascinating problem. It was comprehensively explored as early as the XVIII century, in that masterly way characteristic of the genius, in Fausto (Goethe). And this links again to "my problem": what is the merit of brain? How can we value that which measures itself? Of what use is the brain? What should we do with this gift? To summarize: what is the meaning of life?

Positioned at this point, inhaling the fresh air of mountains, we observe questions fall down from the sky, as thundering rays of a choleric Zeus:

What kind of "new men" are going to be our next aristocracy?
Are they, perhaps, the techno-men?
If so, what are the consequences?
What is modern technology?
Why Hephaistos is always represented as lame, and surrounded by little creatures, small demons?
Admittedly, they know how to make and use machines, but do they know how to rule people?
If so, which kind of cybercontrol are they going to use?
What are the consequences of that control?
Is this purely a human change, or is it  tellurian, or cosmic?

Finally, I would like to make a distinction that has to do with the extension of the fire, the profundity of the change. What is happening is not, as many people think, a "typification" (a realization, an emergence in reality) of the technician. On the contrary, what is actually happening is the "technification" of the human species.

wishing you the best
roberto

PD: Another question that remains open is what do I means when I use this controversial word: aristocracy, which, obviously, has nothing to do with gene-transmission and all those fantasies.
If you want to discuss that, we must reach an agreement on the meaning of prophets, visionaries, poets, artists and philosophers before I can expose what I understand by "aristocracy". This can be of help to our original propose, for the prediction of the future is really science´s one-and-only "motto".
 

Dear Roberto,

I learned to like your vehement and passionate responses. To my mind, they are the hallmarks of a true intellectual. To me, the impassioned intellectual is an oxymoron. Curiosity is such an urgent drive, truth such a pressing need that the true intellectual is impatient which what is manifestly false and threatens to drive him off course.

The first four letters - my two and your two - have become a discourse of language and representation. This is a vast and deep ocean. Even dipping a toe in it should be done with trepidation. So, you did wisely to suggest to concentrate on some elements rather than on the whole. These are: context and meaning, idea and matter, reality and simulation (or natural versus artificial), part and whole. I accepted your agenda.

I started by studying two seemingly unconnected issues. I presented two cases where almost identical activities, involving identical entities (human organs) - give rise to totally different theories (for instance, moral theories) and resulting behaviours. A person who inherits genes is judged differently to a person who inherits a brain. A person who rents out his brain is judged differently to a person who rents out his (or, more often, her) genitalia. By studying these (worn out) apparent contradictions, I was actually demonstrating the over-riding importance of context, in this case, social context.

It was a direct response to your question about DNA. A strand of DNA is of course meaningless in the absence of amino acids which it can combine into proteins. We say that the DNA is "useless", "dysfunctional" or "non functioning". Thus, FUNCTION and MEANING are intimately linked and are emergent phenomena, dependent on the existence of the RIGHT context. It is the MATCH between context, operators and operands that matters. Whether there is a match or mismatch can be ascertained only by TRYING - in other words, through INTERACTION.

We, therefore, see a chain of being of sorts: interaction leads to the right match between context, operators and operands which leads to higher level (more complex, secondary, or derivative) interactions which reveal the function and generate outcomes. These outcomes, in a feedback loop, serve to confirm the right nature of the whole process and its components.

The set of all these contexts we call "reality". Every interaction and its outcomes serves as the context of yet another interaction. Philosophically, it is impossible to separate context from interaction, they are two facets of one and the same dual concept (like wave and particle). Take DNA and its context (amino acids). In the absence of interaction between them - they are both meaningless. It is through the interaction and its results that we learn anything about the DNA, that its essence is revealed. Moreover, the capacity to interact is an integral part of being a DNA molecule. A DNA cannot be defined or referred to without its interactive properties.

But if reality is the set of all possible contexts (read: interactions) - what is simulation? Isn't it part of reality? Isn't it a kind of interaction? It is, but it is unique in that it can serve as context only to another simulation. It is a closed-world or closed-circuit interaction. If we simulate the sun, for instance, this simulation will not participate in photosynthesis in a single leaf. But it can and will influence other simulations. It is a class of finite contexts / interactions. This rule is applicable to artificial intelligence (bad choice of words, should be: simulated intelligence). This is the very essence of the Turing test: that a simulation of intelligence can never convincingly interact with non-simulation ("real") intelligence.

Douglas Hofstadter Jr. in his brilliant book "Godel, Escher, Bach - An Eternal Golden Braid" describes a vynil record carried on a spacecraft. The latter explodes and the record lands on the surface of an inhabited planet. How will the inhabitants know if the record is an artificial (read: man-made) or "natural" thing?

The very distinction is, naturally, false. Man is part of nature and everything that Man does is part of nature. But even if it were valid, the dividing line would have still proven illusive. Assume for instance that the planet was made of polymers (=plastic) and contained numerous spheres and circles and balls (naturally recurring shapes). The record would have been regarded by the inhabitants as entirely "natural".

Hofstadter goes on to present a series of ever more intractable problems. Even if the inhabitants were to realize that the object was made by an intelligence, that it contains information, where this information is contained - how could they extract the information? And what if the record is John Cage's silence (4.5 minutes of it)?

To summarize this letter, we must distinguish between interactions (=contexts) which are universal (rather, omnipresent), spontaneous, immanent, inevitable, predictable and logical (=subject to the laws of physics) - first order interactions - and interactions which are the outcomes of the application of intelligence (itself a first order interaction) to first order interactions.

The second order interactions ("intelligence-induced") are either simulations (which can never interact with first order interactions) - or artifices (=artificial). The latter are derivative first order interactions. They should not be confused with simulations which are the only true type of second order interactions.

My contention is that second order interactions can never interact with - let alone give birth to - first order interactions. This is because a partial set can never be identical to the complete set from which it is derived (even if both are infinite). A human who builds a computer can never build a computer equal to himself and the latter can never construct a human equal to itself. But this is the subject of a whole new discussion of set theory.

I hope you enjoy this letter more than you did my previous one.

Sam
 

Dear Sam

I am worried indeed: I am losing control of my actions. For in my last letter was written (that's what I believed) under the influence of the most serene and relaxed night. I was listening to the Blues and smoking good Caribbean tobacco. Moreover, I assumed that I was being humoristic with a little grain of cynicism. To my surprise, it seems that I was wrong (probably, I must improve my English).

Also I must confess that I have not understand your arguments very well, so, along with my letter, I ask you to present them from different angles - in order to get a clearer knowledge of your "vision". I am especially interested in your distinction between simulations and artifices ( derivative first order interactions: you leave them in a no-man´s land. Are they of the first or second type? Could they interact with first order interactions?)

 In fact, it seems to me that we can reduce our discussion to three areas. We can invest our next efforts (letters) in clarifying them:

1. Is there a dividing line between reality and simulation? If so, what line?
2. What is the nature of time? what has to be time with a "realistic" nature?
3. More pragmatically: what are the consequences of that "presumed" blurring of the lines between the real and the virtual (provided by technology)?

Prior to stating my arguments I would like to define more exactly my position. My view is, as yours, dual, that is to say that I regard reality either as a figure or as an object. But my view is also stereoscopic, that is to say, I (try to) see in reality the whole and the whole in reality. This is the reason why I was dazzled when I first came across fractals. I was very confused: what was the void and what was the figure? What were these: disrupted lines or sinuous curves? How can something be infinitely big but also a closed space? The infinite within the finite? How could that be?!! Finally, and this is the most dazzling feature of fractals: are they real or virtual? are they in re, "de facto", or are they just visual patterns (simulations) - as Bohr´s atomic model? Has this something to do with Tycho Brahe's (and Goethe's) aversion to all manner of optics? Was Tycho´s attitude simply a case of false prejudice or was it a kind of self-limitation? What about the so called "altered states of consciousness"? and what about madmen? Is it, perhaps, that reality is democratic? Isn´t this the motto of the Inquisition, a ridiculous (and terrible) defence of one´s reality in front of others? Do we need victims to demonstrate our view of the world? Will daltonists be persecuted as heretics?:-) Don´t you think that modern technologies (of video, post-production, effects, etc..) involve great dangers, such as medieval mass deliriums, post-modern persecutions and a whole awful catalogue of monstrosities?

On the other hand, it seems that I was, in some manner, anticipating your intentions, for in my last letter I intended to jump (save) two or three steps. I wanted to go directly to the jugular.

All your scholastic exposition, which, as usual, is of high level and purity, has been studied in depth throughout the last five centuries. All those distinctions, between first order and second order, between infinite or finite and so on, has been scrutinized to death. Our reader can refer to good old books written by the likes of Leibniz, Kant, Hegel, Fitche, Fischer, etc. It is especially well explored in O. Spengler's writings.

With my reservations regarding your discussion of meritocracy versus aristocracy, I wasn´t being vehement; on the contrary, I intended to be cold, serene, and not fall in the trap of an endless discussion of things that, like God, have been dead for a long time. That dualism, such a distinction between first and second order is always dangerous and delicate. For instance, on what basis do you make your assertions regarding the Laws of Physics? Who told you that they are immutable? Who says such a thing? What physical laws? I suppose you are not talking of the XX century, with its quantum chromodynamics and its time curves and its velocity c and all its metaphysics. By the way, to contemplate in a gedankenexperiment a pair of  extraterrestrials, as Hofstadter does, is in itself  the great oxymoron - never  mind the excessive anthropocentrism).

It was in antiquity, before the Great War, when the philosophical problem was of that "knowledge". This is not our problem now. Post-modernism got the last link of that chain. If you see the line that goes from Kant to Nieztsche you will clearly see that philosophical values tend, in an irreversible manner, to converge on matters of character or destiny (what Spengler calls fate ) - that is, to theology again. It is no longer about what we can know or not, its about what we feel equipped with that "knowledge or ignorance".

Obviously, in this hyperdynamic world , it is precisely the dynamic side of aspects which attracts us. Schopenhauer was the first to put "will" as "the thing in itself". Nietzsche went a step further, he posited, as the real thing the "will to power", that is to say, the EXPANSION THROUGH INTERACTION (IN TIME).

Here we are. We know all that we could ever know about interactions, and nowadays we want, once again, to find the reason for those interactions.

Here we are. Does anybody dare to say something more convincing than the Old Powderhead theory?

And again this links with my last letter (it can be read twice, before and after yours). What are those artificial interactions, those "simulated simulations"? Are they not precisely technology? Doesn´t your argument mean that technology is nothing but a fallacy? But, what if it were that technology can make better humans, that, for instance, have a wider vocal range, from infra-bass to hyper-soprano?  Its to said, what would happen if nature were to be surpassed by technology? If this were to happen, wouldn´t we have been justified in saying that technology is the long arm of creation? And that power of creation, is it not the divine itself? What is, then, the hand that rules "the long arm"? To summarize: what is behind technology? that "tech-geist" is of a first order interaction, or of a derivative, secondary order?

Your contention about the wall between first and secondary interactions was again anticipated in my last letter. In its postdata I asked for the definitions of prophets, visionaries, etc... its to said, of that realm where interactions work: Time. "Errors" being so intrinsic to nature, couldn´t it be that the normal flow of time be prone to "errors" too, as a normal part of its normal functioning?

Moreover, our readers can feel disturbed, with all the reasons to, for we are discussing the nature of reality without any mention of time.

Is not the philosophy of destiny a philosophy of time, and vice versa?

Your distinctions regarding interactions work on a scientific time (a dead-time), that special 0 time where things are fixed in space.

But what about movement, what about life? For what reason is an interaction IRREVERSIBLE?.

If the nature of reality is an oxymoron, what is, then, the nature of Time? a pure sarcasm?:-)).

Wishing you the best

PD: I did like your letter - why do you think the opposite? You give a great and fair comparison between merit/aris. In fact I smiled several times when reading on the "brain-whore" - because I was listening to a part of you speaking truly (of your real life) in the monologue (and also a part of me: its "my Faustian problem":-)))

roberto

Dear RCM,

Questions as all-encompassing as the ones you presented in your last letter call for a period of gestation.

The same Hofstadter reviled by you posed the following question:

Is there any difference between a "real" hurricane and a hurricane simulated on a computer? Why do we make a distinction between physical events and their representations? After all the simulated hurricane also has a physical dimension (the computer's hardware, the energy of electricity).

This is exactly the dividing line, as far as I am concerned. Both phenomena are "real" in the sense that they have a presence, they constitute part of reality, they can be observed and measured (=they can interact with observers) and they can be mapped onto each other. But a simulation cannot effect first order interactions. A simulation of the sun cannot warm us, nor can a simulated hurricane blow us away.

I suggested a hierarchy (very akin to the one suggested in the "Principia Mathematica") between first order phenomena ("real" objects and interactions, you and I, a tree, a cloud, the sun), their derivatives which I call "artifices" and which are the result of an interaction between intelligence and first order phenomena (robots, cars, computers, drugs) and (second order) simulations. The first order phenomena and their derivatives (artifices) can interact with each other and induce changes in one another. Simulations cannot cross this line. Simulations do not effect - they inform. They provide information (that might lead to changes) - but they do not effect changes. In other words: simulations can act only through the agency of an intelligence, they must be mediated to the world by an intelligent agent which must be either an artifice or a first order phenomenon. A language is a good example of a simulation. Mathematics is another.

And the 64,000 dollar question is:

Is PHYSICS a simulation?

This is connected to your comments regarding physical laws and time. I assume that physical laws do exist (in the Platonic, "ideal" sense, maybe we should call them "Laws of Nature" and distinguish them from the "Laws of Physics"). Our current state of knowledge - and all future states of knowledge will only approximate these laws. But I do think that the laws of physics are simulations. That they are unable to effect us without the intermediation of an intelligence. This is very close to religion (God as the supreme intelligence) or to the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics (the Universe as the result of observation). Writing this makes me feel bad. Still, the laws of physics are not first order phenomena because they have no physical existence (when was the last time you ate the law of gravity).

Religious people say that the laws of physics are artifices (invented by the supreme intelligence God). I disagree. The laws of physics dictate to first order phenomena and to artifices how they should and can behave and it can be proven (through formal logic, mainly Godel's work) that no artifice can do so efficiently where an INFINITE number of other artifices is involved. Since the laws of physics are infallibly efficient and since they deal with an infinite number of artifices - they cannot be artifices themselves. The laws of physics are infinite and consistent - no set of artifices can be both infinite and consistent.

The laws of physics are kind of road maps or manuals which prescribe the way first order phenomena and artifices should and can behave. This is as good a definition of simulation as any I have heard. It is a language. Can a language exist divorced from intelligence? Not really because then it loses its meaning. Meaning exists only through the manipulation of language by an intelligence. The paths (the world-lines) of these manipulations constitute the context within which meaning is born.

It is here that virtual reality, the ability to manipulate images and historical records with computer applications and so on - come to mind. It is the first time in human history that artifice and simulation become indistinguishable. What is the "hard"-ware versus the "soft"-ware elements in the computer? The distinction is totally artificial. With quantum computing the distinction disappears. Particles ARE, to a known extent, part simulation (mathematical functions) and part first order phenomena. The confluence and convergence of quantum physics and the computer sciences will bring about a revolution in the very fabric of reality. It will eliminate the ancient and intuitive distinction between real (artifice) and imaginary (simulation), meta (statement about something) and ontos (that something). Your question about "labelling" the particle in the teleportation experiment was naive but also excellent. It is impossible to label the particle because it is only partly first order phenomenon. But it is unnecessary because it is a language (=simulation) element. A photon is a photon is a photon - they do not have a personality. It is a topsy turvy world where the proof of existence is simulated while "real" existence is of no consequence. I will write more about it in a later letter.

What is time? Is it a law of physics? Is it a language element? Is it an extensive property of every physical system (perhaps carried by a particle)? Is it a simulation? Is it an epiphenomenon (it does not exist in the realm of particles - and suddenly appears in the macro)? And how is time connected to fractals (hint: the identity of all time segments - each second identical to another)?

Let's leave something to my next letter. Or maybe you could write something about time?

Sam

Dear Sam

The last two paragraphs of your letter directly hit the nerve.

Phrases like " It's first time in history that artifices and simulation become indistinguishable", "The confluence and convergence between quantum physics and the computer sciences will bring about a revolution in the very fabric of reality" gave a great picture of what is happening in the world (and not only in the world but in ourselves, as humans). The last phrase is specially interesting, for, if I have understood you well, physics are simulations and (computer) sciences shall be too. So, we have two simulations interacting in the very fabric of reality!? I let you respond to this. And also I am looking forward to your opinion on time and fractals - I cannot wait!:-). We are winding up our theoretical positions on theory. Afterwards, perhaps in your next letter we should pass to "reality" (the pragmatic side), which is, needless to say, much more interesting than theory. Don´t you think?:-)

I would like to give my opinion on "the great line" with an example:

Surely, everybody had the opportunity of listening to a fervent discussion between the defender of "natural food" against someone  promoting "artificial food". It's far from my intention to participate in such a sterile dialogue. All food, more over, all things are natural (as Ph. D. Vaknin stated so well). What makes a "natural food", let's say an apple, superior to the so called "artificial food", (even in the case, which is not, that food companies were to analyse the almost infinite list of chemical components of an apple and to artificially reconstruct them and perfectly simulate the apple) is that an apple, as a living element, embodies a principle which is superior to the sum of its components. It has a shine, it smells.... And also, we would have been the wiser to eat that apple not for its chemical composition but for the appetite that it invokes in us being an apple.

And this opens up a question that I would like to present to you. What is genetics: a simulation, an artifice or something totally new?

It is high time I should say something, but before I do so, I shall make a brief introduction. You have exposed the situation with your high-tech ability. I cannot compete with you there (my dominion of physics and its language is less secure). As you well know, I prefer to use some narrative way to illustrate these questions - what would be better than to describe "simulations and artifices" than metaphors, that language simulations?. Also I always like to introduce history, and what are the modern sciences of complexity but "natural history"?! So I will introduce in my letter a fairy tale. Let's call it:

" A Time Tale".

Imagine that a scientist of the XXI century (let's call him H.G. Goods) or just a genie in a bottle (let's call it Chateau Laffite) has provided you with the opportunity to make use of a time-machine. Inebriated, you walk into the time-craft. You sit down, light your seventh cigarette of the night and take a look at the dashboard. It's a post-modernist design, the kind a post-modern architect would called "minimalist". It's a white square with only one button, labelled with this pleasant motif:

LETS MAKE A "TIME-LEAP".

There are no dials, no screens, only one button (let's call it "hassard sauvage").

Just as you fatally surrender to the smooth labyrinths of "le chateau laffite" your last conscious thought is something like : "well, never mind"; and you press the button:

It is a millennium ago, about 990. One of those tenebrous monasteries of the middle-age. In a dark, small cell, an unknown monk called Gerberto (known later as Pope Silvester II) is in deep meditation, using his spirit as the will to power. He is just about to make the greatest attack ever known against the force of gravity force. He is stopping time dead in its tracks. He is opening a new history, with a new time. He is "designing" the first true automaton: the mechanic clock.

Time used to flow happily, like water, like the shadow that slowly ran its path. But since that gloomy day, time will never flow again. "It" is entrapped in a gearwheel, halted over and over again by an automaton, a mechanism known as "escape" (the name is revealing). As a bonus-track of this fantastic act of hubris we also have a beautiful music: a kind of tic-tac, percussive, repetitive, monotonous, demented...

Let's make another time-leap and place ourselves in a renaissance studio.

Over there, a titan with a "human form" is dissecting a human body with an iron scalpel. The body is not sacred anymore, and what is sacred to modern knowledge (that strange form of "voyeurism")? There are no more limits, all is possible! Soon, others will do the same to living humans. Fascinated with the inner organs, Leonardo, inebriated, fills one sketch after other. Finally, he says: "voglio fare miracoli!"

Far from there, in space but not in spirit, another man is also trying to effect miracles. Roger Bacon, "doctor mirabilis", builds a bridge from nothingness, crosses the great channel and leaves behind him nothing but smoke and fog. A new race of wizards is born: the techno-scientists.

Yet another leap. Cambridge. The XVII century.

The reign of clocks is "absolute". A man looks at the stars at night. He has got it! The Universe is a clock and he, the great Newton, knows the laws of the Great Watchmaker. All things "work" like gears and time is only the clock weight that goes down ad infinitum.

The XIX century. In an "old-fashioned" cabinet, an unknown worker is discovering (without knowing it) a new kind of time. He is trying to pass electricity through a quartz, just to see, science, you know.

Suddenly  the rock seems to come to life, it pulsates! Like a heart made of stone! It's the return of the elemental clocks, the vengeance of the fettered elements, the time of the atomic era (and also of the atomic wars, but this is only a collateral damage, who cares?!)

Then, the time machine seems to "work" badly. It jumps speedily thorough the XX century. New clocks, new lives, new times. Everybody has its own time. Circular ones, linear ones, fusion ones... and also, you can´t believe it, computer times. There are even people who talk about a special kind of time: space- time. All times are re-visited except one: human time. Finally the machine goes crazy.

What to do? Well, there is nothing better - I mean, against le chateau - than a good dream, so you shut your eyes.

All is past. You are again in your old, familiar room. In your hands there is a book: Fractal Nature (Benoit Mandelbrot). A strange flashes through your mind: a fractal time !?

Finally, you think: "well, never mind". You let go of the boring book, go to the library and take another one: "Through the Mirror" (Lewis Carrol). "Time? uhm!, Here it is". Its growing dark on Earth. You smile: "another marvellous night of good literature is just starting. Let's do it slowly, let's take our time".

                                              The end (of Time, or not!?)

It was the normal custom, in the old days, that a fairy tale had a little moral. "Well, never mind". This is mine (sorry if it is a bit cryptic; matters of copyright, you know).

If an Amazonian thinks that the clock of the "man of the outerworld" has inside a demon, he is probably (very) right. But, if he breaks the clock with a stone, he is then committing a great error, for demons live in another place.

Wishing you the best and hoping you have had a good TIME with my small fable

roberto

Dear RCM,

As letters go, I will try and make this one my last excursion into theory (though I cannot promise not to pepper my next ones with more). I will deal with fractals in the "practical" group of letters. Today I will write to you about time.

The first thing about time is that it is an impossible thing. For instance, it is asymmetric. It flows in only one direction. Yet, no other "dimension" (=language element) has this property. Another thing, it does not appear to matter to particles. They do very well without it, at least as far as their equations are concerned. Quantum dynamic, electromagnetic and particle-wave equations are all time-indifferent. You can introduce +T or -T (positive or negative time) to them and it will make no difference. The results are the same whether time flows forward or backwards. But macro entities cannot do without it. All macro-bodies have histories. They cannot be described or manipulated with stipulating an unequivocal direction of the arrow of time. It would seem that time emerges with complexity. In other words, time seems to be an epiphenomenon.

But if time IS an epiphenomenon - it is, ex definitio, a property of the complex (macro) body. Thinking is a property of the brain as well as an activity taking place in it. Fluidity is a property of water, pressure is a property of gas - all these are epiphenomena AND properties of the complex. If we give time an equal treatment we must deduce that time is a property of complex bodies. It is an extensive property. In other words, no part or region of the complex body is "exempt" from it, they all under its "spell". We all age and all our parts age. This leads to a mind boggling conclusion. Properties are carried by bodies. When we walk from point A to point B and carry our brain with us, it does not leave its thinking behind. A gas transferred from one container to another carries with it its pressure, temperature and volume. We are forced to conclude, therefore, that bodies carry their time with them. This is another way of arriving at Einstein's special relativity's conclusions. Einstein did say that there is no such thing as a "universal" time, there is no privileged system of measurement. In effect, each system (=each observer) carries "its" time with it. Time dilates with speed. It is a real effect. People travelling at next to the speed of light age much more slowly. All I add is that people (and spacecraft and suns) GENERATE their time, it is a property of theirs, the result of their complexity.

And exactly as a gas needs a container to exert pressure - so do bodies need to interact with each other to generate space-time. The interaction between all the time properties of all the bodies generates space-time as we know it. This interaction must be effected through the exchange of particles. All known interactions in nature require the exchange of particles. I proposed the existence of such a particle and christened it "chronon". Because particles are largely theoretical constructs, functions, language elements - it is not very surprising that time has no "objective" existence "out there" - that it is, in itself, a mere language element.

Or is it?

After all, we do observe the effects of time on physical bodies. Try re-assembling a broken vase and you will grasp the very essence of time. But does the undisputed existence of its effects prove the existence of time itself? This is a logical fallacy, the result of the application of rigid, linear causation to non-linear issues. For instance: both time and its effects can be caused by a third factor (or related to it). Or time can be a lingual convention used to describe the assemblage of asymmetric processes we observe. Or maybe there is no asymmetry and we observe it due to the limitations of our hardware and software. If our brains are programmed to apply asymmetry where none exists (because it is conducive to survival) - it does mean that asymmetry does exist except in our heads. And if it does not exist then the concept of "time" is useless. Or ... you get my drift.

So, it seems that time is much closer to a Law of Physics than to a Law of Nature. It is part of the huge simulation we call science. It is a syntactical rule in the formal logical system we call the natural sciences. But this would seem to contradict the first law we proposed: that simulations will not effect artifices or first order phenomena. Yet, time - a figment of a simulation - does effect us, first order phenomena par excellence. The only way this can happen is through the intermediation of intelligence. In other words, I am proposing that time asymmetry is the result of observations and data processing by an intelligence (possibly ours). If all intelligence were to vanish tomorrow, time would have vanished with it.

This is not as far fetched as it sounds. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics opened the possibility of the generation of the physical world (at least in the realm of particles) through observation (intelligent observation, I might - no, I must - add). The competing interpretations - including the one in fashion today, the Many worlds interpretation - assign an even greater role to conscious, intelligent decisions. Each such decision is supposed to replicate the universe. True:  decisions not involving an intelligence are supposed to have the same effect and replicate the Universe. Yet, it is easy to demonstrate how intelligent decisions are dominant and non-intelligent ones recessive and how "natural selection" - assuming it is a truly universal principle - will favour the former over the latter. In other words, there is a possible Universe in which there are NO decisions which do not involve an intelligence. The Many Worlds interpretation talks about an infinite number of coexistent worlds among which surely there are universes wherein EVERYTHING is endowed with intelligence.

So, there is no way around the fact that the formalism of quantum mechanics - the best that physics ever produced - is subjective and observer dependent, one way or the other. Physics has all but eliminated the distinction between subjective and objective. Not in the trivial and solipsistic sense that there everything exists only in our mind but with the more profound realization that nothing can exist WITHOUT our minds.

It therefore surprised me little that physical "reality", virtual "reality" and mental "reality" began converging. Our mind always regarded the tangible universe around us as a representation, a set of symbols with its own formal logic. It applied conventions and syntax to it. This syntax included rules such as "time", "space", "dimensions". The manipulation of these syntactical rules had real life results and real life results resulted in the re-definition of the language our mind used. What we achieved in this cursed century was the first glimpse of the principles which underlie BOTH language and reality. Quantum mechanics was the sudden, shocking, traumatic realization that distinguishing between language and reality, denotates and connotates, symbols and objects, interactions and participating entities - is all artificial and wrong. That in the basis they are all one and the same.

And yet it is a measure of our denial as a species that this should have surprised us. We tried to assume a superior position as "observers". But this position was not tenable. Our brain are as much part of the "observed", "external" reality as this reality is part (and influences) our brains. The dividing line was tenuous and indefensible. It inevitably crumbled.

This is the arena of the future - our brain. It is there that the treasure trove lies. And finally - finally - after millions of years, we have a key. Maybe not THE key - but A key. Maybe not the BEST key - but a key althesame. Locked in our brain is the code that translates information to objective entities and reality into information. This is what computers and virtual reality and artificial intelligence and quantum computing and crazy experiments at teleportation are all about. It is a voyage of 10,000 years. But with absolute certainty I can tell you that we have begun.

Your friend,

Sam

Dear Sam

Thanks for your great resume of  the last trends in "physics" (ignoring for a minute the fact that you succumbed to some contradictions: if every "body" carries its time all things are intelligent, aren´t they? If every "body" carries its time then, when men have gone time will keep going, isn´t it? On the other hand, the reversibility of quantum mechanics is, after the introduction of operators and complexity, debatable, see Bohr, Rosenfeld, Prigogine, etc.).

But, these are nothing new. The union of "saying" and "reality" was public knowledge as early as  600 B.C., with the pre-Socratic philosophers (Anaximander, Heráclitos, Parménides, etc.), who are, curiously, being revisited by the modern researchers of complexity. And it is also revealing that those pre-Socratics called the "thing" ("saying" and reality at same time): physis.

In fact, the union of  thought (intelligence) and reality is the basis of Poetry, and it is not surprising that poesis means creation. This transcendent union is also the basis of prophets and their function in history (this matter was advanced by me in the PD of one of my letters). And finally, every "true" artist is "quantic" by his very essence.

That intelligence determines reality to a large extent is something that appears revealing to all good historians (the Middle Ages are a great example of how reality can change, even surprisingly.) This is precisely the motive of my interest in technology, that is, in the intelligent mechanism used by ......... to change our world. And again, questions: what kind of intelligent is changing reality by technology? Cui bono?

And so, clear to the new eyes, appears the great breakpoint: the enormous difference between the poet (creation) and the techno-homos (will to power). For it was never in a poet´s heart to change reality (as so reality) but only to enchant it, to accept reality (happiness and pain united in an indestructible knot). By comparison, the techno-homos does not accept pain, he is against nature, he denies it and with blind fury wants to change it. But, he, poor devil!, is blind, incapable of understanding that there is nothing to win. You say that "searching" is a voyage of 10000 years, yes, but it is a 10000 years voyage to "le neant" (by the way, such figures always remind me of utopias, ughh! What about us, the people of this time, shall we suffer for them, shall we be the slaves of such an "ideology"?). The same applies to "matter", there is no end! Never, never, will we decipher such "a code" for we (MAN) are PRECISELY THAT CODE (and a code never can decipher itself).

This is the kind of thought of Western men, with their will to power (voglio fare miracoli!!!), but is not a universal thought! The Chinese sages smiled ironically when they were introduced to Darwin's theory.

There is nothing new about thought interacting with reality. What is new, and worrying indeed, is that we want to make such a spiritual effort, in just the worst way: from matter to spirit! What nonsense! Is it, perhaps, that the "technique" ignores that the interactions of elementary forces in the elementary realm only produces more elementarity? But, finally, it's our world, we must accept it.

Deliberately, I obviated one of the clocks in my little story about time (which dealt with the same: how (time) thoughts and techniques change the concept of reality): the HOUR-GLASS

A quiet, slow meditation about it will surely give our readers (and you) another fascinating concept of time, which is, in some way, metaphysically consoling. It's little "quicksand maelstroms", its reversibility, its equilibrium, its smooth sound (of the sand flowing with hapiness)...Poetry Time.

wishing you the best
roberto
 

Dear Roberto,

I wish I could hide behind established physics. Unfortunately, the ideas presented in my previous letter to you are all mine and borrowed from my Ph.D. thesis. They have nothing to do with current trends in physics. But I seemed to have been too vague or obscure because I failed to convey to you my message. I wanted to make you privy to the mental process that led me to the conclusion that time is NOt a simulation or a language element but an INTERACTION between bodies, probably carried by a particle. As such, it is in no need of the intermediation of intelligence, exactly as you suggested. I contrasted this view with modern (quantum) physics which postulate the existence of observers and incorporate them as an indispensable part of the description of the world.

But, you are right, enough about all this. Let us - in the style of the zen koan - kick the rock instead of trying to capture it in the spider cobwebs that are words (though I think you did a fabulous - fabula - job with your Time Tale).

Reality is less critical to us, as a species, than its representations. We while most of our lives manipulating symbols and representations (models, theories, simulations, language, art, diagrams, blueprints, etc.). We have no access to objective reality. Our sense organs and our brain employ powerful mathematical models in a biased manner. The bias is in favour of survival. We interpose apparatus between us and the Universe, extensions or refinements of our sense organs. And then even this highly selective data is subject to rigorous and utterly transforming processing. We see, we hear, we smell, we touch through the protective and survival-enhancing veil of our senses, a membranes which filters out the unnecessary, the familiar, the already catalogued, the irrelevant.

We have always strove to influence the input of our senses, their output or the processing of the data. Psychotropic drugs, hypnosis, directed dreaming, psychotherapy are all consciousness altering techniques. But none of these had the potential to delude us completely and irrevocably (accept in extreme cases of abuse). In other words, a control group always existed, ready to be wheeled out and to be contrasted with the "unreal", the "fantastic", the "wrong" input, or processing or output. The influence of drugs wane, hypnosis ends and so does psychotherapy and we wake up after a dreamful night. There is no permanent distortion of our perception of reality - in other words, our representations remain intact.

Not so with the digital revolution.

At its root is the realization that the distinction between "reality" and "information" is, at the most, a matter of degree. At the core of every physical phenomenon lies a kernel of data which can, in principle be extracted, transported, recreated and manipulated. And all types of data can be transmitted and communicated in the language of digits. At first, only text was converted into this lingua franca. Then graphics and animation and audio and video. In principle, we - physical objects such as humans - are all reducible to energy which can be translated to information. So, this was the first qualitative phase transition. A universal language was found to carry not only information but whatever can be reduced or translated to information. The second qualitative leap was the sudden realization that everything is data - perhaps packed differently but data althesame.

These two postulates led to the inevitable third. If everything is data, then our brain is data. If our brain is data - then it is an inseparable part of its environment, a drop in the data sea as it were. If this is so - then every change in the (data)-environment of the brain is bound to have a "real" (=data related) effect on the environment and vice versa. A change in perception is a change in what we used to call objective reality.

Now, this sounds far fetched if not downright mystical - but it absolutely is not. "Objective" reality out there does not change if our perception of it changes. But "objective reality out there" is not accessible to us, humans. The closest we get to this mythical beast is through our senses, namely via representations. If all the scientific measurement instruments were to go wild in an identical manner, yielding the same consistent divergence from "objective reality" - we would have no way to know, because we would have no basis for comparison - because we have no access to reality but through our senses and through our instruments. We would have been the victim of our own limitations.

But let us go one step further. What if WE were to DELIBERATELY re-calibrate all the scientific instruments in the world and then hypnotize each other into a collective amnesia of this act? The answer is that "reality" would have changed. And this is what the new technology does. By informing us that it can, in principle, re-calibrate our "reality" at any moment, it substitutes its own authority for the authority hitherto exercised by our senses. We see a photograph and we cannot believe our own eyes because it may have been doctored with a software. We watch filmed stunts and we need to be told if this is a motion picture or a real event. We play a virtual reality game and we react as we do to "real" reality. We teleport a particle but whether it is the same particle or not (labelling) is not important because particles are where "objective" reality and representations converge.

And this, of course, is where fractals come in. Physics has reached the stage where the same formalism is used to describe a particle and a universe. Technology has reached the stage that it can convert all of reality into digital streams (=streams of particles). Computers have reached the stage that they can provide access to all the information anywhere in the world. Put these three together and you will see the hologramic world of fractals - a change of scale (particle, brain, world) does not add information. All the information is stored in the tiniest element of the universe which, in itself, is a whole universe. These statements are not to be taken too literally, of course. I am not claiming that Roberto and Sam are to be found in each neutrino. But I am saying that the essential information which contains the minimum complete description of Roberto, a neutrino and the Universe is really one and the same.

Sam

Dear Sam

So, finally, we are in the arena of reality (I would like to read your thesis, it sounds fascinating! It was also the reason for our encounter, don´t you remember? I was looking for your thesis in the UMI but I didn´t find it).

It was reading your last letter ( reading it in a special manner, as a picture) when I finally got it. Your letter is digital, my Time-Tale is analogue. It tries to catch reality through bits, through data, almost linearly. Your comments about scientific measurements are, indeed, revealing, for it is true that if we were to see reality only through instruments (let's say the TV or the internet) the true possibilities of collective dreams would have been "in re". And so it is!!! (let us remember Kosovo's "CNN reality"). And here precisely lies the Great Lie. Reality is measured with human senses. An instrument is created - or bought. Our senses, on the contrary, are our true possessions, our wealth. As people say: poor, BLIND, fool! and it is painfully true.

Another thing is your opinion on the survival instinct as the basis for all senses which is, on my opinion, wrong (we fatally know where Darwinism ends), and is even insulting to me, as an individual. Such an a idea can be maintained as long as we see the universe as a "will to power". Based on other conceptions of the universe (Chinese, almost every tribal culture, antiquity, etc.) this idea looks strange, to say the least.

An artist, for instance, would say it is a matter of beauty and exuberance. The list of artists who preferred beauty to survival is almost infinite. A savage Dyonisus destroying and creating forms restlessly is what artists are all about. A romantic will say it all for love. The "self-proclaimed intellectuals" will view progressive spiritualization as the source and so on.

In one of my first letters I made the point that tech-simulations were only audio-visual. The path from digital to analogue is false. It is precisely on the limitations of our sense that video-audio technologies make their diabolic play.

A digital photograph will never be the same as its analogous counterpart, for that is simply impossible ( as it has been recognized by the "now modest" science of physics which "now" accepts the impossibility (and stupidity) of finding the universal minimum particle or bit). It is ridiculous, if not hilarious, to hear Murray Gell-Man (a renowned scientist) talking about quantum chromatism?!?!. Digital things only need to get beyond certain limits (3000x pixels in photos, the Niquist theorem in audio, etc...) to fool the senses of men senses. So, tech-made products keep on getting more and more false, pure simulations. Yet, that they can - and do - mislead us is not the point (unless and until someone starts to use "the game" to fuck us). Even as they do so successfully, they keep being simulations.

It remains to be seen how will technology simulate with such perfection the rest of our senses (including that one called sensibility, the mental eye). Its seems a bit more difficult to simulate smells, surfaces and flavours than pure paper or screens. And even more so, to manipulate and simulate the third dimension (at which stage, physics directly metamorphesizes into pure "magick"). But, even in such cases it would keep being a simulation, not the thing itself.

To come back to the example of the apple: even in the case, which it is not, that some "technique" were to reproduce exactly an apple (and not only its vitamin B12), it would continue to be a simulation of an apple, not the apple itself. This is because an apple, as a living element, embodies a principle (the same one that distinguishes a living human from a corpse of a human) which is superior and different to the sum of its elements. Such a power was not conceded to us, humans, and we will be the wiser in accepting that.

There is also a second problem: the difference between creation and the will to create. A great artist, Velasquez, for instance, has  a mastery that is also revealed in its limitations. This knowledge is of a superior kind (it was a Greek decisive knowledge: "Know your self, BUT NOT TOO MUCH"). It means that the master, in our case Velazquez, knows not only the "infinite" power of knowledge (creation) but also its limits.

Limits that bring upon us destruction when we, whether innocent or guilty, cross them (you mentioned drug-addicts, it is a good example). In each of his paintings, let us take for instance, Vulcanus Forge, the more the possibilities foster its powerful form, the slightest bit more will the composition be perturbed. In such a superior level, all the visual vibes, all "its reality" is analogous, every motif is entangled with each other. It can be viewed on all levels, like a good book can be read once and again from different angles (curiously, this is not the case in films or photos, which only admit to one viewing). A photograph can mislead us in the first viewing, but after we discover it, it is only dead matter, in decomposition. By comparison, a great painting, viewed with loving eyes always gets better, always gets "younger", a photo is condemned to forever age.

Photography can keep getting more perfect, still, it will keep being dead, because there is no living, intelligent act of observation (as is precisely the case with technology, as you well stated is not a first order phenomenon). This does apply to the paintings of Velasquez. In his brain, and not only in his brain but also with all his being, he is present in his art. A process (enlightenment) which in the case of photography happens in the inner mechanism of the "scientific instrument", has been tied down and mastered (not by coincidence does mastery imply dominion, real power). He knows also how much light his new painting can support. When the total figure (and this concept of total is essential, it means closed on itself and perfect) is created (poetically) in his mind he is now in a disposition to bring it to reality, to the canvas with more or less perfection.

Are geneticists in possession of such dominion, or are they simply betting in the Russian roulette with false cards?

It is not arbitrarily that I introduce to this dialogue reflections on limits but precisely because limits were to the pre-Socratic philosopher the logos itself (data, in your language), information principles were the limits themselves. That is to say, nature is by no means merely its data, it is its limits that are the data. The the elementary realm (aka chaos), by its very essence refuses and denies data. Here lies the necessity of using statistics with quantum mechanics, it is an approach: the simulation of big numbers. This elemental, irreducible "citadel" of reality shall be represented then as an "hassard sauvage" (Heraclito´s child) precisely due to its denial of data, of the control of numbers.

Precisely because of this, the knowledge of elemental reality is inconceivable, for as long as we continue to be humans. Because this very knowledge is of a divine nature, it is divinity itself. So, the question remains open: Are the foolish a kind of gods? or, on the contrary, are gods, in an irreversible manner, completely foolish?

wishing you the best
roberto

Dear Roberto,

What is the essence of the Turing Test that you so often refer to? It is about the ultimate or potential indistinguishability of reality from its imitation or simulation. If "artificial" intelligence were to become indistinguishable from "real" or "natural" intelligence than it would be as "real" and "natural" as the original. Indeed, the death of the original in an age of industrial replication has been announced a long time ago. Which of the the Andy Warhol "Marilyn"s is the original and which are the copies? Which car is an original and which are the copies? Which copy of a movie or a CD is the original? Indeed, which e-mail message? It is becoming increasingly meaningless to talk about the real versus the simulated and increasingly we, humans, inhabit a world of our own making where simulations and imitations ARE our reality. I repeat: if an imitation or a simulation is indistinguishable from reality - then it is real in every possible sense of the word. What is the philosophical difference between constructing a apple in a laboratory so that it has all the qualities of an apple - taste, smell, etc. - and constructing an apple by planting a tree in the soil? Just because the act of planting trees predated the act of constructing apples in laboratories does not make it more real, superior, or preferable. As to the "élan vital" of the apple, that extra something that you describe - even assuming that it exists (on which i am agnostic) - if you were not told the origin of the apple, you probably would not have felt the difference. In other words, I believe it is "all in the mind". That something is "all in the mind" does not make it less real or less potent (on the contrary) but it does make it easier to invoke. Simply by withholding information, or by providing false information, the "élan vital" of the apple can, therefore, be provoked in your "mental eye".

Technology can never fail to simulate reality to absolute perfection. It is easy to embed a chip in your brain which can be remotely programmed. The programmer will then be able to induce in you PERFECT sensations and sensa (=sense data). You will experience sex without a lover, scent without a flower and love without an object. Your own brain will then betray you. It will collaborate in creating an alternative reality. It will be instructed to simulate that which cannot be simulated otherwise. But make no mistake: a smell thus apprehended is as real as molecules emanating from a three dimensional source. If you are not aware of the actions of the programmer or even of its existence (see the amazing movie "The Truman Show") - this would be your ONLY reality.

There is no philosophical difference between senses and instruments, except in their locus (the former inside the body and part of it, the latter outside it and in interaction with the former). Senses ARE instruments made of carbon. Senses are hardware which operates hard-wired (pre-programmed) software in various locations in the body. Neural networks lead information to the senses and from them - but the information is subject to massive interpretation and processing. It is manipulated and distorted. It is correlated to reality "out there" but it is not reality, nor does it represent it faithfully, in a disinterested and unbiased manner. It is easy to prove, with rudimentary topology, that minor, superficial changes in any ONE of the operational parameters of our eyes would lead to a totally different picture of "reality". Thus, if instead of 30 frames a second, we were to process one frame a year (reduced "shutter velocity") - we would have had a completely different geometry (without basic concepts such as "circle", "in", "out" and even "motion"). In other words, had we had operationally different eyes, we would have had a different "reality". Our "reality" is heavily dependent on our sensa, on their interpretation within correlative brain-embedded models and on our needs.

It is this last assertion that you dispute. But I think that you are confusing two issues. I am talking in my letters about reality as a derivative of perceptions which are derived from sensa and their interpretations. I am saying that the representations of reality are intended to enhance our capacity to survive. Survival, in other words, is a filter. Data pertaining to our inside and outside environments (our body, our mind, our world) will be thus altered and adapted to yield a picture of the Universe that will increase our chances to survive. These are automatic, lower level, unconscious, pre-programmed, hard wired mechanisms. They have nothing to do with higher functions such as art or love. Phenomena such as altruism and heroism, suicide and self-sacrifice cannot and should not be explained by them. The erroneous, fallacious application of basic, lower-level principles to higher level human traits and activities is the sure path to another holocaust. Darwinian principles apply to populations of animals, not to animal or to human SOCIETIES. The survival-enhancement features of our perception of reality applies to low level functions of our brain, not to higher level social and cultural activities. If you are surrounded by tigers in the jungle or by traffic in the urban jungle, it is better to apply the Doppler shift despite the fact that it is not real. It is better to suffer some optical illusions (despite the fact that this is what they are - illusions. It is better to maintain a strong correlation between sound waves and sights (think about a roaring lion). Many of these mathematical interpretations of sense data have very little to do with reality but they sure help us avoid lions, tigers and cars.

Humanity is on a crossroad because it is about to merge reality and its myriad simulations and imitations and interpretations. It is about to do so by marrying quantum mechanics and computers, by marrying biology and computers, by marrying genetics and computers. Computers are not data processing machines as most people have it. They are reality convertors. They convert larger and larger segments of reality into digital streams. Yesterday it was audio and video (classic sense functions), today it is tactile and vision (virtual reality and smart helmets), tomorrow - everything, including smells and complex sensations. Particles are half "real" in the classical sense and half ideal, in the Platonic sense. They are half mathematical functions and half trails and traces in a bubble chamber. They are not only the building blocks of reality - but the bridge between the real and that which can pass for real (i.e. simulations and imitations). The same can be said about DNA. It is real enough but its "real-ness" is not important. What matters is not the amino acids which comprise the DNA, nor its three dimensional structure. What matters is the interpretation of the DNA, the extraction of the information in it. To extract this information, the DNA molecule is not enough. It takes decoders, a context, an environment, other substances, the right conditions. Only then can the essence of the DNA - its reality - be fully explored and revealed. Put together DNA, particles and computers and you have the building blocks of our reality converted into digits. The latter can then be manipulated to no end to produce alternative realities - as real as anything we have ever seen. The internet is not a revolutionary technology (not as the car or electricity or the telephone or the telegraph have been). It simply allows us to do more of the same. Much more of the same, true, but it is a quantitative leap, not a qualitative one, not a structural re-definition. I am, therefore, not referring to PCs or to the internet. I am referring to the next stage: quantum computing, genetic engineering and the ultimate: genetic computing.

Proust wrote:

"What we call reality is a certain relationship between sensations and memories which surround us at the same time".
In other words, it is all in our heads.

Take care, Roberto, the future is threatening. But then this fear of the unknown is part of being human.

As well as the determination to transcend it.

Sam

Dear Sam

If you let me I would add some arguments, for your letter is interesting indeed. It seems that you are like someone who is in the woods and watches some animal running, but is incapable of seeing the FIRE - it is the great difference between seeing (thinking) in concepts (you) or in figures (I). Your letter is like a head of Janus with two faces. All along your letter one can feel, sense the dark side of your arguments - even we could say, not without a certain malignity:-), that your letter is a kind of simulation: it gives a simulated (very closed to reality) picture. So, let's take a look at the reverse side of your letter: the dark side of simulations.

In a revealing way, you assert the "the death of the original, in an age or industrial replication has been announced a long time ago". Indeed, you fail to see the end, you are not radical enough - you should take your thesis to the end, for that is the way nature goes: to the end of a potentiality, to fulfil the possibilities of life. What is the logical conclusion of your argument: it is the death of the individual. And what replaces that void: annihilation factories. What is it that horrifies us in places like Auschwiz? It is precisely this void of individualism, the sense of being just a number, just DATA. In my time-tale I hid a reference to this: all is possible! - in reference to Rousseau's book (Les jours de notre mort) about annihilation factories. This ignorance of the consequences (and possibilities) of such a thought ("all is possible") is what made it "possible", even to those who where at the gates of the crematoria, not to SEE what was really happening.

This contempt of natural limits is what underlies all totalitarian systems (and the modern world). It is not a coincidence that arrogance (hubris) was considered by the Greeks to be the most malignant attitude. And we understand that this statement was not a kind of moral observation, for morality had nothing to do with it (even less so with the Greeks:-)). To better demonstrate it, I will use painting terms: what the Greeks have known (and we fatally have forgotten) is that the erasing of limits would bring upon us the destruction of form by colours. This is the leitmotif of the paintings of the XIX and XX centuries (and not only of its paintings). It is the nightmare of the elemental, the sterile coercion of painting, the abstract (the un-paintable par excellence). In fact, we can see modern painting as relating  to a dream/nightmare.

Can we know, meditating on our own nightmare, what is about happen at the new Aurora?

You said that there is no difference between senses and instruments. To what does such an argument lead if not to technological onanism. For there are numerous differences between technology and the sense. An act of love between two people denies simulation. The future (today) gestation of thousands of humans without the presence of love forms part of the history of slavery. What is the trait that shows us the existence of a difference with with incandescent clarity? It is Pain. How can we confirm that all the tech-supply is false? How can we distinguish the real from the simulated? through pain. Why, then, those faces of modern Man, devoured by anxiety and of a nervous disposition? Precisely because "the simulated" can never yield the real. It lacks that "elan vital" that living reality has, it is of a second order, it is mere trash.

How can you put agnosticism together with an apple:-)? Is it that you can only see dead things? Is it that you cannot see the difference between a living thing and a dead thing? Is it that you see no difference between a living individual and a corpse? An automaton (all AI and tech) can never be alive, for it lacks that polarity LIVE-DEAD. An automaton cannot die, so "it" cannot live. They are like those modern plastic(surgery)-humans. It seems that they cannot age, that they cannot die and it is precisely then that they are no longer alive. This is the real end of the Turing test: automatons will commit suicide faced with life's knowledge (it would seem too stupid, too incongruent to them). It is besides the point that the masses' sensibility is forgotten. Ask anyone, who still possesses some senses, ask sommeliers, farmers, artisans, etc. There is no way to make better grapes with techno-light and all that. Every thing has its rhythm (perfection) and there is no way to surpass this tempo. Every grape has its precise timing and there is no way to force (change) that.

Also, you fail to see the end of such a quantum-genetic-computation. It is not that I ignore these processes (I have even written an entire book about that. By the way, the chapter dedicated to these issues is titled: The New Wizard´s Apprentices: Gods, Genes, Wishes....).

The subject of this dialogue was: why? Why does such a stupidity occur? The nonsense, not the fear, is what concerns me. Sometimes, surely to console myself,  I feel convinced that there is something behind all the process. It seems too complex, too refined to be of a human design.

I know well that you are right. This is our future. It seems to me that we cannot escape it, that the original decision has been already taken. But, we should keep in mind the whole process, not only its simulation. In fact, this very process of "de-individuation" and "brain-covering" is - contrary to popular opinion - reductionist. Technical thinking leads to machines and these to more technical thinking, like a serpent eating its own tail. This exuberance of the mind (hubris) is not new (let's call it idealism:-), but it has been taken to its last extreme.

Here lies the key to our dialogue. You see reality as will to power, humans as the creative artists of nature. I see reality as a representation and humans as living expressions of an artistic nature. It is a slight difference but a decisive one. The "Technicians" (men of the test) would want to create a new species but this is never going to be. We will never have control on those creations (we will never create a new species in the true sense), for THE ELEMENTAL REALM DENIES CONTROL. Each intervention is out of our control, it keeps its own (chaotic) life (as it is described in my fairy tale about genetics). The final product/reality (the element of life) will never be our creation - not even similar to it.

And again, the same question: why? Why does everybody want to enter such a demonic world? Why the folly of intervening in nature instead of contemplating it and being enchanted by it? Why not make better films instead of bring them asymptotically closer to reality? And the individual, what should he do? Can we (individuals) do something, or a we entrapped in the powerful flows of a fantastic Maelström?

This is "my problem".

Let's end with an open question. What about these trains of consequences: fear- hunger- hate - pain - sadness - weakness - death-like. Sadness fights the apple (serpent)? Why not simply, without any hate, bite the apple (and taste the painful poison of the serpent)?

wishing you the best
roberto

The Brain-Storm
  Warriors, Magic, Fingers

One of the best hallmarks of the history of war is the increasing power of velocity: from the Huns to the mouse click it has been a long way, filled with the incandescent fires of technical innovations.

Another clear feature is, at first, a paradoxical effect: a concentration of forces at a minimum point. From the two-hands, heavy blade of the first goths, to the spiritualization of the fencing sword, then down to the two hands needed with a Winchester, to the "two and one" fingers on a gun and finally a finger on a mouse (the supreme power of concentration, one finger, a slight touch serving a pure abstract (brain) force - it is revealing the coincidence with the famous "E.T. finger".

Correspondingly, and irreversibly tied with to this reduction (precision) of the contact surface appears an increasing complexity of effects whose variety increases rapidly with time. In connection with this appears the famous comment of Napoleon: "The ridiculous is just one step removed from the sublime".

As opposed to the old blade, whose effects were so real, so visual and concrete (:-), the effect of the mouse is so remote (in time and space) that it becomes chaotic, cybernetically uncontrollable. Then, the mouse-warrior rests alone, like a poet, without near or visible effects to allow us to evaluate his act (opus), his only measure being himself. What a terrible sorrow! We need poets!

best wishes
roberto


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