Monday, December 19, 2005

End of my paper

Here's the conclusion from my paper:

Hard universal automatism may seem a cold worldview to some, since its core premise claims that everything is a computation, but it does not have to mean that HUA believers are predisposed to act as coldhearted people, prone to solipsism and egoism. In fact, it is much the opposite: it is the interest in Class IV computations that drives them to see the beauty in the world and the people in it, and act to be facilitators and optimizers in the larger MMO picture in order to generate the maximum social and computational utility from our actions. We are blessed with the ability to interact and have an influence upon the world, and it is in the best interest of everyone that our actions serve as the input to create the best possible output state that we can produce.


I'm not sure I'm 100% happy with what I've written. It feels like there's more to be explained. Originally my paper had ballooned to the size of a small book, and I eventually trashed it all and started anew to focus it, but in retrospect, I wish I had made it longer and fleshed out my ideas more.

Well, I guess that's the benefit of having a blog. Even though I've submitted it for grading, the paper doesn't have to end, and I can keep on thinking here.

HUA + Utilitarianism = Optimalizationalism

In true philosophical form, I continue with my paper and create a huge word-mass that hopefully looks impressive and will probably require a lot of explanation (and probably still misses a number of key areas since the philosophical process is never really 'done'), but really boils down to what I mentioned in the previous section about utilitarianism being compatible with HUA.

Enjoy:

As Raph Koster writes in his book, A Theory of Fun in Game Design, people are pattern-driven beings, and it shows in the way we approach our games: we strive to optimize our game play by learning the pattern of the game, and over time, a simple pattern like Tic-Tac-Toe becomes boring….similar to Wolfram’s Class II computation. A skilled player can force a cat’s game, or work their way around one, almost all the time. However, a more complex game like chess has exponentially more patterns, and optimal gameplay achieves two functions: increases the time that my king stays alive, and decreases the time that my opponent’s king stays alive. Although Koster expresses this idea in terms of gaming, this process of optimization is highly adaptable to HUA and utilitarianism….especially if we are interacting in a large-scale MMO game!

When united with HUA, utilitarianism takes on a different form, as mentioned earlier. Instead of simply acting towards the maximum overall benefit of individuals, expanding the consideration to include the preservation of benefactors transforms the theory by adding a principle of optimal calculation: calculations which produce the maximum benefit and least harm for the greatest number of individuals concerned must be themselves optimized – facilitating the benefactor so that it can continue to produce maximum social utility for as long as possible.

Utilitarianism is concerned with specific acts and their consequences. The form of optimalization that is being proposed here focuses on processes – not just one step in the proverbial cellular automata, but the rule itself, and the process by which it operates. Since the process of updating calculations involves update steps, this method of optimization is not really a replacement of utilitarianism, but a larger set, of which the principle of utility is an element and the tenets of utilitarianism play a large role in.

There are several considerations when acting in this fashion. First, it is important to try and assess the impact on as many levels as possible. Who will it affect? What will be affected? Will the effects for these things be positive or negative? To what degree? It is vital to act towards the greatest net benefit: to facilitate and optimize as many beneficial calculations that will create a positive overall impact, while terminating, deflecting, or otherwise redirecting harmful calculations that could have a detrimental impact.

Is it possible to fully know the results of a situation prior to acting? No. Rucker and Wolfram both agree that a sufficiently complex computation may be irreducible, and therefore unpredictable, so that the only way to truly find the result is to run the computation to that point, since there is no way to exponentially increase the speed of the calculation. Utilitarians (and optimizationalists) would be comfortable with this objection, because their goal isn’t necessarily to predict the future with 100% certainty prior to acting, but simply to act in a manner that is expected to produce the maximum net benefit.

The nature of unpredictable computations makes for a multitude of circumstances to affect a given decision, so optimizationalists wouldn’t necessarily focus on one specific cookie-cutter choice to govern right action, but instead would gauge their response based on the specific situation(s), with the right choice being the one that will produce maximum net benefit for that specific situation, not just for the moment, but for the long-term as well. Different situations might necessitate different responses – this doesn’t make the theory inconsistent, because we are responding to the unpredictable nature of the way that our computational reality is unfolding! Our moral response cannot be a Class II computation in itself and repeat itself, it must be a dynamic Class IV thought process that makes the effort to project what the best possible long-term outcome will be, even though it is not possible to do it with certainty.

Lastly, even though the calculation of which action may be the most optimal has to include the ‘big picture’, we must make sure to include ourselves equally into the decision as a factor if we are involved. It’s common to want to abstract ourselves out of the situation so as not to appear biased, but excluding oneself from the decision is an inverse form of the same bias. Every factor in the calculation needs to be included, otherwise it may skew the projected outcome and subsequent decisions based upon the projection.

Optimizationalism is an ethical system that is the natural product of the marriage of utilitarianism and universal automatism. Essentially, since HUA is centered around the idea of computation in everything, moral decisions made by anyone under this worldview would also need to be some kind of calculation. In order to live in harmony with our fellow calculations (PC and/or NPC), we need to act in a manner that yields the maximum social utility and facilitates the optimum circumstantial conditions that will maximize the beneficial state.

Uniting Utilitarianism and Universal Automatism: Mill Meets Wolfram

Here's the next section of my term paper, in which I suggest that Mill's utilitarianism is compatible with universal automatism if we shift our focus from being centered on the individual to being centered on preserving beneficial Class IV computations.

Enjoy:

Towards the end of Rucker’s The Lifebox, The Seashell, and The Soul, he reveals, “The meaning of life is beauty and love.” I couldn’t agree more. Appreciating the beauty and richness of life and the fostering of compassion and lovingkindness are definitely central to infusing our lives with meaning and purpose.

However, being as people are, we may share similar goals yet differ in our opinions regarding the best options towards achieving those goals, at times because we tend to always want things to go our way and the other options don’t always benefit us. We’ve got to reach beyond ourselves a bit more. There’s no room for self-centeredness in love. It’s about everyone, and when we act in a manner that yields the maximum benefit and minimum harm to the greatest number of people, we produce the greatest good for all. This principle is central to the ethical theory of utilitarianism, and can be adapted to work for universal automatism as well.

Utilitarianism provides a moral calculus for resolving ethical dilemmas – another kind of calculation, predicated on the Greatest Happiness Principle: actions are right to the degree by which it promotes happiness, and wrong to the reverse. Mill’s theory of utilitarianism holds that attaining pleasure and being free of pain are the only two things which are desirable as ends, and that all of our motivations are just permutations of this basic principle. (Mill)

However, from the worldview of HUA, and everything being a calculation, how can this best be expressed in a manner which aligns with HUA? What place does happiness have as a calculation, and how is unhappiness to be expressed as a calculation? Are pleasure and pain really the two pillars upon which to rest our moral decisions upon?

I believe that HUA broadens the scope of utilitarianism beyond the benefit of PCs and NPCs, but towards the benefit of the calculations which comprise them, plus the ones which act upon them. Isolating our decisions strictly to individuals fails here because there are calculations in operation which act upon us, that themselves are not individuals. Take nature, for instance. Damaging the natural world carries repercussions that certainly affect individuals, but rather than focusing solely upon individuals, fostering the larger calculation benefits all.

What do I mean by fostering calculations? Well, Wolfram has four classes of computation, which are described in Rucker’s Lifebox text. Class I computations terminate or have a fixed point. Class II computations go into an infinite recursion of sorts. Class III computations are totally random, and Class IV computations appear to have purposeful randomness. Based upon this, the phenomenon of our lives appears to have many Class IV qualities about it.

However, it’s not necessarily the case that there is only one Grand Ultimate Calculation, but infinitely many calculations which comprise everything. Additionally, it’s not always the case that every observed computation will stay that way. A Class I computation can burst into life when stimulated by an outside input. In similar fashion, a Class II computation can be thrown out of its loop, a Class III computation can be stirred into something purposeful, and a Class IV computation can oscillate between states. All of them can end, though…and it’s this consideration which must be made: the perpetuation of beneficial calculations is key, essentially acting to preserve that which is beneficial. Seems like word play, but there is a difference between the benefit and the benefactor.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The PC/NPC Dilemma: A Refutation of Solipsism & Egoism

Here's another portion of my term paper, written in a somewhat casual style, in the spirit of my blog. Probably not the best approach for an academic paper, but hopefully it's somewhat easier on the eyes for the reader. Some philosophy is insanely difficult to read.

Anyway, read on:

For all of its merits, philosophy cannot provide a concrete proof that ‘you’ exist. This ‘you’ that I refer to is better stated as the ‘other’, everyone that is ‘not-me’. Empirical evidence on my behalf might reveal observations that there are others who seem to look and behave similarly to myself on various levels, but because I cannot ever fully experience the ‘other’, I can never have a full proof that anyone else, aside from myself, exists. This position in philosophy is referred to as solipsism.

This is rather problematic from an ethical standpoint, even for HUA. If I am the only one that exists, then everyone else is just a non-player character, or NPC, in this MMO universe: computations of sufficient sophistication to interact with me to some degree, but not necessarily as sophisticated as myself. It would seem that solipsism could be a byproduct of adopting HUA.

For that matter, if everything is a computation, then it’s equally possible that what I perceive to be myself is just a highly-sophisticated computation that is infinitely more gnarly (to borrow Rucker’s term) than typical NPCs, but could just be another NPC myself! But no, I find myself in the same place as Descartes: cogito ergo sum. It’s highly unlikely that I’m just someone else’s NPC, well, unless there is some uber-being in the role of PC (player character) that is playing in this MUD.

Well, so at least I exist. However, another problem still remains: if I am the only one who exists, then why should I act kindly towards others at all? Why not act purely out of self-interest since everyone else is just a NPC? This doctrine of pure self-interest is the position of the egoist, and it would seem likely that if HUA leads to solipsism, then solipsism leads to egoism.

The egoist, in terms of MMOs, essentially becomes a sort of ‘grief player’, described by Chek Foo as “a player who derives his/her enjoyment not from playing the game, but from performing actions that detract from the enjoyment of the game by other players.” (Foo) The only stipulation in this case would be that it wouldn’t necessarily be griefing if I was the only player and there were no other players.

However, this still leads to problems. Acting purely out of self-interest, assuming that everyone else is a NPC, leads to the ways of the sociopath. In going this route, I could justify killing anyone I didn’t like, raping any woman I found attractive, and taking anything I desired…all because none of those other people exist, and the only duty I have as an egoist is to myself.

Is this the way for a HUA believer to live? Possibly. Some terrorists, cults, and serial killers/rapists/thieves might buy into this and justify their actions in such a manner…perhaps not to this degree, but in a similar fashion.

However, even if the HUA-solipsist-egoist were correct, it wouldn’t be practical to act in such a fashion because the theory also includes that the other NPCs are highly sophisticated enough to emulate my own behavior to the point where I might consider them other people. That sophistication also includes the ability to fight back and/or seek recourse for harmful actions which I might engage in…the result of which could potentially be very bad for myself. Therefore it is in my best interest to act as if all of the NPCs around me were real people, and probably to consider them as individuals like myself – resulting in the abandonment of solipsism and egoism (at least overtly).


More coming soon.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Course Paper Preview

The following is part of the introduction to my term paper for the course, titled Ethical Considerations of Living as a Hard Universal Automatist:

In adopting any worldview, we integrate a number of fundamental assumptions about the world into the way in which we perceive the ‘big picture’ and our place within it. Our worldview becomes the focus of our belief system – our ethical philosophy, if you will, which is reflected in our behaviors, desires, and motivations. The degree of moderation to which we cling to our worldview also bears a factor in our lives, distinguishing the casual from the serious (and the believer from the fanatic in some cases), creating a part of the gray area in which our society collectively determines what is typically acceptable and what is generally intolerable.

The worldview of universal automatism, as espoused by Stephen Wolfram, holds that “it is possible to view every process that occurs in nature or elsewhere as a computation.” (Rucker) Wolfram’s words are carefully chosen; however, if we were to take his definition of universal automatism and move it from the sphere of possibility into the sphere of actuality, we get: “every process that occurs in nature or elsewhere is a computation.” This shift in emphasis would essentially draw a line between soft and hard universal automatism, in which a hard universal automatist might possibly consider themselves and the entire universe to be a sort of infinitely large-scale MUD (or MMO) which is in operation.

Adopting the hard view of universal automatism as described above would entail a shift in the way that we perceive ethical behavior. This paper will focus on some of the ethical aspects of this MUD-styled version of universal automatism (occasionally using an informal tone and MUD terminology for purposes of analogy), paying attention to the considerations which might affect the way in which we view our lives, and suggest a modification of Mill’s utilitarian ethics centered around the concept of optimization which might best fit the worldview of hard universal automatism, or HUA.


More to come shortly.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Term Paper Coming Soon

With the end of the semester approaching, I'll be focusing more on writing a term paper for the class. I'd like to try and expand on what I've written so far, rather than repackage it, but I'll see how it turns out.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Academic Blog About MMOs

While websurfing, I've come across an interesting blog called Terra Nova, a collection of semi-academic writings from a number of highly-educated writers who all play MMOs.

The blog consists of a number of articles with their opinions on the sociopolitical aspects of MMOs, the interpersonal dynamics of playing in MUDs, the effects that game designers and companies' actions have on the industry and its customer base, and more. Check it out sometime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Extended Leave

With midterms coming up and me reading frantically, my couple of days is going to turn into a bit longer.

However, to keep yourself entertained, check out this video of Yoda showing off his moves.

Amazing that all of that is digitally created! And whoever took the time to make that all....dang.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cheers of Joy

My copy of The Lifebox, The Seashell, and The Soul finally came in the mail. That free shipping thing from Amazon took a lot longer than I thought.

Taking a couple of days off to read.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Brief Quote

"It is indeed a surprising and fortunate fact that nature can be expressed by relatively low-order mathematical functions."
~Rudolf Carnap

Friday, October 07, 2005

Randomness & Unpredictability

"Mathematics is the science of patterns."
~Lynn Arthur Steen

When I began this blog, I posted a quote from Spinoza, who wrote that there is nothing random about nature, and that the things that we perceive as random are only so because we do not understand it. In understanding 'Life: The MMO', it might do us well to distinguish between the ideas of randomness and unpredictability...similar concepts, but we cannot accept both and be consistent when talking about universal automatism.
Main Entry: random
Function: adjective
  1. a : lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern b : made, done, or chosen at random
  2. a : relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence b : being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence ; also : characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements

The primary definition of random, according to Merriam-Webster, lacks purpose. Were the calculations of life to truly behave in a random fashion, according to this definition, life would not exist. A skin cell might consist of carbon molecules in one instance, aluminum the next, vanish from existence in the next, only to reform as something else afterwards.

No, life doesn't behave that way. We can't really then make use of the term 'randomness' and mean this without being inconsistent.

However, the second definition refers to (albeit not exactly) probability of occurance and procedures designed to obtain sets whose elements are probabilistic. This captures more of the meaning of 'randomness' as referred to in universal automatism....which is more like the idea of 'unpredictable' than the first definition of 'random'.

Calculations behave in a deterministic, yet unpredictable pattern. The series of calculations which produced CC, the cloned cat (referred to earlier), still produced a cat, but not an identical copy of its original....even with the same instructions!

MMOs, even in their simplicity, attempt to create this sense of unpredictability with the use of a random number generator to simulate the idea of luck and chance in the game. The outcome of the random number generator is often modified by things like character skills, experience, difficulty of the task, etc... which is a simplistic model of proficiency that we can still relate to: as good as we've become at walking, we still trip once in a while.

Unpredictability, in this sense, still retains a certain purpose, and still behaves in a particular pattern - although the complexity may currently be beyond our ability to describe with accuracy. Calculations process input from all of the relevant environmental and internal factors, then produce an output which is based upon that input and the operations involved in that particular calculation. While the operatives involved may not always produce identical results, what they do produce is more characteristic of being unpredictable than being completely random.

For the sake of word variety, I may continue to use both the words 'random' and 'unpredictable' when discussing universal automatism; however I use both words to indicate a sort of 'instability with purpose' which describes the laws of the world that we are in.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Invisible Code, Twinking, and The Eyes of a Child

"...I don't even see the code. All I see is blonde, brunette, redhead..."
~Cypher, The Matrix

In an MMO, the entirety of the game universe boils down to the rules contained within the game's code and the calculations performed by the game provider's server. The results of the calculations are sent to my computer in cute little data packets to be unwrapped, interpreted, and then the results show up on my screen as what my toon sees.

At first, this barrage of sense data can be a bit overwhelming to a player, and it's not always easy to filter it into something comprehensible right away. However, given time to acclimate, it's pretty easy to scan the screen briefly and respond to game stimuli. What was once a maze of windows, icons, maps, chat bubbles, and avatars representing other players' toons becomes a sea of clarity for a gamer who is experienced in their environment.

Games are intellectual patterns, according to Raph Koster in his book A Theory of Fun in Game Design. Our brains are attracted to them because we sense a pattern and make an attempt to figure it out. We are constantly powergaming, trying to optimize our pattern recognition for the particular game of our choice until the pattern becomes predictable, at which point the game becomes dull and boring. Conversely, patterns which we do not immediately recognize as such get dismissed and are not usually sources of entertainment for us.

Interestingly enough, longtime powergamers often 'help' newer players out by presenting optimal play strategies to them immediately instead of letting them discover it for themselves, and in the spirit of charity, twink a new character to more quickly immerse them into the world of the veteran gamer.....essentially depriving them of their MMO childhood, if you will.

Much of this can be likened to the eyes of a child exploring his/her world, and the maturation and indoctrination process which eventually trains them (hopefully) to function as a socially acceptable adult.

In "Life: The MMO", the entirety of our game universe still boils down to the various quantum calculations which are performed by particles with particular rules. The results of these calculations, when they manifest themselves at a sufficiently large-scale enough product so as to be interpreted by my sensory organs, the information gets sent via cute little nerve impulses to my brain, which unwraps, interprets, and then tells me what I am perceiving.

As children, this barrage of sense data can be overwhelming: pictures, people, images, sensations, emotions, smells, tastes, desires, and more. Add to that the constant flux of growth in childhood, in which the parameters of all of the calculations which make up a particular child are in a continued process of change, so much so that it's not all that surprising that some children trip over their own feet (thanks Data) and find themselves scatterbrained, attempting to process all of the raw information. However, given time for maturation and education, our filters have been developed to the point where so human beings can even eat a sandwich, converse on a cell phone, change a CD, and drive a car a the same time! (Okay, so maybe we haven't developed them quite that far, but it's still pretty impressive.)

What's happened? Well, we've been twinked through the process of our educational indoctrination to be able to evaluate patterns which we perceive and filter/focus on them specifically. Part of this is intentional twinking so that each generation of human beings doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, but it's still twinking nonetheless.

Our pattern recognition has grown to the point where we filter out many simple and nonsensical patterns and focus on the interesting ones - patterns which seem to have a pattern, but we can't explain it yet. We don't really look for the 'code' either; we just powergame and attempt to see how it fits within patterns which we already know and recognize. The familiar is attractive to us, and it's evident in the types of games that we gravitate towards, as well as the routines and people whom we elect to associate with. They're familiar, but different enough to be interesting. We don't even bother to consider the code - it's invisible to us - we just focus on the pattern and optimizing our response to that pattern.

Blonde, brunette, redhead....all patterns which I haven't quite figured out, grown tired of seeing, or respond to with optimal performance quite yet.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Computational Humor

Here's a fairly common poorly-formed class 1 computation for your amusement:

"To use: Apply shampoo to wet hair. Massage to lather, then rinse. Repeat."
~A typical hair-washing algorithm that fails to halt

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Brief thought

I typed up a nice post earlier, but it was lost when the server updated. :(

So for now, here's a quote which evoked a few thoughts about gnarly computation:

"Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line."
~Benoit Mandelbrot

Monday, October 03, 2005

We interrupt this blog...

...to bring you this important message:

Buy me.

That is all.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Character Creation & Cloning

"The development of an organism ... may be considered as the execution of a 'developmental program' present in the fertilized egg. ... A central task of developmental biology is to discover the underlying algorithm from the course of development.''
~Aristid Lindenmayer and Grzegorz Rozenberg

According to records, my toon (self in MMO-speak) spawned on this server (world) on April 5, 1977. My first memories don't go back that far, though. I don't remember being born. I'm not sure anyone does.

What I do know of my birth and infant/toddler years came from pictures and anecdotes from my parents and relatives, but as far as I can consciously remember things, I can't really place an exact point on my first memory....it was just 'there'. Everything before that is just my 'backstory', as the roleplayers like to call it. I assume that it is true because I trust my parents not to lie to me, because Adobe Photoshop didn't exist in the late 70's, and because corduroy baby clothes have not existed in any other time period in the history of mankind.

I've studied developmental psychology and it makes sense that I don't remember my own birth, that my cognitive abilities still had to develop to the point where I achieved a primitive level of self-abstraction, but attempting to recall my self-awareness leads me to a point in which I somehow realized me as me, and not someone/something else.

In a way, it's much like a newly-created MMO toon: a noob (slang for newbie/new player), if you will. Noobs don't get to experience infancy; they just get thrust into the world, dazed and confused. My first glimpses of the world around me were of confusion and wonderment. There were so many neat things to do and experience, and I had no idea how to go about doing them, so I learned through trial-and-error (or trial-and-terror, as my mentor Ed Fong used to say).

The process of 'character creation' in Life: The MMO is astounding. Strings of DNA code from two compatible parents merge into a hybrid string of code which somehow manages to self-replicate and follow its own instructions to create a new human being with starting attributes similar to both parents (varied, of course, depending on the pattern of dominant & recessive genes, as well as mutations, etc.).

Once an egg is fertilized, a new calculation begins with a single cell following its own instructions, and as it divides over successive generations, the emergent pattern formed by the cells begins to take shape: organs, genitals, bones, etc.

It's quite 'gnarly', as Rudy Rucker would call it. It's definitely got some kind of a pattern to it: I seem to have 2 arms, 2 legs, and a head, like most other similar beings, similar toons, if you will. However, the pattern produced its own unique result as well: the toon which is me looks noticably different from all other similar toons.

Interestingly enough, even if we copied my pattern and created a clone of myself, the starting cell would follow its instructions, yet the result would not even be identical to myself!

I refer, of course, to CC (CopyCat), a cloned cat. Here's an article about CC, showing how CC's brown, tan, and gold spots bear no resemblance to her original, who has a striped gray coat!

"Not only does cloning not produce a physical duplicate, but it can never reproduce the behavior or personality of a cat that you want to keep around."
~Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society

Why is this? Shouldn't a calculation produce a definite result? Well, yes and no.

It did produce a definite result: another cat. Whether the precise result matches what was predicted - or whether the result is predictable at all - is an issue here. The type of calculation at work here isn't a simple arithmetic pattern; it's a dynamic sequence of rules which produce 'predictable yet unstable' outcomes, a Category III calculation, according to Rucker. Were I to allow two identical cells with identical rules to operate in a cellular automata simulation and run for several thousand cycles before stopping, the results would eventually diverge.

DNA isn't really binary; it has 2 complementary pairs of proteins which can be sequenced in 4 different ways along approximately 3 billion or so chemical base pairs which make up the 46 chromosomes of human DNA. But since it's not binary, that only increases the number of possibilities.

Try and run a hypothetical simulation like that from one cell (itself containing 3 billion instructions), increasing in number geometrically until the number of cells reaches 10^14 (the approximate number of cells in the average human, as estimated by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute), and it's not difficult to see how a complex series of simple calculations, even just the ordering of 4 base proteins, can produce a unique individual even with the same initial values and computational instructions.

No other toon in this MMO will ever be quite like me.
Corduroy baby clothes are going to make a comeback though.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Fallacial Thinking?

"There's a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons and reasons that sound good."
~Burton Hillis

My high school science teachers and undergrad logic professors would probably have a field day with me for proposing the thought of life being an MMO, whether I believed it or not.

Correlation does not prove causation....just because something happens to behave a certain way does not mean that it is true of all things....the part is not the whole, nor does it define the whole....so say the fallacies of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this), hasty generalization, composition, and a variety of other inductive and causal fallacies.

A lot of my trained philosophical alarms are flashing when I think and write about universal automatism, but my thoughts so far been unable to produce anything to refute its premises or its reasoning, and I haven't been able to produce a counterexample of anything which would demonstrate the ~P of universal automatism: it is not the case that everything is a computation.

Does this make my analogy with MMOs and universal automatism an attempt at forming a reductio ad absurdum argument? Possibly, but that's not my motivation. In exploring as many angles of this analogy as possible, I may also end up corroborating the concept as well.

The philosophical side of me would demand this sort of investigation before adopting universal automatism (or any philosophy) into my worldview. I admit that I like the idea, and that it would explain a lot of things if it were true....but wanting it to be true doesn't make it that way.

My interest is what drives this personal investigation.

Friday, September 30, 2005

MMO Metaphysics

"Nature itself, even in chaos, cannot proceed except in an orderly and regular manner."
~Immanuel Kant

Metaphysical claims tend to deal with the nature of reality, and by likening reality to an MMO, I've already made a number of bold assumptions which I may or may not be able to justify.

By no means am I claiming that life is another Ultima Online, Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, World of Warcraft, The Matrix Online, etc. It would be a mistake to equivocate these small packages with the entirety of the universe that we live in. Truly, our world is far more vast and varied than anything that the current MMO genre could have to offer, even put together.

But if MMOs and universal automatism have anything in common, it would be in that both worlds operate on computations at a fundamental level, computations which may or may not be similar, but when activated and set loose in a virtually infinite space with a virtually infinite number of other computations, can create marvelous complexities over time.

What would this entail, perhaps? Here's a couple of things that come to my mind:
  1. The universe was created. By who or what, I do not know. But the infinite combination of computations which we reside in had to have a beginning - a start point from which the various particles and the rules that they behave by could initiate their functions.
  2. We can only describe the things which are possible within our universe. Discussion of anything beyond our universe ultimately fails. We end up projecting our idea of how the universe operates onto something beyond our universe, and make messes in our intellectual shorts. Wittgenstein may have said it best in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus when he opened with, "The world is all that is the case."
  3. I am part of this universe. I am subject to the same constraints as the other things in this universe, and different only in that the collection of computations which currently designates itself as me chooses to abstract myself.
  4. Time is the fundamental computation which governs the updates of the other computations. By this, I don't mean the way I perceive time. I'm referring to the idea that temporality must be a necessary part of our universe in order for any other computation to function. Particular computations may not always update at the same intervals, but all existing computations are in a simultaneous and ongoing process of updating.

These may or may not be accurate, and I'm certain there are other things which I have not considered in the time that it took me to write this, but it's a start.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Welcome to MMOLife

"Nothing in Nature is random. ... A thing appears random only through the incompleteness of our knowledge."
~Benedict Spinoza

Hello, and welcome to my blog.

I am beginning this blog as part of a class project for Philosophy 115: Computers and Reality at San Jose State University, with Professor Rudy Rucker. The class focuses on the philosophy of universal automatism, the idea that everything is a computation.

Computations are not necessarily simple cut-and-dry 2+2=4 recipes. Our world is full of elaborate and complex computations: take genetics for example, in which the correct combination of 4 different proteins, executed within the cells of a living being, can result in drastically different results!

MMOs - Massively Multiplayer Online games - are a simplistic model of such a computational world, in which the execution of thousands of lines of instructions results in a 'persistent-state-world' for players around the globe to interact with each other and live out virtual lives if they please. It's not too unlike some themes in popular sci-fi media: The Matrix, Star Trek's holodecks, the world of Disney's Tron, etc.

There are many parallels between the MMO universes and the 'real world', differing especially in the degree of complexity, as well as the artificiality of the digital realms. However, if universal automatism is correct and everything truly is a computation, then we may be part of the ultimate MMO: life itself.

I'd like to explore some of those parallels here and tease out some of the implications of 'Life: The MMO' as an analogy of universal automatism. I may differ in the degree of complexity since I plan to use some MMO gaming lingo at times instead of precise scientific or philosophical terminology, and if my analogies suffer from reductionism, that is more the fault of a student's learning rather than a flaw in the concept. At other times, I may borrow from other philosophers, writers, and thinkers in order to analyze where my mental journey is leading me.

As a preliminary disclaimer to the rest of this blog, these are not my personal views on the ultimate nature of the universe, but just the impotent mental ejaculations of a philosophically-minded student trying to make sense of an idea. If any seeds planted here come to fruition in your mind, I invite you to comment and help me make sense of this computational world that I am exploring.

On the other hand, if I sound like I'm full of it, I probably am.