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Posts Tagged ‘simulation

“Reality is broken”*…

 

Paperclips, a new game from designer Frank Lantz, starts simply. The top left of the screen gets a bit of text, probably in Times New Roman, and a couple of clickable buttons: Make a paperclip. You click, and a counter turns over. One.

The game ends—big, significant spoiler here—with the destruction of the universe.

In between, Lantz, the director of the New York University Games Center, manages to incept the player with a new appreciation for the narrative potential of addictive clicker games, exponential growth curves, and artificial intelligence run amok…

More at “The way the world ends: not with a bang but a paperclip“; play Lantz’s game here.

(Then, as you consider reports like this, remind yourself that “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”)

* Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World

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As we play we hope not prophetically, we might recall that it was on this date in 4004 BCE that the Universe was created… as per calculations by Archbishop James Ussher in the mid-17th century.

When Clarence Darrow prepared his famous examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes trial [see here], he chose to focus primarily on a chronology of Biblical events prepared by a seventeenth-century Irish bishop, James Ussher. American fundamentalists in 1925 found—and generally accepted as accurate—Ussher’s careful calculation of dates, going all the way back to Creation, in the margins of their family Bibles.  (In fact, until the 1970s, the Bibles placed in nearly every hotel room by the Gideon Society carried his chronology.)  The King James Version of the Bible introduced into evidence by the prosecution in Dayton contained Ussher’s famous chronology, and Bryan more than once would be forced to resort to the bishop’s dates as he tried to respond to Darrow’s questions.

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Ussher

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Written by LW

October 23, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Acedia est tristitia vocem amputans”*…

 

The Seven Deadly Sins may seem familiar and, with that familiarity, less a matter of life and death and damnation. Sure, greed and envy aren’t great, but who hasn’t overindulged in this or that without grievous consequences? But when the list of Christian cardinal sins was first created, they were a big deal: eight of the biggest threats to a devout life as a monk in the desert. Eight? One among those that isn’t included among the sins today, called acedia, was perhaps the greatest threat of all to those monks.

Acedia comes from Greek, and means “a lack of care.” It sounds a little like today’s sloth, and acedia is indeed considered a precursor to today’s sin of laziness. To Christian monks in the fourth century, however, acedia was more than just laziness or apathy. It was more like dejection that made it difficult to be spiritual, avoiding ascetic practices, boredom that led to falling asleep while reading, and frustration with life in a monastery—but the meaning is nuanced and has changed over time. The evolution of the word’s use shows just how much the concept of cardinal sin has shifted through the centuries…

Don’t worry, be happy at: “Before Sloth Meant Laziness, It Was the Spiritual Sin of Acedia.”

* “Acedia is a sadness that silences the voice”  a saying of Gregory of Nyssa, quoted by Aquinas

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As we work on our attitudes, we might send provocative birthday greetings to Jean Baudrillard; he was born on this date in 1929.  A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, he is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist philosophical school.

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“Animals have no unconscious, because they have a territory. Men have only had an unconscious since they lost a territory.” *…

 

Because

* Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation

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As we get in touch with our inner omnivore, we might send passionate birthday greetings to The Maid of Orléans, Joan of Arc; she was born on this date in 1412.**  Joan entered history in spectacular fashion during the spring of 1429: following what she maintained was the command of God, Joan led the French Dauphin’s armies in a series of stunning military victories over the English, effectively reversing the course of the Hundred Years’ War.  But she was captured in 1430 by the Burgundians, a faction (led by the Duke of Burgundy) allied with the English.  The French King, Charles VII, declined to ransom her from the Burgundians who then “sold” her to the English. In December of that year, she was transferred to Rouen, the military headquarters and administrative capital in France of King Henry VI of England, and placed on trial for heresy before a Church court headed by a Bishop loyal to the English.

Joan was convicted and executed in May of 1431.  She was exonerated in 1456 when the verdict was reversed on appeal by the Inquisitor-General. She became a French national heroine, and in 1920 was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

** “Boulainvilliers tells of her birth in Domrémy, and it is he who gives us an exact date, which may be the true one, saying that she was born on the night of Epiphany, 6 January”  – Pernoud’s Joan of Arc By Herself and Her Witnesses, p. 98

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Written by LW

January 6, 2015 at 1:01 am

Playing at life…

 

For years both scientists and science fiction writers have suggested that a sufficiently advanced civilisation could– and thus would– create a simulated universe.  And since simulations beget simulations (within simulations, within simulations, etc., etc.), there would ultimately be many more simulated universes than real ones…  meaning that it would be more likely than not that any one universe– say, ours– is artificial.

Silas Beane, working with a team at the University of Bonn says he have evidence this may be true.  The Physics arXiv Blog at Technology Review explains:

 

First, some background. The problem with all simulations is that the laws of physics, which appear continuous, have to be superimposed onto a discrete three dimensional lattice which advances in steps of time.

The question that Beane and co ask is whether the lattice spacing imposes any kind of limitation on the physical processes we see in the universe. They examine, in particular, high energy processes, which probe smaller regions of space as they get more energetic

What they find is interesting. They say that the lattice spacing imposes a fundamental limit on the energy that particles can have. That’s because nothing can exist that is smaller than the lattice itself.

So if our cosmos is merely a simulation, there ought to be a cut off in the spectrum of high energy particles.

It turns out there is exactly this kind of cut off in the energy of cosmic ray particles,  a limit known as the Greisen–Zatsepin–Kuzmin or GZK cut off.

This cut-off has been well studied and comes about because high energy particles interact with the cosmic microwave background and so lose energy as they travel  long distances.

But Beane and co calculate that the lattice spacing imposes some additional features on the spectrum. “The most striking feature…is that the angular distribution of the highest energy components would exhibit cubic symmetry in the rest frame of the lattice, deviating significantly from isotropy,” they say.

In other words, the cosmic rays would travel preferentially along the axes of the lattice, so we wouldn’t see them equally in all directions.

That’s a measurement we could do now with current technology. Finding the effect would be equivalent to being able to to ‘see’ the orientation of lattice on which our universe is simulated…

Read the whole mind-blowing story (including some comforting caveats) at “The Measurement That Would Reveal The Universe As A Computer Simulation” (and find Beane’s paper here).

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As we wonder if there’s a “reset” button, we might spare a thought for the extraordinary Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger; he died on this date in 1961.  A physicist best remembered in his field for his contributions to the development of quantum mechanics (e.g., the Schrödinger equation), and more generally for his “Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment– a critique of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics– he also wrote on philosophy and theoretical biology.  Indeed, both James Watson, and independently, Francis Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, credited Schrödinger’s What is Life? (1944), with its theoretical description of how the storage of genetic information might work, as an inspiration.

It seems plain and self-evident, yet it needs to be said: the isolated knowledge obtained by a group of specialists in a narrow field has in itself no value whatsoever, but only in its synthesis with all the rest of knowledge and only inasmuch as it really contributes in this synthesis toward answering the demand, “Who are we?”

– from Science and Humanism, 1951

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Written by LW

January 4, 2013 at 1:01 am

From the Not-Sure-I-Really-Want-To-Know Department…

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As readers know, some physicists believe that the universe as we know it is actually a giant hologram, giving us the illusion of three-dimensions, while in fact all the action is occurring on a two-dimensional boundary region (see here, here, and here)… shadows on the walls of a cave, indeed.

But lest one mistake that for the frontier of freakiness, others (c.f., e.g., here and here) believe that the existence we experience is nothing more (or less) than a Matrix-like simulation…

A common theme of science fiction movies and books is the idea that we’re all living in a simulated universe—that nothing is actually real. This is no trivial pursuit: some of the greatest minds in history, from Plato, to Descartes, have pondered the possibility. Though, none were able to offer proof that such an idea is even possible. Now, a team of physicists working at the University of Bonn have come up with a possible means for providing us with the evidence we are looking for; namely, a measurable way to show that our universe is indeed simulated. They have written a paper describing their idea and have uploaded it to the preprint server arXiv…

Phys.Org has the whole story at “Is it real? Physicists propose method to determine if the universe is a simulation“; the paper mentioned above can be downloaded here.

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As we reach for the “reset” button, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Paul Isaac Bernays; he was born on this date in 1888.  A close associate of David Hilbert (of “Hilbert’s Hotel” fame), Bernays was one the foremost philosophers of mathematics of the Twentieth Century, who made important contributions to mathematical logic and axiomatic set theory.  Bernays is perhaps best remembered for his revision and improvement of the (early, incomplete) set theory advanced by John von Neumann in the 1920s; Bernays’s work, with some subsequent modifications by Kurt Gödel, is now known as the Von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel set theory.

Lest, per the simulation speculation above suggest that cosmology has a hammerlock on weirdness:  Set theory is used, among other purposes, to describe the symmetries inherent in families of elementary particles and in crystals. Materials such as a liquid or a gas in equilibrium, made of uniformly distributed particles, exhibit perfect spatial symmetry—they look the same everywhere and in every direction… a condition that “breaks” at very low temperature, when the particles form crystals (which have some symmetry, but less)…  Now Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek has suggested that there may exist “Time Crystals“– whose structure would repeat periodically, as with an ordinary crystal, but in time rather than in space… a kind of “perpetual motion ‘machine'” (weirder yet, one that doesn’t violate the laws of thermodynamics).

Paul Bernays

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Written by LW

October 17, 2012 at 1:01 am

Special Summer Cheesecake Edition…

From Flavorwire, “Vintage Photos of Rock Stars In Their Bathing Suits.”

(Special Seasonal Bonus: from Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton to Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, “Take a Dip: Literary Greats In Their Bathing Suits.”)

As we reach for the Coppertone, we might might wish a soulful Happy Birthday to musician Isaac Hayes; he was born on this date in 1942.  An early stalwart at legendary Stax Records (e.g., Hayes co-wrote and played on the Sam and Dave hits “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming”), Hayes began to come into his own after the untimely demise of Stax’s headliner, Otis Redding.  First with his album Hot Buttered Soul, then with the score– including most famously the theme– for Shaft, Hayes became a star, and a pillar of the more engaged Black music scene of the 70s.  Hayes remained a pop culture force (e.g., as the voice of Chef on South Park) until his death in 2008.  (Note:  some sources give Hayes birth date as August 20; but county records in Covington, KY, his birthplace suggest that it was the 6th.)

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Your correspondent is headed for his ancestral seat, and for the annual parole check-in and head-lice inspection that does double duty as a family reunion.  Connectivity in that remote location being the challenged proposition that it is, these missives are likely to be in abeyance for the duration.  Regular service should resume on or about August 16.  

Meantime, lest readers be bored, a little something to ponder:

Depending who you ask, there’s a 20 to 50 percent chance that you’re living in a computer simulation. Not like The Matrix, exactly – the virtual people in that movie had real bodies, albeit suspended in weird, pod-like things and plugged into a supercomputer. Imagine instead a super-advanced version of The Sims, running on a machine with more processing power than all the minds on Earth. Intelligent design? Not necessarily. The Creator in this scenario could be a future fourth-grader working on a science project.

Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that we may very well all be Sims. This possibility rests on three developments: (1) the aforementioned megacomputer. (2) The survival and evolution of the human race to a “posthuman” stage. (3) A decision by these posthumans to research their own evolutionary history, or simply amuse themselves, by creating us – virtual simulacra of their ancestors, with independent consciousnesses…

Read the full story– complete with a consideration of the more-immediate (and less-existentially-challenging) implications of “virtualization”– and watch the accompanying videos at Big Think… and channel your inner-Phillip K. Dick…

Y’all be good…

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