On Life and Evolution
Warning! Serious brain dump ahead!
So, I know this guy on Twitter (@missingfaktor, you should follow him), who frequently tweets or re-tweets about religion, atheism, or evolution, and just like in Inception a little idea got inside my head.
I don't really see the world in black and white, and this is true for the evolutionism and creationism stuff too, although I tend to believe more in evolution than in creation (I don't see human beings popping out of nowhere on Earth). However... who created evolution? Or, did the evolution, more precisely, the rules for evolution were created or evolved or something? And who planted the initial seed? Is it really necessary that there is some entity out there to create the initial seed? Do we need time?
Now, all these questions above got mixed this morning with some other idea. We have computers, and we can actually model and create worlds inside them. So, what would be the minimum rules necessary to create that would allow evolution and would actually create some intelligent life-form inside our program given a considerable amount of time? Would it even be possible? Conway did his research with his Game of Life, and some people (forgot where I read this) wondered how many game generations are needed for a given initial generation in order to reach some sort of life form.
So, these are the initial two questions.
- is it even possible to devise a world with built-in evolution mechanism which given enough time will produce self-conscious intelligence?
- how hard would that be? I mean, how complex could the initial rules be?
I'll assume the answers are that it is possible and not actually very hard, otherwise I'd stop here. So, let's imagine we're in front of our artificial, evolving, world were we try to model evolution and see where it ends up.
The big problem now I believe is to spot intelligence. I assume the program we devised is just let to run and we don't actually attempt to intervene in it. Will we be able to spot intelligence? It doesn't have to look like what we see among us. It doesn't have to generate multiple, self-conscious, life forms. One would suffice.
Let's assume though that we're able to recognize it. Let's say we've built some visual interface to this world that would allow some sort of representation of it (although I don't think it should necessarily represent something true to what it is actually). Here's the thing now. We would be some lousy gods because we depend on time, and our tools depend on that, and the world we devised probably has some form of time in it. The time is generated by the CPU. I assume this world runs entirely in the memory of the computer (no persistence for the moment), and that the amount of memory is infinite. However, the CPU speed does not necessarily have limits, but it is variable. Imagine those creatures inside that world, they would be so constrained to the world they live in that, no matter the CPU speed, for them time will always have the same speed, or... it would be just time. Because, without time they would not exist, and every thought of them would be a certain amount of CPU instructions. So, it doesn't matter how many instructions per unit of time the CPU executes. All it matters is that they get executed. Do they have any chance to get a feel for this? Is there any chance for them to plan some experiments that will show them that time actually has speed and that it varies? I don't see one, unless we design the initial world that way.
It would be quite funny to watch those little guys banging their heads against the wall trying to understand their world. With some of them believing in creationism, some others in evolutionism.
Here's another question. Now that you know your computer holds a world of intelligent life forms, would you unplug the power cable? How would you feel yourself after deliberately obliterating an entire universe?
To me, that seems to be the problem with evolution. Is it necessary that someone lay out the initial rules of evolution, or not?
We, as intelligent entities, cannot really imagine a universe without time. We can imagine ourselves existing in a world without dimensions (see Shadows), but not a world without time. So, my opinion is that it either has to be some sort of superior entity that lives outside time, or maybe time is just another dimension of the world we live in and it's just our perception about it that makes us unable to imagine a world without time, but the world can exist just fine all by itself, for ever, since ever (so to say).
How would a world without verbs look like? Because verbs denote time. You wouldn't "exist" because that's a verb and it implies time.
What does life actually mean? Would we perceive what we created as life if we know they actually follow some basic rules of evolution? How can order be created out of chaos? Have we actually created life until now and didn't actually realize it?
Another interesting part is that the universe we created it's not material. The substrate they would exist on would be material, but that's our material, our electrons (quarks, strings, whatever), not theirs. Maybe they would perceive their world as material, but that depends entirely on the initial world we create.
The irony is that... oh, well, the chaos that exists in our world would create their world too. So, abstraction will leak, but they probably won't be able to sense it. Or, if maybe they'll be able to obtain some buffer overflows, and then some weird things could happen in their world, and as such maybe they will ultimately be able to create some model of their world, i.e. our computer.
How would this experiment makes us able to understand the world we live in? After all, the world we would create would be based on the world we live in. Maybe we can sense some stuff by means of this experiment. Here's a little analogy for this.
I find it pretty hard to imagine a world with four dimensions, but I can attempt to understand this if I imagine how two 1-dimensional worlds intersect themselves to form a point. Then, two 2-dimensional worlds intersect themselves and form a 1-dimensional world, a line. Finally, two 3-dimensional worlds intersect themselves to form a 2-dimensional world, a plane. However, note that for each intersection you actually need a superior dimension. To intersect two 2-dimensional worlds, that forms a 1-dimensional world, you need a 3-dimensional world, otherwise the intersection of two planes would be the same plane.
Maybe, trying to create this world inside our world will actually help us understand the world we live in. Maybe...