Is the Universe a Computer? New Evidence Emerges.

I haven’t posted in a while, but this is blog-worthy material. I’ve recently become familiar with the thinking of University of Maryland physicist, James Gates Jr. Dr. Gates is working on a branch of physics called supersymmetry. In the process of his work he’s discovered the presence of what appear to resemble a form of computer code, called error correcting codes, embedded within, or resulting from, the equations of supersymmetry that describe fundamental particles.

You can read a non-technical description of what Dr. Gates has discovered in this article, which I highly recommend.

In the article, Gates asks, “How could we discover whether we live inside a Matrix? One answer might be ‘Try to detect the presence of codes in the laws that describe physics.'” And this is precisely what he has done. Specifically, within the equations of supersymmetry he has found, quite unexpectedly, what are called “doubly-even self-dual linear binary error-correcting block codes.” That’s a long-winded label for codes that are commonly used to remove errors in computer transmissions, for example to correct errors in a sequence of bits representing text that has been sent across a wire.

Gates explains, “This unsuspected connection suggests that these codes may be ubiquitous in nature, and could even be embedded in the essence of reality. If this is the case, we might have something in common with the Matrix science-fiction films, which depict a world where everything human being’s experience is the product of a virtual-reality-generating computer network.”

Why are these codes hidden in the laws of fundamental particles? “Could it be that codes, in some deep and fundamental way, control the structure of our reality?,” he asks. It’s a good question.

If you want to explore further, here is a Youtube video by someone who is interested in popularizing Dr. Gates’ work, containing an audio interview that is worth hearing. Here, you can hear Gates describe the potential significance of his discovery in layman’s terms. The video then goes on to explain how all of this might be further evidence for Bostrom’s Simulation Hypothesis (in which it is suggested that the universe is a computer simulation). (NOTE: The video is a bit annoying – in particular the melodramatic soundtrack, but it’s still worth watching in order to get a quick high level overview of what this is all about, and some of the wild implications).

Now why does this discovery matter? Well it is more than strange and intriguing that fundamental physics equations that describe the universe would contain these error correcting codes. Could it mean that the universe itself is built with error correcting codes in it, codes that that are just like those used in computers and computer networks? Did they emerge naturally, or are they artifacts of some kind of intelligent design? Or do they indicate the universe literally IS a computer? For example maybe the universe is a cellular automata machine, or perhaps a loop quantum gravity computer.

Digital Physics – A New Kind of Science

The view that the universe is some kind of computer is called digital physics – it’s a relatively new niche field within physics that may be destined for major importance in the future. But these are still early days.

I’ve been fascinated by the possibility that the universe is a computer since college, when I first found out about the work of Ed Fredkin on his theory that the universe is a cellular automaton — for, example, like John Conway’s Game of Life algorithm (particularly this article, excerpted from the book Three Scientists and their Gods).

Following this interest, I ended up interning in a supercomputing lab that was working on testing these possibilites, at MIT, with the authors of this book on “Cellular Automata Machines.”

Later I had the opportunity to become friends with Stephen Wolfram, whose magnum opus, “A New Kind of Science” is the ultimate, and also heaviest, book on this topic.

I asked Stephen about what he thinks about this idea and he said it is, “a bit like saying ‘there’s a Fibonacci sequence there; this must be a phenomenon based on rabbits’.  Error-correcting codes have a certain mathematical structure, associated e.g. with sphere packing.  You don’t have to use them to correct errors. But it’s definitely an amusing thought that one could detect the Matrix by looking for robustification features of code.  Of course, today’s technology/code rarely has these … because our computers are already incredibly reliable (and probably getting more so)”

The work of Dr. Gates, is at the very least, an interesting new development for this field. At best it might turn out to be a very important clue about the nature of the universe, although it’s very early and purely theoretical at this point. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

However, I personally don’t believe the universe will turn out to be a computer or a computation. Read the next article in this series to find out why I think Consciousness is Not a Computation.


  • Seth Lloyd, professor quantum mechanical engineering at MIT, has written a book that describes his theory that the universe is a quantum computer.
  • Here’s a good article that explores various views related to the idea the universe is a computation in some more detail.

Video: My Talk on the Evolution of the Global Brain at the Singularity Summit

If you are interested in collective intelligence, consciousness, the global brain and the evolution of artificial intelligence and superhuman intelligence, you may want to see my talk at the 2008 Singularity Summit. The videos from the Summit have just come online.

(Many thanks to Hrafn Thorisson who worked with me as my research assistant for this talk).

New Photon Thruster: Get to Mars in 1 Week!

An interesting new patent pending design for a photon thruster appears to be the real deal. Check out the article and who is behind it. (A fellow SRI alumnus!). Getting to Mars in a week means getting to the moon, as well as other nearby planets would be quite fast as well. This could be quite revolutionary.

TUSTIN, Calif., Sept. 7, 2007 — An amplified photon thruster that
could potentially shorten the trip to Mars from six months to a week
has reportedly attracted the attention of aerospace agencies and

Young Bae, founder of the Bae Institute in
Tustin, Calif., first demonstrated his photonic laser thruster (PLT),
which he built with off-the-shelf components, in December.

Speed of Light Broken?

Let’s hope this is true. That would be seriously exciting!

From this source

A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the
speed of light – an achievement that would undermine our entire
understanding of space and time.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921

to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, it would require an
infinite amount of energy to propel an object at more than 186,000
miles per second.

However, Dr Gunter Nimtz and Dr
Alfons Stahlhofen, of the University of Koblenz, say they may have
breached a key tenet of that theory.

The pair say
they have conducted an experiment in which microwave photons –
energetic packets of light – travelled "instantaneously" between a pair
of prisms that had been moved up to 3ft apart.

Being able to travel faster than the speed of light would lead to a wide variety of bizarre consequences.

Scientists Engineer New Levitation Technology

Recent research has found a way to reverse the Casimir force, which causes objects to stick together at nanoscales. This enables nanoscale levitation — among other things it could dramatically reduce friction in nanodevices. It could also enable new kinds of nanodevices in which for example rotating parts are levitated and held in place using the reverse Casimir force rather than by nanoscale axles or housings. For example nanowheels on a nanobot could perhaps be held in place and could turn without an axle. This could simplify the geometry of nanodevices, reducing the cost of manufacturing of more complex devices while also reducing the number of parts that could break. In addition, reversing the Casimir force could eliminate the main cause of friction (called "stiction") in nandevices — it causes parts to stick together such that they can’t even move. The solution to this problem has traditionally been to test and discard a percentage of defective nanodevices after production. Eliminating stiction by reversing the Casimir force could perhaps reduce these costs and make the process of nanomanufacturing more efficient.

St Andrews scientists have discovered a new way of levitating tiny
objects – paving the way for future applications in nanotechnology.

Theoretical physicists at the University of St Andrews have created
`incredible levitation effects’ by engineering the force of nature
which normally causes objects to stick together by quantum force. By
reversing this phenomenon, known as `Casimir force’, the scientists
hope to solve the problem of tiny objects sticking together in existing
novel nanomachines.

Professor Ulf Leonhardt and Dr Thomas Philbin of the University’s
School of Physics & Astronomy believe that they can engineer the
Casimir force of quantum physics to cause an object to repel rather
than attract another in a vacuum.

Casimir force (discovered in 1948 and first measured in 1997) can be
demonstrated in a gecko’s ability to stick to a surface with just one
toe. However, it can cause practical problems in nanotechnology, and
ways of preventing tiny objects from sticking to each other is the
source of much interest.

Found here via link from Bram.

Steorn Set to Demo "Free Energy" Device Tomorrow

Steorn, the Irish company that claims to have invented a mechanical device that generates unlimited free energy with no fuel, is scheduled to demonstrate their device publicly for the first time in London tomorrow. A panel of 22 independent world experts has been recruited to study the device. It should be an interesting demo!

Roswell Officer's Deathbed Confession: UFO's Are Real

This just in. Lieutenant Walter Haut was the public relations officer at the Roswell Air Force base in 1947 when aliens or a weather balloon allegedly crash landed on a nearby ranch.

Lieutenant Walter Haut was the public relations officer at the base
in 1947, and was the man who issued the original and subsequent press
releases after the crash on the orders of the base commander, Colonel
William Blanchard.

Haut died last year, but left a sworn affidavit to be opened only after his death.

Last week, the text was released and asserts that the weather balloon
claim was a cover story, and that the real object had been recovered by
the military and stored in a hangar. He described seeing not just the
craft, but alien bodies.

Read the rest here.


WiTricity Coming Soon

Another interesting article on the move towards wireless power, or what some are calling "WiTricity." I’ve written about this previously. The team at MIT is making some good headway. Check out the article for a diagram of how their wireless power beaming system works. It can power any device within about 9 feet.

Nikola Tesla was working on wireless power beaming in the early 1900’s, but since that time nobody has really succeeded in replicating his work or taking it further. Wireless power is an important and necessary step in technological evolution that simply must happen. My guess is that it will be a commercial mainstream technology within 20 years, if not sooner.

Very Cool Laser Graffitti Technology

Josh sent me this link. It’s a video of a new technology for doing laser graffitti on the sides of buildings at night. Josh and I have been discussing how to do this for years. You could also project onto clouds. And of course with a computer to control the image you could make some very nice looking pictures, and ads…

Intelligence is in the Connections

Google’s Larry Page recently gave a talk to the AAAS about how Google is looking towards a future in which they hope to implement AI on a massive scale. Larry’s idea is that intelligence is a function of massive computation, not of “fancy whiteboard algorithms.” In other words, in his conception the brain doesn’t do anything very sophisticated, it just does a lot of massively parallel number crunching. Each processor and its program is relatively “dumb” but from the combined power of all of them working together “intelligent” behaviors emerge.

Larry’s view is, in my opinion, an oversimplification that will not lead to actual AI. It’s certainly correct that some activities that we call “intelligent” can be reduced to massively parallel simple array operations. Neural networks have shown that this is possible — they excel at low level tasks like pattern learning and pattern recognition for example. But neural networks have not proved capable of higher level cognitive tasks like mathematical logic, planning, or reasoning. Neural nets are theoretically computationally equivalent to Turing Machines, but nobody (to my knowledge) has ever succeeded in building a neural net that can in practice even do what a typical PC can do today — which is still a long way short of true AI!

Somehow our brains are capable of basic computation, pattern detection and learning, simple reasoning, and advanced cognitive processes like innovation and creativity, and more. I don’t think that this richness is reducible to massively parallel supercomputing, or even a vast neural net architecture. The software — the higher level cognitive algorithms and heuristics that the brain “runs” — also matter. Some of these may be hard-coded into the brain itself, while others may evolve by trial-and-error, or be programmed or taught to it socially through the process of education (which takes many years at the least).

Larry’s view is attractive but decades of neuroscience and cognitive science have shown conclusively that the brain is not nearly as simple as we would like it to be. In fact the human brain is far more sophisticated than any computer we know of today, even though we can think of it in simple terms. It’s a highly sophisticated system comprised of simple parts — and actually, the jury is still out on exactly how simple the parts really are — much of the computation in the brain may be sub-neuronal, meaning that the brain may actually a much much more complex system than we think.

Perhaps the Web as a whole is the closest analogue we have today for the brain — with millions of nodes and connections. But today the Web is still quite a bit smaller and simpler than a human brain. The brain is also highly decentralized and it is doubtful than any centralized service could truly match its capabilities. We’re not talking about a few hundred thousand linux boxes — we’re talking about hundreds of billions of parallel distributed computing elements to model all the neurons in a brain, and this number gets into the trillions if we want to model all the connections. The Web is not this big, and neither is Google.

One reader who commented on Larry’s talk made an excellent point on what this missing piece may be: “Intelligence is in the connections, not the bits.”The point is that most of the computation in the brain actually takesplace via the connections between neurons, regions, and perhapsprocesses. This writer also made some good points about quantumcomputation and how the brain may make use of it, a view that forexample Roger Penrose and others have spent a good deal of time on.There is some evidence that brain may make use of microtubules andquantum-level computing. Quantum computing is inherently about fields,correlations and nonlocality. In other words the connections in thebrain may exist on a quantum level, not just a neurological level.

Whether quantum computation is the key or not still remains to bedetermined. But regardless, essentially, Larry’s approach is equivalentto just aiming a massively parallel supercomputer at the Web and hopingthat will do the trick. Larry mentions for example that if allknowledge exists on the Web you should be able to enter a query and geta perfect answer. In his view, intelligence is basically just search ona grand scale. All answers exist on the Web, and the task is just tomatch questions to the right answers. But wait? Is that all thatintelligence does? Is Larry’s view too much of an oversimplification?Intelligence is not just about learning and recall, it’s also aboutreasoning and creativity. Reasoning is not just search. It’s unclearhow Larry’s approach would address that.

In my own opinion, for global-scale AI to really emerge the Web has toBE the computer. The computation has to happen IN the Web, betweensites and along connections — rather than from outside the system. Ithink that is how intelligence will ultimately emerge on a Web-widescale. Instead of some Google Godhead implementing AI from afar for thewhole Web, I think it is more likely that every site, app and person onthe Web will help to implement it. It will be much more of a hybridsystem that combines decentralized human and machine intelligences andtheir interactions along data connections and social relationships. Ithink this may emerge from a future evolution of the Web that providesfor much richer semantics on every piece of data and hyperlink on theWeb, and for decentralized learning, search, and reasoning to takeplace within every node on the Web. I think the Semantic Web is anecessary technology for this to happen, but it’s only the first step.More will need to happen on top of it for this vision to reallymaterialize.

My view is more of an “agent metaphor” for intelligence — perhaps itis similar to Marvin Minsky’s Society of Mind ideas. I think that mindsare more like communities than we presently think. Even in our ownindividual minds for example we experience competing thoughts, multiplethreads, and a kind of internal ecology and natural selection of ideas.These are not low-level processes — they are more like agents — theyare actually each somewhat “intelligent” on their own, they seem to besomewhat autonomous, and they interact in intelligent almost socialways.

Ideas seem to be actors, not just passive data points — they arecompeting for resources and survival in a complex ecology that existsboth within our individual minds and between them in socialrelationships and communities. As the theory of memetics proposes,ideas can even transport themselves through language, culture, andsocial interactions in order to reproduce and evolve from mind to mind.It is an illusion to think that there is some central self or “I” thatcontrols the process (that is just another agent in the community infact, perhaps one with a kind of reporting and selection role).

I’m not sure the complex social dynamics of these communities ofintelligence can really be modeled by a search engine metaphor. Thereis a lot more going on than just search. As well as communication andreasoning between different processes, there may in fact be feedbackacross levels from the top-down as well as the from the bottom-up.Larry is essentially proposing that intelligence is a purely bottom-upemergent process that can be reduced to search in the ideal, simplestcase. I disagree. I think there is so much feedback in every directionthat medium and the content really cannot be separated. The thoughtsthat take place in the brain ultimately feedback down to the neuralwetware itself, changing the states of neurons and connections –computation flows back down from the top, it doesn’t only flow up fromthe bottom. Any computing system that doesn’t include this kind offeedback in its basic architecture will not be able to implement trueAI.

In short, Google is not the right architecture to truly build a globalbrain on. But it could be a useful tool for search andquestions-and-answers in the future, if they can somehow keep up withthe growth and complexity of the Web.

First Quantum Computer to be Announced Next Week

D-Wave, a company making quantum computers, claims the first quantum computer will be unveiled next week. If this really happens it could be big. Quantum computing can theoretically enable a massive increase in computing power. The question is what will it cost? If this technology is viable it also ups the ante in the encryption field — because quantum computers can potentially crack codes that are today effectively beyond the limits of our present computing power. This could bring about a  new market for quantum crytography, such as that provided by MagiQ, which is invulnerable to being cracked by quantum computers.

Brilliant New Optical Imaging Technique — Single Photon Imaging

Some very interesting research out of University of Rochester. Researchers there have found a way to record and later retrieve an image using only a single photon. This is cool enough — but wait, there’s more — they did this by leveraging the famous "double slit" experiment of quantum mechanics in a really smart way. Why didn’t I think of this??? Duh!

To produce the UR image, Howell simply shone a beam
of light through a stencil with the U and R etched out. Anyone who has
made shadow puppets knows how this works, but Howell turned down the
light so much that a single photon was all that passed through the

Quantum mechanics dictates some strange things at that scale, so
that bit of light could be thought of as both a particle and a wave. As
a wave, it passed through all parts of the stencil at once, carrying
the "shadow" of the UR with it. The pulse of light then entered a
four-inch cell of cesium gas at a warm 100 degrees Celsius, where it
was slowed and compressed, allowing many pulses to fit inside the small
tube at the same time.

Must-Know Terms for the 21st Century Intellectual

Read this fun article that lists and defines some of the key concepts that every post-singularity transhumanist meta-intellectual should know! (via Kurzweil)

New Wireless Power Technology — No More Wires!

A group of physicists at MIT have come up with a new model for beaming wireless power to mobile devices, such as computers or cell phones. It promises to do for power, what wireless ethernet hubs do for network connectivity.

I’ve been interested in wireless power ever since I first read the biography of Nikola Tesla in the early 1990’s. Tesla was perhaps the most important inventor of the 20th century — he singlehandedly invented much of what enables the modern electrical power grid today. He also pioneered radio, and many other technologies. But his greatest dream was wireless power. He believed he had discovered a way to beam electricity to any point on earth and embarked on several ambitious projects to test and commercialize his appraoch. But sadly his projects were never completed due to funding problems and interference by competitors and investors who had conflicting business interests. By the end of his life Tesla was a lonely and forgotten man, feeding pidgeons in the park.  At his death, many of his lab notebooks were confiscated and classified as Top Secret by the US military — never to be seen again — (and at least some this confiscated information was later used as the foundation for the Star Wars particle beam weaponry program). The greatest electrical genius in history was just too far ahead of his own time.

Tesla’s work has still not been fully understood or replicated today. But what remains unclassified is a treasure trove of invention of great relevance to the world we live in today.  In 2003 I blogged an article, called "I Want Wireless Power" outlining why I want this technology. Another great article about this opportunity is here.

British Ministry of Defense Chief Resigns; Cites Concerns About UFO's

Ok, here’s a very unusual news item:

During his time as head of the Ministry of Defence UFO project, Nick
Pope was persuaded into believing that other lifeforms may visit Earth
and, more specifically, Britain.

His concern is that "highly credible" sightings are simply dismissed.

And he complains that the project he once ran is now "virtually closed" down, leaving the country "wide open" to aliens.

Mr Pope decided to speak out about his worries after resigning
from his post at the Directorate of Defence Security at the MoD this

"The consequences of getting this one wrong could be huge," he said.

Read the rest here.  I have several thoughts about this  news and what it might mean… 

Continue reading

Is There Room for The Soul? – Good Article on Cognitive Science

This is a surprisingly good article on the nature of consciousness — providing a survey of the current state-of-the-art in cognitive science research. It covers the question from a number of perspectives and interviews many of the leading current researchers.

Why Machines Will Never be Conscious

Below is the text of my bet on Long Bets. Go there to vote.

“By 2050 no synthetic computer nor machine intelligence will have become truly self-aware (ie. will become conscious).”

Spivack’s Argument:

(This summary includes my argument, a method for judging the outcomeof this bet and some other thoughts on how to measure awareness…)


Even if a computer passes the Turing Test it will not really beaware that it has passed the Turing Test. Even if a computer seems tobe intelligent and can answer most questions as well as an intelligent,self-aware, human being, it will not really have a continuum ofawareness, it will not really be aware of what it seems to “think” or”know,” it will not have any experience of it’s own reality or being.It will be nothing more than a fancy inanimate object, a clevermachine, it will not be a truly sentient being.

Self-awareness is not the same thing as merely answering questionsintelligently. Therefore even if you ask a computer if it is self-awareand it answers that it is self-aware and that it has passed the TuringTest, it will not really be self-aware or really know that it haspassed the Turing Test.

AsJohn Searle and others have pointed out, the Turing Test does notactually measure awareness, it just measures informationprocessing—particularly the ability to follow rules or at leastimitate a particular style of communication. In particular it measuresthe ability of a computer program to imitate humanlike dialogue, whichis different than measuring awareness itself. Thus even if we succeedin creating good AI, we won’t necessarily succeed in creating AA(“Artificial Awareness”).

But why does this matter? Becauseultimately, real awareness may be necessary to making an AI that is asintelligent as a human sentient being. However, since AA istheoretically impossible in my opinion, truly self-aware AI will neverbe created and thus no AI will ever be as intelligent as a humansentient being even if it manages to fool someone into thinking it is(and thus passing the Turing Test).

In my opinion, awareness isnot an information process at all and will never be simulated orsynthesized by any information process. Awareness cannot be measured byan information processing system, it can only be measured by awarenessitself—something no formal information processing system can eversimulate or synthesize.

One might ask how it is that a humanhas awareness then? My answer is that awareness does not arise from thebody or the brain, nor does it arise from any physical cause. Awarenessis not in the body or the brain, but rather the body and the brain arein awareness. The situation is analagous to a dream, a simulation orvirtual reality, such as that portrayed in the popular film “TheMatrix.”

We exist in the ultimate virtual reality. The mediumof this virtual reality is awareness. That is to say that whateverappears to be happening “out there” or “within the mind” is happeningwithin a unified, nondualistic field of awareness: both the “subject”and the “object” exist equally within this field and neither is thesource of awareness.

This is similar to the case where weproject ourselves as dream protagonists in our own dreams—even thoughour dream bodies appear to be different than other dream-images theyare really equally dream appearances, they are no more fundamental thandream-objects. We identify with our dream-bodies out of habit andbecause it’s practical because the stories that take place appear fromthe perspective of particular bodies. But just because this virtualreality is structured as if awareness is coming from within our heads,it does not mean that is actually the case. In fact, quite the oppositeis taking place.

Awareness is not actually “in” the VR, the VR is”in” awareness. Things are exactly the opposite of how they appear. Ofcourse this is just an analogy—for example, unlike the Matrix, thevirtual reality we live in is not running on some giant computersomewhere and there is no other hidden force controlling it from behindthe scenes. Awareness is the fabric of reality and there is nothingdeeper, nothing creating it, it is not running on some cosmic computer,it comes out of of nowhere yet everything else comes out of it.

Ifwe look for awareness we can’t find anything to grasp, it is empty yetnot a mere nothingness, it is an emptiness that is awake, creative,alert, radiant, self-realizing.

Awareness is empty andfundamental like space, but it goes beyond space for it is also lucid.If we look for space we don’t find anything there. Nobody has evertouched or grasped space directly! But unlike space, awareness can atleast be measured directly–it can measure itself, it knows its ownnature.

Awareness is simply fundamental, a given, theunderlying meta-reality in which everything appears. How did it come tobe? That is unanswerable. What is it? That is unanswerable as well. Butthere is no doubt that awareness is taking place. Each sentient beinghas a direct and intimate experience of their own self-awareness.

Each of us experiences a virtual reality in which we and our world areprojections. That which both projects these projections and experiencesthem is awareness. This is like saying that the VR inherently knows itsown content. But in my opinion this knowing comes from outside thesystem, not from some construct that we can create inside it. So anyawareness that arises comes from the transcendental nature of realityitself, not from our bodies, minds, or any physical system within aparticular reality.

So is there one cosmic awareness out therethat we are all a part of? Not exactly, there is not one awareness norare there many awarenesses because awareness is not a physical thingand cannot be limited by such logical materialist extremes. After allif it is not graspable how can we say it is one or many or any otherlogical combination of one or many? All we can say is that we are it,whatever it is, and that we cannot explain it further. In beingawareness, we are all equal, but we are clearly not the same. We aredifferent projections and on a relative level we are each unique, eventhough on an ultimate level perhaps we are also unified by beingprojections within the same underlying continuum. Yet this continuum isfundamentally empty, impossible to locate or limit, and infinitelybeyond the confines of any formal system or universe, so it cannotreally be called a “thing” and thus we are not “many” or “one” inactuality, what we really are is totally beyond such dualisticdistinctions.

Awareness is like space or reality, something sofundamental, so axiomatic, that it is impossible to prove, grasp ordescribe from “inside” the system using the formal logical tools of thesystem. Since nothing is beyond awareness, there is no outside, no wayto ever gain a perspective on awareness that is not mediated byawareness itself.

Therefore there is no way to reduce awarenessto anything deeper; there is no way to find anything more fundamentalthan awareness. But despite this awareness can be directly experienced,at least by itself.

That which is aware is self-aware.Self-awareness is the very nature of awareness. The self-awareness ofawareness does not come from something else, it is inherent toawareness itself. Only awareness is capable of awareness. Nothing thatis not aware can ever become aware.

This means awareness istruly fundamental, it has always been present everywhere. Awareness isinherent in the universe as the very basis of everything, it is notsomething anyone can synthesize and we cannot build a machine that cansuddenly experience awareness.

Only beings who are awarealready can ever experience awareness. The fact that we are aware nowmeans that we were always aware, even before we were born! Otherwise wenever could have become aware in the first place!

Each of us “is”awareness. The experience of being aware is unique and undeniable. Ithas its own particular nature, but this cannot be expressed it can onlybe known directly. There is no sentient being that is not aware.Furthermore, it would be a logical contradiction to claim that “I amnot aware that I am aware” or “that I am aware that I am not aware” andthus if anyone claims they are not aware or have ever experienced, orcan even imagine, there not being awareness they are lying. There isnobody who does not experience their own awareness, even if they don’trecognize or admit that they experience it.

The experience ofbeing self-aware is the unique experience of “being” — an experienceso basic that it is indescribable in terms of anything else —something that no synthetic computer will ever have.

Eventually, it will be proved that no formal information processingsystem is capable of self-awareness and that thus formal computerscannot be self-aware in principle. This proof will use the abstractself-referential structure of self-awareness to establish that noformal computer can ever be self-aware.

Simplyput, computers and computer programs cannot be truly self-referential:they always must refer to something else—there must at least be a setof fixed meta-rules that are not self-referential for a computer orprogram to work. Awareness is not like this however, awareness isperfectly self-referential without referring to anything else.

Thequestion will then arise as to what self-awareness is and how it ispossible. We will eventually conclude that systems that are self-awareare not formal systems and that awareness must be at least asfundamental as, or more fundamental than, space, time and energy.

Currentlymost scientists and non-scientists consider the physical world to beoutside of awareness and independent of it. But considering that nobodyhas or will ever experience anything without awareness it is illogicalto assume that anything is really outside of awareness. It is actuallyfar more rational to assume that whatever arises or is experienced isinside awareness, and that nothing is outside of awareness. Thisassumption of everything being within awareness would actually be amore scientific, observation-based conclusion than the oppositeassumption which is entirely unfounded on anything we have ever or willever be able to observe. After all, we have never observed anythingapart from awareness have we? Thus contrary to current beliefs, theonus is on scientists to prove that anything is outside of awareness,not the other way around!

Awareness is quite simply theultimate primordial basic nature of reality itself—without awarenessthere could be no “objective reality” at all and no “subjective beings”to experience it. Awareness is completely transcendental, beyond alllimitations and boundaries, outside of all possible systems. Whathubris to think we can simply manufacture, or evolve, awareness with apile of electrified silicon hardware and some software rules.

Nomatter how powerful the computer, no matter what it is made of, and nomatter how sophisticated or emergent the software is, it will stillnever be aware or evolve awareness. No computer or machine intelligencewill ever be aware. Even a quantum computer—if it is equivalent to afinite non-quantum computer at least—will not be capable ofawareness, and even if it is a transinfinite computer I still have mydoubts that it could ever be aware. Awareness is simply not aninformation process.


So the question ultimately is, how do we measureawareness or at least determine whether a computer is or is not aware?How can we judge the outcome of this bet?

I propose a method here: we let the bettors mutually agree on a judge.If the judge is a computer, fine. If the judge is a human, fine. Butboth bettors must agree on the judge. If both bettors accept that partyas the judge then the result will be deemed final and reliable. If acomputer is chosen by both parties to judge this, then I will concededefeat—but it would take a lot for any computer to convince me thatit is aware and thus qualified to judge this competition. On the otherhand, my opponent in this debate may accept a human judge—butobviously since they believe that computers can be aware if they accepta human judge they would be contradicting their own assertion—if acomputer is really intelligent and aware why would they choose a humanjudge over a computer judge?

This “recursive” judge-selection judging approach appeals to ourinherent direct human experience of awareness and the fact that wetrust another aware sentient being more than an inaminate machine tojudge whether or not something is aware. This may be the only practicalsolution to this problem: If both parties agree that a computer canjudge and the computer says the other computer is aware, then so be it!If both parties agree that a human can judge and the human says thatthe computer is not aware, so be it! May the best judge win!

Now, as long as we’re on the subject, how do we know that otherhumans, such as our potential human judge(s), are actually aware? Iactually believe that self-awareness is detectable by other beings thatare also aware, but not detectable by computers that are not aware.


Ipropose a reversal of the Turing test for determining whether acomputer is aware (and forgive me in advance if anyone else has alreadyproposed this somewhere, I would be happy to give them credit).

Here is the test: Something is aware if whenever it is presented with acase where a human being and a synthetic machine intelligence areequally intelligent and capable of expression and interaction BUT notequally aware (the human is aware and the machine is not actuallyaware), then it can reliably and accurately figure out that the humanbeing is really aware and the machine is not really aware.

Ibelieve that only systems that are actually aware can correctlydifferentiate between two equally intelligent entities where one issentient and the other just a simulation of sentience, given enoughtime and experience with those systems.

How can such a differentiation be made? Assuming the human andcomputer candidates are equally intelligent and interactive, what isthe signature of awareness or lack of awareness? What difference isthere that can be measured? In my opinion there is a particular, yetindescribable mutual recognition that takes place when I encounteranother sentient being. I recognize their self-awareness with my ownself-awareness. Think of it as the equivalent of a “network handshake”that occurs at a fundamental level between entities that are actuallyaware.

How is this recognition possible? Perhaps it is due tothe fact that awareness, being inherently self-aware, is alsoinherently capable of recognizing awareness when it encounters it.

Onanother front, I actually have my doubts that any AI will ever beequally intelligent and interactive as a human sentient being. Inparticular I think this is not merely a matter of the difficulty ofbuilding such a complex computer, but rather it is a fundamentaldifference between machine cognition and the congition of a sentientbeing.

A human sentient being’s mind transcends computation.Sentient cognition transcends the limits of formal computation, it isnot equivalent to Turing Machine, it is much more powerful than that.We humans are not formal systems, we are not Turing Machines. Humanscan think in a way that no computer will ever be able to match letalone imitate convincingly. We are able to transcend our own logics,our own belief systems, our own programs, we are able to enter andbreak out of loops at will, we are able to know inifinities, to docompletely irrational, spontaneous and creative things. We are muchcloser to infinity than any finite state automaton can ever be. We aresimply not computers, although we can sometimes think like them theycannot really think like us.

In any case, this may be “faith”but for now at least I am quite certain that I am aware and that otherhumans and animals are also aware but that machines, plants and otherinanimate objects are not aware. I am certain that my awareness vastlytranscends any machine intelligence that exists or ever will exist. Iam certain that your awareness is just as transcendent as mine.Although I cannot prove that I am aware or that you are aware to you Iam willing to state such on the basis of my own direct experience and Iknow that if you take a moment to meditate on your own self-awarenessyou will agree.

After all, we cannot prove the existence of spaceor time either—these are just ideas and even physics has notexplained their origins nor can anyone even detect them directly, yetwe both believe they exist, don’t we?

Now if I claimed that asuitably complex computer simulation would someday suddenly containreal physical space and time that was indistinguishable in any way fromthe physical space and time outside the simulation—you would probablydisagree. You would say that the only “real” space-time is actually notin the computer but containing the computer, and any space-time thatappears within the computer simulation is but a mere lower-orderimitation and nothing like the real space-time that contains thecomputer.

No simulation can ever be exactly the same as what itsimulates, even if it is functionally similar or equivalent, forseveral reasons. On a purely information basis, it should be obviousthat if simulation B is within something else called A, then for B tobe exactly the same as A it must contain A and B and so on infinitely.At least if there is a finite amount of space and time to work with wesimply cannot build anything like this, we cannot build a simulationthat contains an exact simulation of itself without getting into aninfinite regression. Beyond this, there is a difference in medium: Inthe case of machine intelligence the medium is physical space, time andenergy—that is what machine intelligence is made of. In the case ofhuman awareness the medium is awareness itself, something at least asfundamental as space-time-energy if not more fundamental. Althoughhuman sentience can perform intelligent cognition, using a brain forexample, it is not a computer and it is not made of space-time-energy.Human sentience goes beyond the limits of space-time-energy andtherefore beyond computers.

If someone builds a Turing Machine that simulates a Turing Machinesimulating a Turing Machine, the simulation will never even start, letalone be useable! As the saying goes, it’s Turtles All The Way Down! Ifyou have a finite space and time, but an infinite initial condition, ittakes forever to simply set up the simulation let alone to compute it.

Thisis the case with self-awareness as well: It is truly self-referential.No finite formal system can complete an infinitely self-referentialprocess in finite time. We sentient beings can do this however.Whenever we realize our own awareness direclty—that is whenever weARE aware (as opposed to just representing this fact as a thought) weare being infinitely self-referential in finite time. That must mean weare either able to do an infinite amount of computing in a finiteamount of time, or we are not computing at all. Perhaps self-awarenessjust happens instantly and inherently rather than iteratively.

On a practical level as well we can see that there is adiffernece between a simulated experience within a simulation and theactual reality it attempts to simulate that exists outside thesimulation. For example, suppose I make a computer simulation ofchocolate and a simulated person who can eat the chocolate. Even thoughthat simulated person tastes the simulated chocolate, they do notreally taste chocolate at all—they have no actual experience of whatchocolate really tastes like to beings in reality (beings outside thesimulation).

Even if there are an infinite number of levels ofsimulation above the virtual reality we are in now, awareness is alwaysultimately beyond them all—it is the ultimate highest-level ofreality, there is nothing beyond it.

Thus even an infinitelyhigh-end computer simulation of awareness will be nothing like actualawareness and will not convince a truly aware being that it is actuallyaware.

Visualizing the Tenth Dimension

One of my readers commented that they were looking for this really cool flash presentation that I blogged about a while back — it helps you visualize higher-dimensions all the way to 10-dimensions. Check it out! After this your brain will need a rest, and possibly a hard reboot — but worth it.

By the way, a reader named Runde has discovered that this visualization is not exactly in accord with the view of string theorists or mainstream physics. You can read the criticisms here. Oh Well, that’s too bad — but I think it’s really cool anyway because it is an exploration of higher dimensions from the perspective of true metaphysics (metaphysics in the philosophical sense, as opposed to new-age metaphysics).

How to Build a Landspeeder

So as a kid you watched Star Wars and since then you’ve wanted your very own Landspeeder. The problem is, how to make things hover without using fans, magnets, or special effects? Well, a maverick UK scientist may have invented a way to do it. By harnessing microwaves, and a loophole provided by special relativity, Roger Shawyer has developed a new kind of "relativity drive" that may be the future of space propulsion, and perhaps even terrestrial hovering cars and aircraft. He’s received high-level interest from the UK, US military, and the Chinese and hopes to test it in space in a few years.

What Was Before the Big Bang?

An article in my new favorite magazine, Seed Magazine, by cosmologist Sean Carrol, proposes an interesting new theory about the nature of time and the evolution of baby universes. In this approach, baby universes can suddenly come into being from empty space when random quantum vacuum fluctuations fall into place in just the right way. Admittedly the odds of this happening are incredibly slim, but not impossible, and therefore in an infinite amount of time it definitely will happen over and over again. The only issue I have with the article is that it presents the issue of "time’s arrow" in the wrong light in my opinion. The so-called "arrow of time" is simply the progression from low to high entropy states — that is things start out ordered and become disordered over time. The new proposed theory doesn’t really show any way for that arrow to be reversed as far as I can tell. Entropy doesn’t run backwards, even in the metaverse. It would seem to me that every baby universe would be born from a highly ordered, extremely low entropy, state, and would then become less ordered and would gain in entropy over time. Although this might happen at different moments in meta-time, each of these universes would still develop in the same manner. But perhaps I’m missing something. Maybe the theorists have a way for high-entropy states to suddenly come into being and explode to become full-fledged universes which then lose entropy instead of gaining it? That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. While the chances of a high-entropy state randomly occuring are incredibly slim, in an infinite amount of time they too would all occur at least some of the time — yet even so, I don’t see any reason to think that a high-entropy baby universe would, or could, run backwards towards a lower entropy state. Feel free to comment and explain it further if I got it wrong.

The Hidden Structure of Quantum Mechanics and The Prime Numbers Turns Out to Be 42 After All

This is a wonderful article about how a chance encounter led to the discovery of a connection between physics and number theory that may help explain everything from quantum mechanics to the prime numbers….and the most incredible thing is that the answer may actually really be "42" after all. You’ve heard of "Life Imitates Art," well this is "Life Imitates Humor" at it’s best.

New Discovery: Enzymes Capable of Quantum Tunneling

Drug discovery meets quantum mechanics in this article about recent evidence for quantum tunneling in enzymes:

SYDNEY, 25 August 2006: British scientists have found that enzymes
cheat time and space by quantum tunnelling – a much faster way of
travelling than the classical way – but whether or not perplexing
quantum theories can be applied to the biological world is still hotly

Until now, no one knew just how the enzymes speed up the reactions,
which in some cases are up to a staggering million times faster.

Scientist Raises Possibility of Silicon-Based Life

Just read an interesting article on the possibility of "intraterrestrial" silicon-based life on Earth:

SETI spends enormous amounts of money
and resources looking for life outside of Earth’s realm, but life forms
so alien that scientists may simply not have recognized evidence of
their existence could inhabit the Earth, according to a leading

Dr Tom Gold, emeritus professor of astronomy at Cornell University in
America, believes that organisms based on silicon – completely
unrelated to all the carbon-based life man has encountered so far – may
live at great depths.

In a forthcoming book he will suggest that scientists should take the
possibility more seriously. Gold, who is a member of the Royal Society,
previously predicted that vast amounts of more conventional bacteria
live miles down within the Earth’s crust. Scientists initially
dismissed the idea, but many now agree with him.

Silicon Lifeform

long as nobody suspects there could be silicon-based life, we may just
not be clever enough to identify it," he said last week.

Rocks bearing signs of silicon-based organisms may already be sitting
in laboratories, he believes, with their significance overlooked.

Every known living organism, from bacteria to mankind, is based on the
chemistry of carbon, which forms the complex molecules such as DNA that
are central to our existence. Scientists believe that if
extraterrestrial life is found, the chances are that it, too, will be

Editor’s Note: While the prospect of silicon-based life is an interesting subject for further research, what the above scientists failed to note is that there is already a large population of Silicone-based life, particularly in Hollywood. Of course they probably can’t get government funding to research THAT subject!                      

Good Article on Loop Quantum Gravity — New Approach to Physics

The New Scientist published a nice overview of the emerging theory of Loop Quantum Gravity. I’ve been following this for a number of years, ever since my friend Bram turned me onto it. It’s related in some ways to other models of discrete space-time, such as cellular automata and digital physics.

LEE SMOLIN is no magician. Yet he and his colleagues have pulled off
one of the greatest tricks imaginable. Starting from nothing more than
Einstein’s general theory of relativity, they have conjured up the
universe. Everything from the fabric of space to the matter that makes
up wands and rabbits emerges as if out of an empty hat.

is an impressive feat. Not only does it tell us about the origins of
space and matter, it might help us understand where the laws of the
universe come from. Not surprisingly, Smolin, who is a theoretical
physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, is very
excited. "I’ve been jumping up and down about these ideas," he says.

promising approach to understanding the cosmos is based on a collection
of theories called loop quantum gravity, an attempt to merge general
relativity and quantum mechanics into a single consistent theory.

origins of loop quantum gravity can be traced back to the 1980s, when
Abhay Ashtekar, now at Pennsylvania State University in University
Park, rewrote Einstein’s equations of general relativity in a quantum
framework. Smolin and Carlo Rovelli of the University of the
Mediterranean in Marseille, France, later developed Ashtekar’s ideas
and discovered that in the new framework, space is not smooth and
continuous but instead comprises indivisible chunks just 10-35
metres in diameter. Loop quantum gravity then defines space-time as a
network of abstract links that connect these volumes of space, rather
like nodes linked on an airline route map.

the start, physicists noticed that these links could wrap around one
another to form braid-like structures. Curious as these braids were,
however, no one understood their meaning. "We knew about braiding in
1987," says Smolin, "but we didn’t know if it corresponded to anything
physical."  Read More


Physicists Plan to Create New Universe in Lab

Ok, this will be pretty interesting… as long as nothing unexpected happens, like for example, our universe starting to drain out through the wormhole they are making…that would suck…

2 August 2006

radical new project could permit human beings to create a "baby
universe" in a laboratory in Japan. While it sounds like a dangerous
undertaking, the physicists involved believe that if the project is
successful, the space-time around a tiny point within our universe will
be distorted in such a way that it will begin to form a new superfluid
space, and eventually break off, separate in all respects from our
experience of space and time, causing no harm to the fabric of our

The project takes as its starting point two basic
theories about the foundations of our universe: the big bang and
inflation theory. The big bang theory, as many readers are well aware,
observes that all objects in the known universe appear to be moving
away from one another, suggesting that the universe was jump-started
when all matter and energy were concentrated in an inconceivably tiny
space, allowing them to overcome binding forces and causing a cosmic

It is well-tested and consistent with all currently
accepted models for general cosmology, as tested against advanced
theoretical and observational physics. But it is only one piece of the
puzzle. Inflation is a key theory, developed in 1981, when MIT
physicist Alan Guth observed that there appeared to have been a period
immediately following the big bang when the universe "inflated"
rapidly, allowing distinct regions of matter and energy to function
comfortably free from any forces that might cause them to collapse
against each other or disrupt each other’s evolution.

project is not exactly theoretical physics at work. It is closer to a
physical application of observed phenomena, in combination, with the
aim of achieving an as yet untested physical effect. Inflation theory
helps provide the means of understanding how that effect might be
brought about.

As reported by the New Scientist: "Inflation
theory, subsequently modified by Linde, relies on the fact that the
‘vacuum’ of empty space-time is not a boring, static place. Instead, it
is subject to quantum fluctuations that cause strange bubbles to appear
at random times. These bubbles of ‘false vacuum’ contain space-time
with different —and very curious— properties."

Read the rest here.