RE: MD Pirsig, Falck, and Wolfram

Date: Sat Aug 16 2003 - 22:07:27 BST

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    Hello Lars,

    You asked:

    “My question concerns Stephen Wolfram's 'A New Kind of Science.' Do those of you
    who are familiar with Mr.Wolfram's work feel that its philosophical implications
    are MOQ-compatible or not? I am not sufficiently familiar with Wolfram's work to
    make a full judgment, but I was struck by his suggestion that his 'principle of
    computational equivalence' indicates that thought, will and intentionality may
    be present in all aspects of the universe, which seemed to me to recall a strain
    of animism in Mr.Pirsig's writing- particularly in 'Lila.' Again, apologies if
    this has already been discussed or is not deemed interesting. “

    I brought up Wolfram a few months ago, but I received only limited responses. I
    was struck by Wolframs lack of concise definitions for such important terms for
    his “New Kind Of Science” as complexity and randomness. In the end he concludes
    that our powers of perception are our most reliable measures of random, complex
    and simple. Our eyes know before we can define each condition. At best, our
    mathematics can only confirm what we already know by looking at his pictures.
    This reminded me of ZMM and the quest to define quality – something we all
    recognize, but cannot quite put our finger on.
    I greatly admire Wolfram, but I have some reservations about his “principle of
    computational equivalence”(PCE) and especially the suggestion that this
    indicates that “thought, will and intentionality may be present in all aspects
    of the universe. Wolfram’s PCE relies on the concept of a universal machine.
    What he does is he proves that a very simple program is universal. Just a few
    lines of code. The Turing machine was proved to be universal long ago, but the
    Turing machine is very compex and involves too many rules. Wolfram wants to
    show that a much simpler program can be universal and in his book he succeeds.
    Once a machine is universal it is capable of performing any computation in the
    universe. It can simulate all machines including the human brain or any
    computer, … This is an amazing proof he has undertaken and he suggests that
    most programs and systems, beyond the most simple ones, are capable of being
    universal. However, there is a glaring deficiency in his suggestion that this
    means thought will and intentionality might be present…

    In an early chapter in the NKS (chapter 4, Systems based on numbers), Wolfram
    describes the limitations of modern mathematics. You have an input, you perform
    a calculation, and an output (solution) is spit out. He spends a great deal of
    effort convincing us that much is lost by not examining the details of the
    computation. In his pictures you can see the complexity that results when he
    demonstrates the details of a computation. Even simple computations like
    additions and subtraction. The lesson is that the details of a computation are
    important. However, when the PCE is introduced later in the book, the details
    are no longer important. All that matters is whether or not the system is
    capable of universal computation. If it is, and Wolfram suspects that the
    majority of systems are, then it is computationally equivalent. However, the
    qualities of each system and how computations are performed by each system vary
    dramatically as well as the efficiency of the computations. I would suggest
    that intentionality, will and thought are properties of how a computation are
    performed and not of universality or equivalence.

    Platt said:
    “I don't think we've ever discussed Wolfram's work here. But if he says thought,
    will and intentionality may be present in all aspects of the universe, then his
    connection to the MOQ is strong indeed. What strikes me most about Wolfram is
    his belief that nature uses simple programs to create all the complexities we
    see. But they can't be just any old programs. They must be programs that start
    with the right pattern and proceed according to the right rules. "Right," of
    course, is what the MOQ is all about.”

    Right is another one of those words we will never fully grasp. We talk around
    it. But, right (along with truth and knowledge) differs from quality,
    complexity, and randomness, because it is not a quality of perception by our
    senses, but is rather socially defined. I disagree that “Right” is what the MOQ
    is all about. Rather, “Right” is what Platt is all about.


    And perhaps the great day will come when a people, distinguished by wars and
    victories and by the highest development of a military order and intelligence,
    and accustomed to make the heaviest sacrifices for these things, will exclaim of
    its own free will, “We break the sword,” and will smash its entire military
    establishment down to its lowest foundations… Rather perish than hate and fear,
    and twice rather perish than make oneself hated and feared – this must some day
    become the highest maxim for every single commonwealth.
                                                              --Friedrich Nietzsche

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