Appearing soon at my place!
Monday is laundry day — a rare bit of regularity in my retired life. Faithful readers (all three of you) will recall I had a bit of electrical excitement last fall. (That’s been fine ever since, and I’m happy to have the new smoke detectors. I had no idea they are only good for about ten years. Their tiny radioactive source wears out eventually.)
I’ve known for months I needed a new clothes washer and a new clothes dryer. For one thing, they came with the place, so they’re at least 16 years old. More to the point, the dryer was taking two hours to get clothes completely dry, and the agitator in the washing machine was broken — it only worked with extremely light loads.
Yesterday, it died a definite death.
One solution to the puzzle.
I’ve written a lot lately about the physical versus the virtual. I’ve also written about algorithms and the role they play. In this post, I revisit both by exploring what is, for me, an old friend: The Eight Queens Puzzle. The goal is to place eight chess queens on a chessboard such that none can take another in a single move.
The puzzle is simple enough, yet just challenging enough, that it’s a good problem for first-year student programmers to solve. That’s where I met it, and it’s been a kind of “Hello, World!” algorithm for me ever since.
I thought it might be a fun way to explore a simple virtual reality.
Math version 1.0
This image here of the Mandelbrot fractal might look like one of the uglier renderings you’ve seen, but it’s a thing of beauty to me. That’s because some code I wrote created it. Which, in itself, isn’t a deal (let alone a big one), but how that code works kind of is (at least for me).
The short version: the code implements special virtual math for calculating the Mandelbrot. That the image looks anything at all like it should shows the code works.
Yet according to that image, something wasn’t quite right.
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about (philosophical) idealism. I qualify it as philosophical to distinguish it from casual meaning of optimistic. In philosophy, idealism is a metaphysical view about the nature of reality — one that I’ve always seen as in contrast to realism.
What caught my eye in all the talk was that I couldn’t always tell if people were speaking of epistemological or ontological idealism. I agree, of course, with the former — one way or another, it’s the common understanding — but I’m not a fan of the various flavors of ontological idealism.
It seems downright Ptolemaic to me.
There are, firstly, the unique sort of jaw-droppers I usually have in mind for Wednesday Wow. Secondly, there are the little, almost hidden, daily wonders with so much behind them. But it occurred to me there is yet another category, one that is both daily and also jaw-dropping.
It has to do with the human mind and the kind of art it can create. It also has to do with how we respond to that art. What is it that an artist puts into their best work, and what is it that we take from it? Whatever it is, profound or mundane, it can touch us deeply.
As with the greatest guitar solo, ever:
In the last post I explored how algorithms are defined and what I think is — or is not — an algorithm. The dividing line for me has mainly to do with the requirement for an ordered list of instructions and an execution engine. Physical mechanisms, from what I can see, don’t have those.
For me, the behavior of machines is only metaphorically algorithmic. Living things are biological machines, so this applies to them, too. I would not be inclined to view my kidneys, liver, or heart, as embodied algorithms (their behavior can be described by algorithms, though).
Of course, this also applies to the brain and, therefore, the mind.
There’s a discussion that’s long lurked in a dusty corner of my thinking about computationalism. It involves the definition and role of algorithms. The definition isn’t particularly tricky, but the question of what fits that definition can be. Their role in our modern life is undeniably huge — algorithms control vast swaths of human experience.
Yet some might say even the ancient lowly thermostat implements an algorithm. In a real sense, any recipe is an algorithm, and any process has some algorithm that describes that process.
But the ultimate question involves algorithms and the human mind.
This TV Tuesday post was originally going to be another rant about WTF is going on with NCIS (I held off on because I didn’t want to kvetch on Christmas). But then I had a really interesting thought about my other favorite (broadcast) TV show, The Good Place.
There’s an old joke about the philosophy professor who says, “Every time I think I’ve had an original though, it turns out some damned ancient Greek thought of it first.” There’s a more serious version in Ecclesiastes: “There is nothing new under the sun.”
It turns out I’m not the first, by a long stretch, to notice how The Good Place echos and references The Wizard of Oz.
As a result of lurking on various online discussions, I’ve been thinking about computationalism in the context of structure versus function. It’s another way to frame the Yin-Yang tension between a simulation of a system’s functionality and that system’s physical structure.
In the end, I think it does boil down the two opposing propositions I discussed in my Real vs Simulated post:  An arbitrarily precise numerical simulation of a system’s function;  Simulated X isn’t Y.
It all depends on exactly what consciousness is. What can structure provide that could not be functionally simulated?