Author Archives: Wyrd Smythe

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts.

Virtual Mazes

First I discussed five physical causal systems. Next I considered numeric representations of those systems. Then I began to explore the idea of virtual causality, and now I’ll continue that in the context of virtual mazes (such as we might find in a computer game).

I think mazes make a simple enough example that I should be able to get very specific about how a virtual system implements causality.

With mazes, it’s about walls and paths, but mostly about paths.

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Virtual Causality

This is the third of a series of posts about causal systems. In the first post I introduced five physical systems (personal communication, sound recording, light circuit, car engine, digital computer). In the second post I considered numerical representations of those systems — that is, implementing them as computer programs.

Now I’d like to explore further how we represent causality in numeric systems. I’ll return to the five numeric systems and end with a much simpler system I’ll examine in detail next time.

Simply put: How is physical causality implemented in virtual systems?

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99 Cans

Put this under someone’s tree…

“You take one out and drink it down,… 98 cans of beer in the case…”


Information Systems

Last time I explored five physical systems. This time I want to implement those five systems as information systems, by which I mean numeric versions of those five systems. The requirement is that everything has to be done with numbers and simple manipulations of numbers.

Of course, to be useful, some parts of the system need to interact with the physical world, so, in terms of their primary information, these systems convert physical inputs into numbers and convert numbers into physical outputs.

Our goal is for the numeric systems to fully replace the physical systems.

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Causal Systems

Recently, I’ve been involved in some discussions about causality, and some of those discussions have struggled to find any resolution, which I find frustrating. I don’t think people need to agree on ideas, but my experience is that usually people can agree on how to frame and talk about those ideas.

I sometimes get the feeling people are so set on disagreeing that they don’t always engage on what the other party is saying. I never know if it’s a lack of comprehension, a lack of willingness, or (on my part) a lack of communication skill or sufficient explanation.

So here are some things I think (I hope) are uncontroversial.

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SF: Old Gems and Older Duds

I’ve been reading Spacehounds of IPC (1947), by E.E. “Doc” Smith, and… it hasn’t aged well. For a long time I’ve been thinking it would be fun to read Smith’s Lensmen series again, but given that I’m having a hard time finishing Spacehounds, maybe that train left the station some time ago (especially with so much other stuff to read).

It’s a pity because I sure liked those books when I was (much) younger. Smith wrote action-filled space opera that was very imaginative and which also reeked of technology and science. I’ve never been that much into the space battles, but I’ve always been a sucker for hard SF. Fictionalized tech manuals work okay for me.

But these aren’t the gems mentioned in the post’s title.

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Virtual Reality

I’ve seen objections that simulating a virtual reality is a difficult proposition. Many computer games, and a number of animated movies, illustrate that we’re very far along — at least regarding the visual aspects. Modern audio technology demonstrates another bag of tricks we’ve gotten really good at.

The context here is not a reality rendered on screen and in headphones, but one either for plugged-in biological humans (à la The Matrix) or for uploaded human minds (à la many Greg Egan stories). Both cases do present some challenges.

But generating the virtual reality for them to exist in really isn’t all that hard.

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It Goes to the Nationals!

Well that turned out to be some World Series! The Washington Nationals go from Wildcard to winning it all — their first World Series win as a team!

So congrats to the Nats!

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Blocking the Universe

Recently I had a debate with someone who was downright evangelical about the Block Universe (BU) being, absolutely, positively, the way things are. Because Special Relativity. In particular because of what SR says about simultaneity between inertial frames.

Up to that point I’d never given the BU a great deal of thought other than to file it under «Probably Not the Case» (for reasons I’ll get to). But during my morning walks I’ve turned it over in my mind, and after due consideration,… I still think it’s probably not the case.

I get why people feel SR seems to imply a BU, but I don’t see the necessity of that implication. In fact, it almost seems contrary to a basic tenant of SR, that “now” is strictly a local concept.

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Physical vs Abstract

Maybe it’s a life-long diet of science fiction, but I seem to have written some trilogy posts lately. This post completes yet another, being the third of a triplet exploring the differences between physical objects and numeric models of those objects. [See Magnitudes vs Numbers and Real vs Simulated for the first two in the series.]

The motivation for the series is to argue against a common assertion of computationalism that numeric models are quintessentially the same as what they model. Note that these posts do not argue against computationalism, but against the argument conflating physical and numeric systems.

In fact, this distinction doesn’t argue against computationalism at all!

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