Ask A Genius 374 – Out With the Old, In With The New
September 6, 2018
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Scott Douglas Jacobsen: When you’re dealing with the way we think, and when you’re dealing with the structure of information as it is represented in the world, how much is old information? How much is new information?
Rick Rosner: You and I think the universe may be older, much older, than it appears to be. If that is so, another question might be, “How good is the universe at eradicating old stuff and replacing it with new stuff?” If it is 100% good at it, then you need more sophisticated theoretical arguments to establish the universe is older than it appears to be because there is no physical trace.
But if the universe still allows some stuff older than its apparent age to survive – and my image of the old stuff that is allowed to survive is keeping a hard candy in your mouth for a while. It gets ablated, eroded, but still some of it survives right until the end.
There might be structures in the universe that might be eroded through radiation and other stuff that might erode information, but the old stuff still survives in an eroded form. An associated question might be, “What percentage of the universe is older than the apparent age of the universe?” Then you can get specific about some celestial bodies that may be older than the apparent universe.
Then there is the metaphor used by us. The physics of the universe has much to do with the physics of thought. The physics of thought can be mapped, pictured, or expressed in a physical space that has some of the same physics as the universe itself.
How much of our consciousness is built from old stuff? How much is built from new stuff? I think the metaphor is capacious enough, has enough room, to have models of memory that have something to do with the way the universe looks.
In that, when we remember old stuff, obviously we cannot remember anything but old stuff, we have, kind of, a general idea of what we’re remembering. That quickly becomes, if we have the available memories, quite specific – second grade.
We have a rough memory of being younger, of our teacher, how the school was like, maybe our classmates. That makes sense in terms of information. It also makes sense in that a lot of people in neuroscience like to say that the brain’s job is to be a prediction engine.
It helps you cope with the world by helping you predict what will happen next, which means that your brain needs models of various degrees of generality. If you are meeting a new person, your general models of what people are like may be more helpful than the more specific models if you are running into a specific person again.
So, it makes sense that memory would function in both generalities to be helpful at prediction and with specificities. It also makes sense that the universe might contain information at various levels of generality and specificity.
We know what that feels like in terms of experience. The representation of that may include old burned out galaxies where the structures get ablated or seared away by new radiation that might be streaming out of a central black hole or might be coming from other parts of space.
If the information is stowed safely down a black enough hole, maybe, it won’t be washed away and some specificity might be washed away.
One more thing, there is a hypothesis. You could hypothesize that we know, in some way, as life has evolved from no life at all through simple plants and animals to the fairly sophisticated consciousnesses of mammals and then the world that humans have built via their consciousnesses.
We know that is in some way an increase in order. You can wonder. Does that increase in local order on our planet and on quite a few other planets throughout the universe increase the order of the universe itself?
I would hypothesize that, yes, it does. The universe makes use of any available mechanism for preserving and generating and processing information. No matter how localized to a certain planet and specific to a set of organisms.
It may not make great use of it. I think it’s a reasonable hypothesis to say that, yes, any mechanism for processing information is somehow reflected in the universe’s processing of its own information for its own purposes.
I don’t know exactly how it works. I talked to an AI guy yesterday. He said that AI is far behind where people think it is because we haven’t been able to duplicate the processes happening in the brain at all. But all we have are simple schema and algorithms.
I would argue the brain itself uses simple algorithms and neural networks and other stuff. Anything that works and is easy to set up, probably exists in some form in the brain for the brain’s own purpose.
I would suggest similarly that there is a chance. Any form of order in the universe is somehow used by the universe for its own purposes, even if it is for a slight increase in the universe’s net efficiency.
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American Television Writer
Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Editor-in-Chief, In-Sight Publishing
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