Monday, 13 December 2010

Reality construction: terminal - server analogy

Hawking and Mlodinow put out a book stating the obvious:

So I read this article: Stephen Hawking’s Radical Philosophy of Science Is Hawking right to claim that reality is dependent on the model used to describe it?. It annoyed me as I don't think Hawking is really adding any value to our collective knowledge. It is hardly breaking news that reality is a construct generated by our brains, Hawking by the looks is trying to make a buck. Here's an excerpt:

In his new book, The Grand Design, co-authored with the Caltech mathematician Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking presents a philosophy of science he calls “model-dependent realism,” which is based on the assumption that our brains form models of the world from sensory input, that we use the model most successful at explaining events and assume that the models match reality (even if they do not), and that when more than one model makes accurate predictions “we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” Employing this method, Hawking and Mlodinow claim that “it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.”

What our brains do in constructing a model of reality is the same thing that the scientific community does in order to prove a theory. Build the best model based on the raw data available. As an example, when I was four I thought Australia was in the clouds because that is where my grandmother's plane went on take off. Based on the raw data available to me at the time that model made perfect sense. Another excerpt:

Even when two models appear to be equally supported by observations, over time we accumulate more precise observations that tell us which model more closely matches reality. Historians of science contend that in the 16th century, the newly introduced Copernican sun-centered model of the solar system was, in fact, no better at explaining the observations of the movement of the planets than was the Ptolemaic earth-centered model. As observations of the movement of planets increased in accuracy, the Copernican model won out.

Until I had a decent amount of proof that Australia was not in the clouds that reality construct stood. Once someone showed me a world map with Australia on it, the cloud model fell over.  So remember that for next time you roll your eyes at Maui snaring the sun to slow it down.

My Server - Terminal analogy:

I think your mind and the rest of the universe conform with a terminal - server architecture. While we construct a universe in our heads, we require a lot of external stimuli. We need a whole heap of data just to get our reality operating system booting up (think of this as a network download). Once we have a decent reality construct running which lets us walk talk eat and maybe do a bit of astrophysics, we require a steady stream of stimuli just to keep ticking.

Based on my experiments in lucid dreams I can assure you, our own brains do not have the capability to generate a perfectly realistic environment. It is very easy for a conscious mind to find flaws in the dream reality construct. The mind can't keep track of enough objects, people will change and warp because the brain is used to being supplied with the information and simply interpreting it - not generating it from memories. In a sense what that means is we are a 'terminal' with limited computational power and memory, and we outsource the computation to the 'cloud' (the rest of the universe) to perform the bulk of the computation for us and we interpret the data stream it sends us (via our senses) using the reality construct we have sitting on our wetware.

Therefore the ability for YOU to perceive a 'real' reality construct generated from external stimuli is limited by the amount of stimuli you can observe and by the complexity of the stimuli interpretation algorithms your brain uses to construct reality. I think we are already nearly at the point where it is impossible for anyone person - even a polymath to build a universal model which incorporates a majority of the collective understanding we have as a civilization. If only we could condense all of that knowledge into a single reality construct.