Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Virtual Mixers

And on the seventh day, God grew tired of creating things. Lucky for him, he had created a couch the day before along with men, women, and wild hogs. So, he molded his divine body into his divine couch, turned on his MacBook Pro, and chose his character for World of Warcraft. He decided on a gnome, its specialties in technology and magic. "God the Gnome," he chuckled. "What a riot!"

And on the eighth day, God played World of Warcraft. And on the ninth day, God played World of Warcraft. And for the rest of eternity, God played World of Warcraft.

I do admit there is a method to my madness- the article by John Tierney in this week's Science section of the New York Times. It proposes that the universe might be nothing more than some computer nerd's hobby. According to Dr. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University, it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else's computer simulation.

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

Times have changed, my comrades, and real people best stick together. While I don't believe that real life will ever become entirely indistinguishable from virtual life, with the advent of 3-D simulated virtual worlds like Second Life to frolic in, who knows?

The internet has served as our bible in recent years- the source we compulsively check to make sure our lives remain aligned with the images we create in our online journals, our YouTube videos, our World of Warcraft guilds, our Facebook profiles- our digital reality. How long until mixers will be hosted for real people and their virtual counterparts? More importantly, what kinds of refreshments will be served?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

"Temporal lobe epileptics are such interesting company- Dostoyevsky, van Gogh. I've heard it said that Jonathan Swift and Lewis Carroll probably had it too, because of all the little people they wrote about in Gulliver's Travels and Alice in Wonderland."

If this sounds neat, pick up a copy of Conversations with Neil's Brain: The Neural Nature of Thought and Language by William H. Calvin and George A. Ojemann. Traverse the brain's intricate landscape with Neil, a temporal lobe epileptic, before, during, and after neurosurgery. While he does not hallucinate worlds of croquet players and tea drinking mad hatters, a better understanding of the mental states and cognitive experiences of people with temporal lobe dysfunction is gained through Neil's own self-discovery. Other well-known writers and artists speculated to have temporal lobe epilepsy include Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Flaubert, and Sylvia Plath.

This book suggestion has been brought to you by Reading Rainbow.

Sunday, August 12, 2007