475. Singularity Summit 2008 – 477. Excluding the Supernatural

475. Singularity Summit 2008

476. Points of Departure

If you watch enough Hollywood sci-fi, you’ll run into all of the following situations occurring with supposedly “emotionless” AIs:

  1. An AI that malfunctions or otherwise turns evil, instantly acquires all of the negative human emotions – it hates, it wants revenge, and feels the need to make self-justifying speeches.
  2. Conversely, an AI that turns to the Light Side, gradually acquires a full complement of human emotions.
  3. An “emotionless” AI suddenly exhibits human emotion when under exceptional stress; e.g. an AI that displays no reaction to thousands of deaths, suddenly showing remorse upon killing its creator.
  4. An AI begins to exhibit signs of human emotion, and refuses to admit it.

…These mistakes seem to me to bear the signature of modeling an Artificial Intelligence as an emotionally repressed human.

…Which all goes to illustrate yet another fallacy of anthropomorphism – treating humans as your point of departure, modeling a mind as a human plus a set of differences.

477. Excluding the Supernatural

Some folks believe that science has to be inherently agnostic about things like God, the afterlife or the tooth fairy (this is not a straw man. I just listened to some guy on a podcast who said exactly this).

For a sufficiently vague definition of science that may be true. But it’s certainly not very wise to believe in the tooth fairy. Quantitative reasoning, probabilities and all that stuff…

Anyway, since most people value their supernatural beliefs they want to exclude them from rational inquiry, nothing surprising here. But what does “supernatural” actually mean?

By far the best definition I’ve ever heard of the supernatural is Richard Carrier’s:  A “supernatural” explanation appeals to ontologically basic mental things, mental entities that cannot be reduced to nonmental entities.

Could we live in a supernatural world?

I mean, what would the universe look like if reductionism were false?

I previously defined the reductionist thesis as follows: human minds create multi-level models of reality in which high-level patterns and low-level patterns are separately and explicitly represented.

Suppose this were wrong.

…What experimental observations would you expect to make, if you found yourself in such a universe?

If you can’t come up with a good answer to that, it’s not observation that’s ruling out “non-reductionist” beliefs, but a priori logical incoherence.  If you can’t say what predictions the “non-reductionist” model makes, how can you say that experimental evidence rules it out?

My thesis is that non-reductionism is a confusion; and once you realize that an idea is a confusion, it becomes a tad difficult to envision what the universe would look like if the confusion were true.

Well, I have to disagree. I don’t think supernaturalism is false by definition or a confusion. I certainly think that it’s very probable that we live in a reductionistic universe (Alas!), but I guess there is some small chance (like 5% or so??) that we live in a supernatural or “weird” universe. Granted, I don’t really know what that means exactly, but I hope you get my drift.

Supernaturalism is a special case of non-reductionism, where it is not 747s that are irreducible, but just (some) mental things.  Religion is a special case of supernaturalism, where the irreducible mental things are God(s) and souls; and perhaps also sins, angels, karma, etc.

If I propose the existence of a powerful entity with the ability to survey and alter each element of our observed universe, but with the entity reducible to nonmental parts that interact with the elements of our universe in a lawful way; if I propose that this entity wants certain particular things, but “wants” using a brain composed of particles and fields; then this is not yet a religion, just a naturalistic hypothesis about a naturalistic Matrix.  If tomorrow the clouds parted and a vast glowing amorphous figure thundered forth the above description of reality, then this would not imply that the figure was necessarily honest; but I would show the movies in a science class, and I would try to derive testable predictions from the theory.

…People who live in reductionist universes cannot concretely envision non-reductionist universes.  They can pronounce the syllables “non-reductionist” but they can’t imagine it.

People also can’t imagine quantum physics and reality doesn’t care.

If the “boring view” of reality is correct, then you can never predict anything irreducible because you are reducible.  You can never get Bayesian confirmation for a hypothesis of irreducibility, because any prediction you can make is, therefore, something that could also be predicted by a reducible thing, namely your brain.

Some boxes you really can’t think outside.  If our universe really is Turing computable, we will never be able to concretely envision anything that isn’t Turing-computable—no matter how many levels of halting oracle hierarchy our mathematicians can talk about, we won’t be able to predict what a halting oracle would actually say, in such fashion as to experimentally discriminate it from merely computable reasoning.

Of course, that’s all assuming the “boring view” is correct.  To the extent that you believe evolution is true, you should not expect to encounter strong evidence against evolution.  To the extent you believe reductionism is true, you should expect non-reductionist hypotheses to be incoherent as well as wrong.  To the extent you believe supernaturalism is false, you should expect it to be inconceivable as well.

If, on the other hand, a supernatural hypothesis turns out to be true, then presumably you will also discover that it is not inconceivable.

Oh, Yudkowsky probably doesn’t even disagree with me then.

Just convert the supernatural hypothesis into the corresponding natural hypothesis.  Just make the same predictions the same way, without asserting any mental things to be ontologically basic.  Consult your brain’s black box if necessary to make predictions—say, if you want to talk about an “angry god” without building a full-fledged angry AI to label behaviors as angry or not angry.  So you derive the predictions, or look up the predictions made by ancient theologians without advance knowledge of our experimental results.  If experiment conflicts with those predictions, then it is fair to speak of the religious claim having been scientifically refuted.  It was given its just chance at confirmation; it is being excluded a posteriori, not a priori.

Ultimately, reductionism is just disbelief in fundamentally complicated things.  If “fundamentally complicated” sounds like an oxymoron… well, that’s why I think that the doctrine of non-reductionism is a confusion, rather than a way that things could be, but aren’t.  You would be wise to be wary, if you find yourself supposing such things.

But the ultimate rule of science is to look and see.  If ever a God appeared to thunder upon the mountains, it would be something that people looked at and saw.



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