Thursday, December 16, 2010

How The Days Fly

Wow, sorry, the days have been flying, and my time has been disappearing right from under my nose!

I've has it brought to my attention recently that I believe in some really weird things. I don't imagine this is terribly surprising, since it is, after all, me, but some of these things are utterly baffling.

I've been having an online conversation with someone over the past few weeks, and I figured I'd share some ideas that came out in lieu of having something to talk about.

If a Tree Falls In A Forest...
That question has been around the block enough times to make it to the Kuiper Belt and back, and yet it still comes back to me. If a tree falls in a forest, and nobody is around to here it, does it still make a sound?

To most people that I've met this is a mostly simple yes or no question that is followed by some defensive maneuvering to explain their choice. To me... it's not such a straightforward answer.

I subscribe to a variation of the "brains in vats" theory, which gives me some leeway dealing with local physics. I've been called buzzkill on this multiple times, but it's something that I feel is true to me. It doesn't manifest as actual brains in actual vats (borderline The Matrix), but closer to a "dream within a dream" (as exemplified by Inception).

Back to that tree. There is no tree. This isn't to be confused with "there is no spoon" (Matrix) which allows you to changing the physical reality of something you're looking at that isn't really there; this is more "something doesn't exist when you're not looking at it." So I'm not looking at the ground, what am I standing on? I'm standing on a surface that I'm perceiving with the sense of touch that my feet have (or the part of my brain that tells me I have feet and what they feel). "Looking at" is equivalent to "Sensory perception": if I can hear it, see it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, that facet of the item that I hear/see/smell/taste/feel exists. Until I perceive it with a sense that I'm not currently perceiving it with, that facet only exists as a function.

Let's step back and see if I can approach this from a different angle.

Consider a computer game, like Desert Bus, which has you (the player) drive from one city to another, Tucson to Las Vegas. All you (the player) can see is the computer screen. As soon as you leave Tucson, and start driving toward Las Vegas, does Tucson still exist?

No, it doesn't exist in the sense that the computer is no longer drawing the city. If you were to turn around, yes, you would once again see Tucson, almost as you had left it, except that it's a few seconds or minutes progressed into the future.

If you were dealing with the real universe, this would not be possible, with conservation of enegry and other scientific concepts, but because we're looking at this from the perspective of a computer game, it follows the line of reasoning. If you're not currently perceiving an aspect of the game, the computer stops running the functions that draw that aspect in current memory (which there is a finite quantity of). Since all of the functions that draw each and every aspect include a time variable, every time you (the player, we're still in the game) turn back and look at Tucson, the computer can realistically recreate it and account for the time that you were gone.

Hopefully, I can step back to the original question now, and everybody is still with me.

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?

No, but as soon as I approach the forest, there will be an aspect of it changed, and when I approach the tree that has fallen, not only will I find it fallen, but I will find evidence that shows it would had made a sound if I had been there to hear it.