Sunday, October 19, 2008

It from Bit Speculations

Last night after watching some B. Allan Wallace lectures, I was wondering about the nature of consciousness. I am wondering if in some sense our consciousness (or the consciousness of anything) simply fundamentally exists in some sense, at least as information. Let's imagine a thought experiment. Suppose for the sake of argument that the technology existed where you could scan the atoms that make up a person, and any other information that might be relevant like say their energy states. Who knows how this could be done, lets say quantum computers turn out to be workable and that someday they have this capability. Furthermore lets say for the sake of argument that a memory device (maybe a quantum memory) is capable of storing all of this information for retrieval later.

So in the year 2050 a woman (we'll call her Betty) is scanned and her data saved. Now suppose that technology has also advanced enough so that we could read the information and assemble the atoms together into the same state as Betty in 2050. Suppose this is done in the year 2150 long after Betty has died.

It would seem to me that for all intensive purposes, if you could do this-arrange the same types of atoms/molecules together in the same state as Betty in 2050, the recreated Betty 100 years later would be completely indistinguishable from the original. I can't think of any scientific test that could be done even in principle that would tell you it wasn't really Betty, just a copy. So why not just say it is the original Betty? This would be a scientifically implemented resurrection.

What this says is that consciousness is more of an informational phenomenon, and in some sense it already exists in the universe and always exists provided the energy is there to do these sorts of things (i.e. arrange atoms together in the right way). In other words, the woman I've named Betty in the particular state she is in at some moment in 2050 including her conscious awareness is a packet of information. Rearrange the right atoms into the same state at any time in the history of the universe where it is plausible (not in the distant future when everything has decayed away though), that state is recreated and so is the consciousness that goes along with it.

You could ask what if we recreate Betty on the spot. Of course you couldn't do it instantly, no matter how advanced technology got there would be some finite time required to scan an organism and then construct the duplicate. So what would happen to Betty's consciousness then? Would it somehow split? Or is consciousness distinct and evolving, in other words you aren't really the same consciousness you were 2 seconds ago.

Maybe in the distant future it would be possible to even recreate previous states of the universe in some kind of quantum simulation. Then it might be possible for an infinitely advanced civilization to resurrect the past including its living inhabitants. Where would all this information be stored? In Hilbert space of course.

1 comment:

 Kristine Wilenski said...
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