This article is a loose summary of one of the ideas of my favorite book, Permutation City by Egan Greg.
So let’s say your mind has been digitized and you’re just a copy, a simulation inside a computer. Well, for starters, you still need to deal with this “suppose” – the assumption is quite strong.
Despite the fact that the brain is a very, very complex thing, to date there are no quantum effects that would provide a special “magic” of consciousness. Everything indicates that your consciousness is a large complex of very complex neural networks, which is quite computable. And this means that there are no fundamental physical limitations that prevent you from getting an instant snapshot of all the connections and weights of your internal neural network and transferring them to, well, other hardware, from silicon.
Most likely, you are a very complex collection of different neural networks, but for the sake of simplicity of a thought experiment, we will assume that there is only one neural network. At the input, she is given data from the senses (simulated, of course) and, apparently, data about the state of herself – apparently, because of such cycles between the input and data within the network, consciousness works.
Beginning of the experiment
Well, let’s say your copy is completely created for yourself, what are we going to do with it? You can install it in an analogue of Alexa and make it toast, as in the “Black Mirror”. But in this thought experiment, we are interested in something else. So, you appear in a simple white room, you see a table, a chair and a laptop. The words “Wake up, Neo. The Matrix has you…” appear on the laptop screen. Ha, no, others. The laptop screen will be your window to the “real world”. You can type a message to your “real self” and get a response. At the moment when you wake up, on the screen the request “Please start counting from zero to sixty. As soon as the question mark appears on the screen, dial the number to which you have counted.”
It should be noted here that the experiment bypasses the question of the state of extreme, hmm, surprise of your copy. But this is just a thought experiment.
As indicated, you think to yourself, out loud – it doesn’t matter. A question flashes on the screen and you type “17. Then again, on the number 31. Then again, on the number 49. From your point of view, very little time has passed, say a minute. But how much time has passed “outside”?
First you need to understand how time generally flows for you, as for a copy. The ideal and simplest option is that time is identical to “external”. For a second of real time, it is possible to calculate exactly a second of simulation. But no one promises that the simulation will be perfect? Perhaps, at the end of the first phase of the experiment, you will find out that in the interval from zero to the number seventeen, everything was so. But while you were counting to thirty-one, each second of the simulation calculation took about an hour of “real” time. And then vice versa, the calculations of your simulation were so accelerated that you counted up to 49 in only a millisecond for an external observer.
Did it affect your inner sense of time? I tend to assume not. It is quite logical to assume that programs do not notice whether they are running fast or slow (unless they have access to an external clock, of course). They, well, just work.
Then your time does not depend on the inner. The arrow of time is directed in the same direction, but the development of all processes has an excellent speed. Not necessarily constant relative to the “outside world”. Perhaps you, as a simulation, were even paused. Without information from the “outside world” this cannot be known.
But what if in this experiment you use a distributed computing system for your hardware? What will happen if, in the interval between “31” and “32”, the simulation is stopped and generally transferred to another cloud? Most likely, the answer will be – nothing, you will not feel it in any way, and even more, you will fundamentally not be able to realize it.
That is, your consciousness, your simulation, is not tied to specific physical objects at all. You are momentary – it’s just a huge array of numbers and the laws by which this array changes over time. What if you look outside of time?
arrow of time
If the instant snapshot of a mind simulation is just a collection of numbers (which it seems to be, otherwise it could not be programmed), then the process of your simulation is the process of changing some numbers from one to another. According to complex laws, with an element of chance, but still. In fact, we don’t even need a complex description of “an array of numbers and laws” – all this can be simply glued together into one very, very large number. And then your simulation is just an ordered array of very large numbers. Orderliness is very important for you as a simulation – it is she who is responsible for the “arrow of time”, it is thanks to her that time flows for you. But does this ordering make sense to an external observer?
What if you record your simulation, every beat of the simulation, and then play it backwards? How will this affect you? Will a simulation played backwards be “you”? Most likely, the answer is fundamentally unknown – playing backwards, we only reproduce a deterministic sequence, during which it has already been established that you did not feel anything. But for “you”, inside, things may be different.
Here it is worth making a digression and saying that in the “City of Permutations” a strictly positive answer is given to this question, with which I rather disagree.
By playing your sequence backwards, we are only repeating what has already been recorded. That is, your two copies are fundamentally indistinguishable. In principle, they cannot be judged as different entities. We cannot calculate the past of a simulation in terms of its future – this requires completely deterministic laws of thought, which makes thinking not thinking.
What if the first copy didn’t exist? If the numbers responsible for your simulation were born by themselves?
The era of thermodynamic equilibrium
One of the likely ends of the universe is the era of general thermodynamic equilibrium, or heat death of the universe. And this is such an interesting period when entropy can no longer increase. Well, since the entropy does not increase, then the clock does not run either – the arrow of time simply ceases to be an arrow. Each next moment is fundamentally indistinguishable from the previous one. In such a situation, everything is possible – for example, the sudden appearance of a petunia pot, a whale or brains. But we are now interested in the fact that all possible states of particles are possible (and will definitely happen). And since particles can be written numbers, then all possible sequences of numbers. Yes, yes, the numbers responsible for your simulation.
Is it possible that your consciousness will collect itself from the dust in this chaos? Can a sequence of random fluctuations become conscious? Will such an existence last forever?