Sunday, July 7, 2013

Socrates vs. JayZ: Are we awake or just sleeping?

JayZ's Answer:  Hustlers, we don't sleep, we rest one eye up

Socrates's Answer:  I, Socrates, don't have the answer, but I will gladly help you ask the question and help you determine whether your answers make sense logically. But when we ask the question, we should make sure to use a language of absolutes (such as mathematics) rather than a natural language (like English, in which it is easy for Sophists to confuse us.)

I've been re-reading the Theaetetus by Plato (one of my favorite Socratic dialogues). In this dialogue, Socrates is helping a young geometry student (Theaetetus) answer the question "What is knowledge?" and is helping him see the problem with his first answer "Knowledge is perception." To help see the problem with this answer, Socrates asks a series of questions, one of which is the question of how we know we are awake or dreaming: 

Soc. But then, Theaetetus, how can any one contend that knowledge is perception, or that to every man what appears is? 
Theaet. I am afraid to say, Socrates, that I have nothing to answer, because you rebuked me just now for making this excuse; but I certainly cannot undertake to argue that madmen or dreamers think truly, when they imagine, some of them that they are gods, and others that they can fly, and are flying in their sleep. 

Soc. Do you see another question which can be raised about these phenomena, notably about dreaming and waking? 

Theaet. What question? 

Soc. A question which I think that you must often have heard persons ask:-How can you determine whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?

Theaet. Indeed, Socrates, I do not know how to prove the one any more than the other, for in both cases the facts precisely correspond;-and there is no difficulty in supposing that during all this discussion we have been talking to one another in a dream; and when in a dream we seem to be narrating dreams, the resemblance of the two states is quite astonishing. 

Soc. You see, then, that a doubt about the reality of sense is easily raised, since there may even be a doubt whether we are awake or in a dream. And as our time is equally divided between sleeping and waking, in either sphere of existence the soul contends that the thoughts which are present to our minds at the time are true; and during one half of our lives we affirm the truth of the one, and, during the other half, of the other; and are equally confident of both. 

So, how do we know that we aren't dreaming right now?
Or asked in modern terms: How do we know that we aren't a computer simulation within a computer simulation within a more detailed computer simulation? 

I personally don't think that there's a way to prove that there's isn't a large computer simulation of which we are but simulations within. How could you prove that there isn't a higher level computer simulating what we call the "real world"?
My argument here is that we should be able differentiate between a lower level simulation from a higher level simulation. In other words, you can tell when you are dreaming from when you are awake because you could hypothetically measure the entropy of the "real world" and the entropy in the "dream world."  
In other words, the entropy of the "Cave" is less than the entropy of the world "Outside of the Cave." This means that, to distinguish the dream from the real world, we need to speak in a language of absolutes (i.e. mathematics and the language of group theory.)

The world with the higher value of entropy (i.e. higher number of permutation or other symmetries) would have to be the higher level simulation. Therefore, if you want to get closer to the highest level simulation, you should focus on growing the value of entropy in the highest level simulation. The way to increase the value of entropy in the highest level of simulation is to obtain the highest rate of return on work invested (i.e. grow our collective capability to do work.)

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't dream or that we shouldn't run computer simulations. My argument is simply that there is a purpose to dreaming (which is just a form of simulating the future.) The purpose of the dream is to anticipate the consequences of possible actions in the real world. My argument is that the dream world should not be a substitute for the real world because the dream world consumes energy in the real world. The dream world should be like a computer simulation that helps us make better decisions in the real world. Computer simulations require electricity and dreaming requires ATP. The question is:  does the dream or computer simulation actually help create a positive rate of return on electricity or ATP for the 'entity' that that runs the simulation?

This may all sound sort of silly because, as you might ask yourself, why should I focus on obtaining growth and a positive rate of return on work invested if I'm just a low-level computer simulation. I'll hopefully answer this question in the rest of this post (though, I don't expect to fully convince anybody because I'm using a 'natural language' right now and not using the absolute language of mathematics.)

First, let me reiterate that there is no way to prove that our "real world" is not a simulation by some higher level civilization that lives in some higher level computer simulation. Perhaps the universe, as the Earth was imagined by Douglas Adams, is but a computer simulation in order to estimate what would happen in some higher dimensional world. Perhaps, we are but simulations. Is there any way to prove that there isn't a higher level simulation? [There are many in the physics community (past and present) who have tried to argue that there is no higher level of computer simulation and no higher level of computer programmer because it just begs the question: who designed those programmers? Ultimately, a programmer had to have evolved from nothing.] But what does it mean for something to evolve from nothing?  In nature language, it's easy to state the question, but how would you mathematically prove that humans can evolve from nothing? How does the empty set turn into a non-empty set? How does zero evolve into non-zero?  How does the Lie symmetry group S(0) evolve into S(3) or how does the permutation group P(0) evolve into P(3412432305234...)?

I think that the language of mathematics is what Plato wanted us to understand in order to answer paradoxes that appear in 'natural languages', such as Greek or Latin or English or Chinese. Here's a good quote from the end of the Theaetetus Dialogue, which helps to convey Plato's dislike of 'natural language.'

"In this manner you will consider whether knowledge and perception are the same or different, but you will not argue, as you were just now doing, from the customary use of names and words, which the vulgar pervert in all sorts of ways, causing infinite perplexity to one another."

But to return back to the question of purpose, does the fact that we could be a computer simulation mean that we have no purpose?  Quite the opposite. Our purpose is the same as the computer programmers in the higher level simulation:  to grow, to understand the code of the computer simulation, to understand how to program in higher levels of complexity, to ask questions about reality/purpose, and most importantly, to differentiate between science (knowledge) and philosophy (an understanding of that which allows us to know in the first place.)

Therefore, I'll end with a quote about 'the good' from Plato's The Republic Book VI.

"Socrates:  'Now, that which imparts truth to the known and the power of knowing to the knower is what I would have you term the idea of good, and this you will deem to be the cause of science, and of truth in so far as the latter becomes the subject of knowledge; beautiful too, as are both truth and knowledge, you will be right in esteeming this other nature as more beautiful than either; and, as in the previous instance, light and sight may be truly said to be like the sun, and yet not the sun, so in this other sphere, science and truth may be deemed to be like the good, but not the good; the good has a place of honor yet higher.'
Glaucon: 'What a wonder of beauty that must be, which is the author of science and truth, and yet surpasses them in beauty; for you surely cannot mean to say that pleasure is the good?'
Socrates: 'God forbid, but I may ask you to consider the image in another point of view.'
Glaucon: 'In what point of view?'
Socrates: 'You would say, wouldn't you not, that the sun is not only the author of visibility in all visible things, but of generation and nourishment and growth, though he himself is not generation?'
Glaucon: 'Certainly.'
Socrates: 'In like manner, the good may be said to be not only the author of knowledge to all things known, but of their being and essence, and yet the good is not essence, but far exceeds essence in dignity and power.' "

Lastly, I hope that you understand by now why I titled this blog Socrates vs. JayZMight does not make right. The good is not pleasure.  The good is not science or utility or growth. The good is the understanding of that which allows us to experience long-term happiness, to pursue science, to obtain utility, and to grow. Pleasure, science, utility, and growth are simply the means to the end, but it should be noted that, while they are not the end, they are absolutely required means to reach the higher end.

I focus a lot in this blog on "Growth" not because I see grow (as measured in capability to do work or as measured in entropy or as measured in the size of the universe) as our ultimate purpose, but rather because I think that growth is a missing component towards reaching the higher goal of understanding what gives roots to our capability to know and to grow. We seem to have been distracted by the Sophists of old (that man is the measure of all things) and we seem to have blindly followed the Sophists into the Cave of Perceptions and away from the sunlight of mathematical and moral absolutes.

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