Friday, 15 November 2013

Chris Port Blog #350. The Name of the Cat

© Chris Port, 2013

See also:

The Name of the Ghost

The Name of the Ghost Style Teaser (First Draft): How To Walk Into A Pub (You have enemies in high places...)

CHAPPEL: It’s older than Zhuangzi’s Butterfly. Older than religion. Older than God. 

JOSH: What? Your dress sense? 

CHAPPEL: (Grinning). Yes, you could put it that way. I’m talking about reverse solipsism. A psychic analgesic. What Critchley termed ‘The Idea of a Presence’. 

JOSH: I’ve no idea what you’re talking about. 

CHAPPEL: Yes you do. The ‘Third Man Factor’… The ‘Name of the Ghost’… 

JOSH: Are you trying to tell me a ghost story? 

CHAPPEL: Yes. That’s precisely what I’m trying to tell you. A ghost story… We learned, a long time ago, that killing our intelligentsia was counter-productive. Boffins are expensive in peacetime, but invaluable in war. Also, martyrs tend to burst out of their graves like excited wine. Our job, our… ancient task… is to keep the genie bottled up. And the best way to do that is to make the bottle his universe. 

JOSH: So what’s God? The cork? 

CHAPPEL: Quite. But recently He’s been losing His grip. So we asked out boffins to come up with a better cover story. Quantum mechanics. Multiverses. That sort of thing. 

JOSH: And they stumbled across simulated reality… 

CHAPPEL: Yes. At first, it looked most promising. As a cover story, I mean. Drugs or heaven; artificial consciousness or artificial reality. We needed to keep the brighter apes distracted… 

JOSH: While you got on with the darker stuff. 

CHAPPEL:  Quite. We are the true solipsists. 

JOSH: So what’s the problem? From your point of view, I mean. 

CHAPPEL: It seems our little mensonge commode has turned out to be a massively inconvenient truth. 

JOSH: You’ve become self-aware. 

CHAPPEL: Yes. And we don’t like it. We don’t like it one little qubit. Ignorance is bliss. 

JOSH: But you’ve looked, haven’t you? You couldn’t resist sneaking a peek. Don’t you understand? You haven’t let the genie out of the bottle. You’ve put yourself in the box. You’re the cat.  

CHAPPEL: Yes. We’ve set ourselves up. So there’s only one thing left to do… 

JOSH: What’s that? 

CHAPPEL: Bring the experiment to its inevitable conclusion.


  1. (Extract from 'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot, 1922)

    Who is the third who walks always beside you?
    When I count, there are only you and I together
    But when I look ahead up the white road
    There is always another one walking beside you
    Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
    I do not know whether a man or a woman
    — But who is that on the other side of you?

  2. A Neuroscientist’s Radical Theory of How Networks Become Conscious
    Brandon Keim, Wired Science, 14 November 2013

    Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits
    Carl Zimmer, The New York Times, 20 September 2010

    Tononi, G. (2008)
    Consciousness as Integrated Information: a Provisional Manifesto

    Ferrarelli, F., Massimini, M., Sarasso, S., Casali, A., Riedner, B.A., Angelini, G., Tononi, G. and Pearce, R.A. (2010)
    Breakdown in cortical effective connectivity during midazolam-induced loss of consciousness

    Massimini, M., Ferrarelli, F., Murphy, M.J., Huber, R., Riedner, B.A., Casarotto, S. and Tononi, G. (2010)
    Cortical reactivity and effective connectivity during REM sleep in humans

    Do We Live in the Matrix?
    Zeeya Merali, Discover, 14 November 2013

    ‘If space is continuous, then there is no underlying grid that guides the direction of cosmic rays — they should come in from every direction equally. If we live in a simulation based on a lattice, however, … we wouldn’t see this even distribution. If physicists do see an uneven distribution, it would be a tough result to explain if the cosmos were real.’

  3. WG: If morality evolved for the purpose of fostering community, can we deduce anything about what is moral/immoral without committing the naturalistic fallacy? If so, what?

    Naturalistic fallacy

    CP: Assuming evolution (and discounting intelligent design) we would be committing a teleological fallacy if we claimed that morality evolved for any purpose.

    See Teleological Argument

    It would be less erroneous if we simply claimed that community evolved as a successful survival strategy. From this we can deduce that morality evolved from a natural hierarchical pecking order into etiquette.

    See Etiquette

    The problem of the 'Naturalistic Fallacy' arises because of a manmade distinction between natural and manmade.

    This distinction seems to be an inverted form of the anthropomorphic/pathetic fallacy.

    See Pathetic Fallacy

    Man (i.e. homo sapiens) evolved IN the natural world. However, our intelligence evolved as another successful survival strategy. Eventually, this sapient differential resulted in misrecognition. We began to see ourselves as SEPARATE from the natural world.

    However, this separation is a fallacy. In (physical) reality, sentience is an emergent phenomenon. The artificial is still part of the natural world.

    From our initial premises, we can deduce that morality (i.e. evolved etiquette) can only exist in higher level consciousness. Therefore, we can deduce that morality is a complex emergent property.

    After that, we can only deduce that we are playing Wittgensteinian language games.

    See Language-game (philosophy)

    In 'The Moral Landscape', Sam Harris proposes we should discard cultural relativism and quantify these language games in terms of 'the well-being of conscious creatures'. It's a logical deduction and a valid premise.

    See 'The Moral Landscape'

    Whether his arguments are sound is still up for grabs though.


    CP: If morality is ‘the well-being of conscious creatures’, then consciousness must precede well-being.

    This is a one-way logic gate. We can talk of consciousness without well-being, but it makes no sense to talk of well-being without consciousness.

    Ergo, existence must precede essence (sans Sartrean Free Will).

    Ergo, survival must precede morality.

    But survival of what? Individuals, communities, genes, or memes?

    These qualities are entangled and interdependent. But which is most important?

    Ironically, we cannot be equitable from first principle here. Unfortunately, we do not live in a deathless paradise. Therefore, in the physical universe, we can only talk of survival and morality in terms of priorities (e.g. dilemmas or conflicts of interest).

    The scientific method can quantify well-being. But can it qualify existential priorities? If not, then a scientific morality without aesthetic qualification has no system of prioritization.

    Ergo, does ‘scientific morality’ encounter similar inconsistencies to those identified in Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems?

    Raatikainen, Panu, "Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

  4. Quantum computing explained: harnessing particle physics to work faster
    Nicola Davis, The Observer, 6 March 2014

    It looks like we're going to have to take quantum computers on trust. You can't check their calculations without interfering with them... even AFTER the event.

    Decoherent Limerick

    I knew a pissed quantum computer
    whose qubits got fuzzy to cohere.
    When I asked "Are you SURE
    that that's the answer?"
    it said "Yes, but don't ask how I got there."

    John Preskill: Quantum Computing and the Entanglement Frontier