Trope-a-Day: Empty Shell

Empty Shell: A ‘shell running the Minimal Maintenance Architecture, as they do when no-one’s currently occupying them. It provides for maintaining autonomous functions, interfacing with the systems of a body hotel, diagnostics, and teleoperation, but little more.

Also, of course, createable in all the traditional and several non-traditional nasty ways by bad people.

(That Power, for example, that conducts research into the nondeterministic, paracausal aspects of the logos by running millions of simulations of the same events on captured mind-states, looking for variations, slowly stripping away fragments to find what makes the difference, until there’s not much more than one of these left. They may call its simulation spaces “death cubes”, but they’re really “helplessly wishing for death cubes”…

…fortunately, it’s an urban legend.

Right?

Right?)

On Free Will and Noetic Architecture

Another little note on identity, following on from here:

On the whole, do eldraeic mainstream views on free will, determinism, and the possible interactions between the two run more towards compatibilism or incompatibilism?

While ideas vary as ideas always do in the absence of proof one way or another, the mainstream position – certainly among sophontechnologists, who have the greatest claim to knowledge on this point – is incompatiblism, and specifically a variant of that form of it that goes by the name of libertarianism; i.e., that free will is true, and determinism is in certain ways, false.

(This is, of course, purely a coincidence. Heh.)

To explain why that is requires delving a little way into my Minovsky cognitive science, which explains how minds work for the purposes of the Eldraeverse. Since this attempts to explain how minds work in the general case, regardless of species, origin, or substrate, it’s rather different in any case from the kind of cognitive science that concentrates on the specific case of human brains, even before we must point out that I’m pretty much pulling it out of my ass.

So what is a mind?

Well, to a large part, it’s a Minskian society of mind. Which is to say that it’s a massively parallel set of personalities, subpersonalities, agents, talents, memes, archetypes, models, animus-anima pairings, instincts, skillsets, etc., etc., etc., all burbling away continuously alongside each other. None of them can strictly be said to be the mind; the mind is none of them. The mind is, to a large extent, the emergent chorus that results from the argument of all of them, or at least the currently dominant set, each with the other.

(This, incidentally, is how gnostic overlays work. By grafting some voices into the chorus while suppressing others, you can add to, shade, or suppress some elements of that emergent chorus without replacing the basic personality.)

It has, however, two identifiable centers. One of these is the consciousness loop, which is a special cognitive entity present in conscious/autosentient beings whose job is to organize the output of the chorus into a narrative thread of consciousness, a.k.a., that little voice you hear when you think out loud. (It’s important to realize, of course, that despite being the part of your cognition that’s visible to you – assuming, gentle reader, that you are in fact conscious – it has no claim to be you, or indeed to play any particular part in controlling what you do. The most accurate analogy for what it does is that it’s the mind’s syslog, recording everything that the other bits of the mind do, and which they can in turn consult to find out what’s going on. It’s also important to realize that it’s not actually necessary for it to be associated with the mind’s own self-symbol, or indeed for it to exist at all, whatever the most common naturally evolved mental architectures might have to say on the matter.)

The other one is the logos, or personality organization algorithm, which is the weird fractal algorithm sitting in the middle of sophont minds, and only sophont minds (i.e., both autosentient and volitional). It’s also the only part of the mind that isn’t computable at all – vis-a-vis being only computable much more slowly – on a standard computer, requiring a quantum processor.

But none of that is the weird thing. The weird thing is this.

It’s empirically nondeterministic.

More to the point, it’s not nondeterministic in a physical sense, dependent upon its substrate; it’s nondeterministic in a mathematical sense. However you choose to compute a logos, you will never get a perfectly consistent result in an arbitrary number of trials. You will never get a statistically consistent result in an arbitrary number of arbitrary numbers of trials. Except that occasionally you will. It’s funny that way, and it’s definitely not simply random or chaotic.

Now, sure, say the physicists. The observable physical universe is deterministic. And chemistry is deterministic, and biology is deterministic, and computation is deterministic, and thus the 99.99% of mental operations in which the logos takes no part are deterministically determined by the rest of one’s society of mind, because free will or no free will, sophonts don’t actually seem to exercise it that often. (Although the exceptions – chaotic clionomic excursions, say – are suggestive.)

But there’s this THING that shows up in sophont minds.

It’s very poorly understood around the edges – enough to clone and modify and seed with it and understand some of its typology – and not at all understood, pretty much, in the middle. It might mean nothing. It might just be some artifact of the underlying cosmic metaphysics that the ontotechnologists play with, of no real significance in this debate.

But, say the mainstream sophontologists, that’s not the way we’re betting. That’s your free will, your volition, right there, in that tiny little mathematical corner peeking into the universe. That minuscule cog of the engine of creation that runs on paracausality, not causality; where will defeats law.

The Flame.

Also, I’m not quite sure how to reverse-engineer the proper philosophical position from the analogy in sensible words, but: Would a drawing of a Kanizsa triangle count as a real triangle?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it is a triangle (but then, I wouldn’t say that about a simple drawing of a triangle either); but I would say that it represents the concept of a triangle. (Along with various other things; most physical objects represent/instantiate/make use of several concepts. To re-use a precious example, Elements of Arithmetic, Second Edition, 1992 can represent any of “arithmetic”, “book”, “textbook”, “paper”, “cuboid”, etc., etc., depending/instantiate/make use on the context you look at it in.)

 

Vagaries of Thought

“…some of the greatest enthusiasm for p-zombies as a product, rather than as a concept, came from social science research – finding itself in a position to become an experimental science at long last, as the accessibility of entities which by definition behaved as if they were conscious sophonts without actually being conscious sophonts, to within multiple-nines fidelity, would permit them to run full societum simulations without running into the ethical constraints which dogged even small-scale, consensual experiments previously, and derive meaningful results from their study.

“That this is not a more common practice is the result of two principal factors:

“First, that the nondeterministic element in the mathematics of the logos, providing as it does a degree of paracausality in sophont action, far from being lost in the averaging of the remainder of the multiple-nines fidelity of the simulation, rather proved the trigger for chaotic clionomic excursions: it became apparent even in early studies that this paracausality often specifically manifested (or rather, in societum simulation, failed to manifest) in whenwheres of catalytic effect. This phenomenon, commonly referred to as the Cíëlle Vagary, consistently renders the most interesting simulations disjoint and predictively unuseful.

“Second, populations of p-zombies, even more so than singletons, are creepy as hell.”

– A History of Applied Sophotechnology,
Atania Cíëlle

Trope-a-Day: Loss of Identity

Loss of Identity: Given how often it’s done (see: Body Surf), everyone in a modern transsophont civilization is pretty clear that body-swapping doesn’t cause it.  The mind is not the plaything of the body – fundamentally, at least, even if it may distort the way it plays out.

Strictly speaking, say the Empire’s sophotechnologists, identity could be defined by the logos, the personality organization algorithm, alone.  It’s the unique, volitional, free-will-granting thing, after all – but that’s much the same standard as reincarnation might be said to use; sure, it’s the same soul, but when you throw away all the memories and personality…

Thus, for practical purposes, there are legal standards concerning exactly how much of the mass of archetypes, subpersonalities, personae, agents, talents, memes, memories, etc., etc., that make up the rest of the mind you can grossly edit or remove over how much time before you are no longer, in the eyes of the law and (practically speaking) everyone who knows you, the same person.  To avoid committing de jure cognicide on yourself, stay on this side of the line.

Trope-a-Day: ISO Standard Human Spaceship

ISO Standard Human Spaceship: They’re “realistic” designs, involving designing for microgravity, with nuclear engines out on the end of long trusses and no particular need to worry about aerodynamics or putting all your machinery inside the pressure hull, but —

1. They’re not painted grey or left as uncolored metal. This is not the ocean, there is no stealth in space, and there’s no real advantage to being a bland and neutral color. And while you could save some mass by leaving off the chameleon nanopaint, true, there is another consideration – namely, in close orbit operations, or while alongside a habitat, people can see you, and people who can afford private spaceyachts want them to look gorgeous, of course, but more importantly, everyone from Stellar Express to Constellation Dream-Lines spent a lot of money on their corporate color scheme and logo, and they want it splashed all over the hull in living animated Technicolor.  Half the captains in space don’t even turn the running lights off when they leave orbit just in case someone might be pointing a telescope their way.

(ISS and IMS ships are generally colored Imperial indigo, with gold trim.  Crimson striping is optional on those vessels operating under diplomatic privilege.)

2. Being visibly constructed from riveted plates is distinctly disfavored; rivets imply seams, seams imply weak spots, weak spots involve the possibility of messy vacuum-aided death. While it would be ludicrously inefficient to nanogrow an entire hull as one seamless unit, they do like to use nanopastes to make the seams go away afterwards. They do have the usual number of ports, sensors, and antennae attached in various places, though.

3. While you can certainly draw a box around them – and goodness knows a lot of less, ah, aesthetically sensitive species seem to think that the ideal shape for a freighter is a large steel box with an engine stuck on one end – it would be hard to describe a typical Imperial vessel as “boxy”. As soon as autofabrication made it possible to do grand, sweeping pseudo-organically curved shapes, naval architects dug their last few centuries of idle sketches of cool-looking but impractical ships out of the closet and ran with them, at least for civilian use – often in shapes that don’t enclose, but do conceal, all the heavy machinery and massive spherical fuel tanks and cryocels mounted on trusses outside the pressure hull. Or at least the bits of it that don’t look cool, while coyly revealing the parts of it that do. (And even the military ships aren’t all that boxy.)

And then, of course, there are the thermal radiators, which often resemble great curved wings of one kind or another when fully extended, even if they’re not solid (the most common radiator types are sheets of droplets extending from sprayer to collector).

4. For reasons explained elsewhere, there are no space fighters designed to be flown by meat. Such things have negative combat advantages and no survivability whatsoever.

(As a side note, while every bit as impractically fancy, in many cases, as the extensive brightwork of Royal Navy warships or East India Company merchantmen in the old tall ship days, the colorful paint jobs and excitingly sweeping shapes serve much the same memetic purpose: “we’re rich and powerful and successful enough that we can spend lots of time and effort on this stuff without impairing the basic functionality of the ship at all, so draw appropriate conclusions before startin’ something”.)

Trope-a-Day: Instant AI, Just Add Water

Instant AI, Just Add Water: Was once true in the old days, back when people were quite often using mental modules scanned, compiled, and tweaked from brain-scans of biosapiences in their AI architectures.  The logos/personality organization algorithm is pretty damn resilient, and often such inexpertly designed modules carried at least a chunk of it along with them in the scan, and it doesn’t take much for it to at least start a self-development cascade.

But they’re much better at mental architecture design and coding from scratch these days, and don’t let logoi creep in unless they actually intend for them to be there.

(The “if you wake up, please call this number to let us know and claim your sophont rights” code-package is still included in all AI seeds just in case, though.)

Trope-a-Day: Ghost in the Machine

Ghost In The Machine: Averted.  Souls are software objects; there are no supernatural qualities whatsoever to sophont life, and even if you can pull out the software, recompile it, and stick it in another body, the only thing that’s being transferred is data.

It would always be possible to consider the logos/personality organization algorithm, the weird non-deterministic chunk of mathematics that appears to produce volition as something of this sort, I suppose; or in a weak Cartesian-theater sense the consciousness loop, even if all it does is organize your cognitive processing into a narrative thread, and it’s entirely possible to build minds without them if you’re okay with the resulting weirdness.  But in no case is there any ghost present; it’s just the “program in the machine”.

(That all being said, of course, when asked geth-type questions like “Does this unit have a soul?”, the Imperial answer is unambiguously yes. Inasmuch as “soul”, in modern sophotechnologist jargon, is slang for “personality organization algorithm”, which is to say, that thing which makes you you.)

Fundamentally, It’s Stuff

“‘What is reality?’, you ask.  Beneath all the photons and leptons and baryons and gluons, underlying space-time and quantum fields, out there in the realm of fundamentals where the natural ontologists and the ontotech engineers play, what actually is the world made from?  What is underneath it all, what can we do with it, and is there any way to make another one, possibly a better one?”

“In this department, we have three answers, and this course will cover all of them.”

“First and most conventionally, Matrix Theory postulates a six-dimensional continuum of interacting fields and strings, whose interactions and resonances along all modes are reflected as — in the four-dimensional slice of this continuum which we occupy and directly perceive — the shadow-on-the-wall phenomena which we interpret as space and time, energy and matter, even — possibly — the basis for the nondeterministic mathematics of the logos.”

“Second, Information Physics holds, instead, that “it is bit”; that the basis for all of plenary reality is software.  The universe is no more than the interaction of patterns of information, a self-modifying hardware-less algorithm (or rather, idestelté – the existence of the algorithm is equivalent to the existence of the processor) continually computing itself.  (Albeit, in this theory, one with an unfortunate resource leak; but then, software can be debugged.  Even if that software is also the universe.)”

“Third, Ontological Precedence holds that the plenum is defined-created by the binding of extrauniversal principles, mirithestel — Identity, Existence, Location, Time, Entropy, and so forth — in accordance with an external topology of infinite metaphysical possibility.  This binding creates the rules by which the universe operates, and hence defines its constituents.  By modifying this underlying binding, whether globally in the construction of so-called pocket universes, or by local modification, deletion, or insertion of such mirithestel, all the less fundamental aspects of reality, mere particles and physical laws, may be defined or altered as one wishes.”

“These are the three most popular and accepted theories in the field.  The difficulty, of course, is that ontotechnological devices have been built using, and to verify, the predictions of all three of these theories — and they all function.  Which in turn suggests that we have at least one more layer of the delightful complexity of the universe to unwrap, even after refining these, before we can approach the true answer to that question.”

“After all, it would be a shame to find the single answer in only a few thousand years, wouldn’t it?”

– Academician Kathery Melithos-ith-Meliastinos, Professor of Natural Ontology, University of Almeä

The S Words: Sentience, Sapience, and Sophonce

Based off a comment here, some quick definitions for you as they’re used in the Eldraeverse:

(Note, of course, that I’m using a considerable amount of Minovsky cognitive science here; your mileage may vary if you try and apply any of it elsewhere.)

sentience: the property of having sense perception; the capability of experiencing sensation, without necessarily associating mental symbology with sensation.  Includes not only sophonts, but animals, plants, single-celled organisms, and a variety of simple devices (even something as simple as a thermostat can reasonably be described as sentient, if minimally so).  Quantized, for technical purposes, as sensory bandwidth in bits per unit time.

sapience: the capacity for rational thought and creativity; not necessarily associated with either sentience or volition.  Again, includes many non-sophonts, primarily animals, but also various types of computer program.

autosentience: self-perception and self-reflection, metacognition; self-awareness (“I-ness”); the possession of qualia (mental symbology associated with sensation), which for the purposes of Eldraeverse cogsci is a corollary of metacognition.  Most animals (but not the plants, single-celled organisms – this is from an Earth perspective, and such odd plantimal life forms as the mezuar and the selyéva aren’t counted among these plants – and devices) qualify as autosentient to some degree, as does thinker-grade or above AI software (although not simple AI expert systems, which are sapient but not autosentient; they have no qualia, merely data).

In civilized societies, certain civil rights are associated with autosentience, principally concerned with the right not to be subjected to arbitrary suffering since, with autosentience, one attains the ability to experience suffering.

threshold autosentience: the minimal degree of autosentience required to meaningfully describe oneself as “I”; the possession of a meaningful self-associated self-symbol in one’s mental architecture.  (In many sentients, it is associated with the presence of a consciousness loop organizing cognitive processing into a narrative thread, but this isn’t a requisite of these mental architectures; the case of non self-associated self-symbols is odd, but does seem to be permitted – see Stross, here, although this isn’t the path their AI development took.) It is often, but is not necessarily associated with a high level of sapience; many animals qualify as sapients without possessing threshold autosentience, and obviously many programs, including much alife, possess very impressive problem-solving abilities while being entirely devoid of autosentience.  Thinker-grade AI possesses this, too, but does not have volition.

volition: the capacity for nondeterministic choice; in sophonts, associated with possession of one of a class of nondeterministic algorithms known as logoi.  (However, known/constructable sophont mental architectures utilize primarily deterministic choice with only occasional logotic input.)

sophonce: possessing all of threshold autosentience, sapience, and volition; i.e., being “a self-aware, self-defining entity capable of independent reason and volition”.  Biological sophonts and digisapiences, the highest grade of AI entity.

Have all the natural rights of people, because they’re the definition of “people”.

Oh, and:

pro-sophonce: the almost-but-not-quites, the creatures almost reaching the requirements for sapience/threshold autosentience to be counted among the sophonts, but not quite.  The dolphins, dogs, octopi, (on Earth) apes, etc.  Again, generally receive some civil rights in civilized societies due to this status (and, by the same metric, generally considered prime candidates for uplift work), but not considered actual people unless uplifted.