Hal Finney wrote:
> True, it isn't always necessary to compute things in the same order--if
> you're simulating a system that obeys time-symmetric laws you can always
> reverse all the time-dependent quantities (like the momentum of each
> particle) in the final state and use that as an initial state for a new
> simulation, and the new simulation will behave like a backwards movie of
> original simulation.
One problem with this in practice is that it seems that the information
needed to specify the final state is far greater than the information
needed to specify the original state, at least with physics like ours.
In our universe, you could take a snapshot at some time that recorded all
the particle motions in a brain. Then you could evolve it forward and
produce the successive subjective experiences. However, I don't think the
snapshot has to be completely detailed. Some sloppiness is acceptable.
The brain is robust and you could change the details of thermal motions
very considerably and the brain would still work fine.
If you took a snapshot at the end and evolved it backward it would
also work, in theory, but in practice it would not work unless every
detail of every motion was precise to an incredible degree. (This is
ignoring issues of QM state reduction and such, I'm basically considering
a Newtonian clockwork here.) It's like, it's easy to come up with
motions to scramble an egg; but to come up with motions to unscramble
one will require absolute precision in every respect. The result is
that the information requirements for specifying a final-state based
simulation that includes an arrow of time are exponentially greater than
the information needed to create a plausible initial-state simulation.
I've sometimes thought that if uploads are ever created, and can be run in a
simulation with time-reversible fundamental laws, it would be very
interesting to take a snapshot at the end of a simulation and do the trick
of reversing everything, but with a tiny perturbation--the simulation might
appear to behave like a reversed version of the original run for a little
while, but then the butterfly effect would probably kick in and the upload's
psychological arrow of time would *reverse* in the middle of the simulation.
What would this feel like subjectively, from the upload's point of view?
Obviously he wouldn't have a memory of experiencing everything backwards,
but it still would be interesting to interview the upload about it
afterwards. For example, what would happen if the reversal of the upload's
psychological arrow of time happened at the same moment that the entropic
arrow of time reversed in the simulated physical world around the upload,
and at that moment pieces of a vase were rushing together to reassemble, but
instead failed to meet up exactly and just broke apart again? The upload
should have a memory of seeing the vase fall, but at the moment it landed it
might appear to behave very strangely, assuming the upload didn't just
perceive himself blacking out at that moment.
If we then add the concept of measure based inversely on the size of
the information description, we find that almost all measure of such
simulations comes from initial-state based ones rather than final-state
And perhaps something like this could help explain the low-entropy big bang,
which is apparently the source of the arrow of time in our universe and yet
doesn't have any agreed-upon explanation by physicists. It would certainly
be interesting if even a complete theory of quantum gravity didn't explain
it, so that the only remaining option would be either "intelligent design"
or some sort of "meta-physical" explanation in terms of a multiverse with
different types of universes having different measure.
> But since I don't have a well-defined mathematical
> theory of what it means for two computations to have the same "causal
> structure", I'm not sure whether the causal structure would actually be
> different if you computed a universe in reverse order. When I think of
> "causal structure", I'm not really presupposing any asymmetry between
> "cause" and "effect", I'm just imagining a collection of events which
> linked to each other in some way like in a graph, but the links need not
> have any built-in direction--if two events are linked, that doesn't mean
> event is the cause and the other is the effect, so the pattern of links
> could still be the same even if you did compute things in reverse order.
> >From what I've read about loop quantum gravity, it's a theory in which
> and time emerge from a more primitive notion of linked events, but I'm
> pretty sure it's not a time-asymmetric theory.
My feeling is that causality, like time, is in the eye of the beholder.
It's not an inherent or fundamental property. Rather, it is a way that
we can interpret events in some kinds of universes. Completely chaotic
universes (where every moment is random and uncorrelated with the next)
would not have causality in any meaningful sense. Likewise for static
But if such a chaotic universe is computable, then for those of us watching
the computation from the outside, the read/write head of the Turing machine
is still obeying regular laws, in terms of when it decides to flip a
particular bit or change its internal pointer-state or move from one
location on the bitstring to another...if it's possible to define a
mathematical notion of "causal structure" for any particular algorithm, I
would think it would be possible to apply it to *all* algorithms. But
perhaps no such mathematical notion of causal structure will be
forthcoming...the reason I'd guess it is is that such a notion would seem
essential for defining what it means to "instantiate" a particular observer
in such a way that you don't count things like lookup tables, and also so
that you don't end up concluding that random thermal vibrations in a rock
actually instantiate all possible algorithms (the problem discussed in
Chalmers' paper "Does a Rock Implement Every Finite-State Automaton?" at
In fact I would suggest that causality only exists in our universe in
areas where there is an arrow of time; that is, in areas which are far
from equlibrium and where entropy is unusually low. The problem in
equilibrium regions is that you can always look at things two ways.
Suppose particle A collides with B and changes its course so that B
collides with C. We can express this as that A causes B to hit C.
But all the physics works just as well in the reverse direction, in
equilibrium, so we could just as easily say that C caused B to hit A.
Well, that's what I was talking about in my last post when I said that my
intuition of "causal structure" is not a time-asymmetric one, that it would
only be about saying two events are causally related without specifying one
as the "cause" and the other as the "effect". And as I said, my
understanding of loop quantum gravity is that it does involve some notion of
building spacetime out of relationships between events without any
time-asymmetry being involved.
Scerir has also posted some interesting paradoxes along these lines
relating to QM. Suppose we have a photon that passes through a
polarizer oriented at 20 degrees from vertical, then through one
oriented at 40 degrees, and makes it through both. At the end we would
say its polarization was 40 degrees. But what was it between the two
polarizers? Conventionally we would say that the first polarizer made its
polarization become 20 degrees and the second polarizer then changed the
polarization to 40 degrees. But actually you can just as easily argue
that the photon polarization was 40 degrees between the two polarizers.
That interpretation works just as well, a sort of retroactive causality.
What would the MWI say about this? Whatever it would say, I'm pretty sure it
wouldn't say that there was a single photon in a definite state between the