On Nov 14, 2008, at 5:09 PM, Michael Rosefield wrote:
> Take this level of abstraction much further and what you have  
> essentially is the 'dust theory' from Greg Egan's Permutation City.

Actually, I think my formulation already goes further than the theory  
outlined in PC. Although it's a subtle point, I get the feeling that  
reality in PC is still "materialist", in the sense that at the root  
there still is material stuff which is different than bare  
mathematical fact. I think the idea is more like the idea that a  
physical stone implements all possible computations. As long as  
there's some physical stuff to work with (implies the novel), that  
stuff is enough to represent all possible computations. And the  
computations representing conscious beings are scattered like dust  
throughout those computations. Another way to look at it would be to  
say that, if the physical universe is infinite, then at the moment of  
my death, there is some pattern of molecules somewhere which is enough  
like me to count as a continuer. It doesn't matter that it's causally  
disconnected from me. Those states may be scattered like dust through  
space and time, but as long as they're there, I'll continue to exist.

One can believe all of this, yet still retain the standard (in my  
opinion ill-formed) materialist conception of physical existence. One  
can still believe that some kind of physical universe has to exist in  
order for the "dust" to exist. It's different (and more extreme) to  
suggest that mathematical facts-of-the-matter by themselves play the  
role that "physical existence" is supposed to play.

Maybe Egan did mean to imply that more extreme version, but it's hard  
to know, because he wrote a novel rather than a concise essay. For  
instance, I don't understand why the main character of the novel felt  
the need to "jump start" the universe he wanted by performing the  
initial computations. If the dust theory is true, nothing needs to be  
jump-started.

-- Kory


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