March 29, 2004

Dr. Nick Bostrom is a Simulation

Dr. Nick Bostrom is a philosopher at Oxford university with interests in Anthropic Principle and the possibility that we are living in a computer simulation.

Nick Bostrom writes
"Many works of science fiction as well as some forecasts by serious technologists and futurologists predict that enormous amounts of computing power will be available in the future. Let us suppose for a moment that these predictions are correct. One thing that later generations might do with their super-powerful computers is run detailed simulations of their forebears or of people like their forebears. Because their computers would be so powerful, they could run a great many such simulations. Suppose that these simulated people are conscious. Then it could be the case that the vast majority of minds like ours do not belong to the original race but rather to people simulated by the advanced descendants of an original race. It is then possible to argue that, if this were the case, we would be rational to think that we are likely among the simulated minds rather than among the original biological ones. Therefore, if we don't think that we are currently living in a computer simulation, we are not entitled to believe that we will have descendants who will run lots of such simulations of their forebears. That is the basic idea. The rest of this paper will spell it out more carefully."

He concludes  "that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation."

Dr. Bostrom also points out: "If we start running simulations, that would be very strong evidence against (1) and (2). That would leave us with only (3)."

Dr. Bostrom directs his attention to future generations that run simulations on non-biological computers. The entities that are simulated are encouraged to believe that they have real biological brains. Such simulated people would believe that they have one type of brain (a biological one) when in fact they have only a simulated brain which is the product of some kind of electronic supercomputer.

I will assume that Dr. Bostrom's reasoning is correct. I will not attempt to verify his reasoning but only to thresh out minor points regarding the nature of the simulating and simulated minds.

Details of the arguement that can be removed while still allowing the arguement to stand
It is pertinent to note first of all that the technology being used to simulate is not an issue. The computers possessed by future generations may be made of silicon, or they may be organic. The advances of genetic  engineering may well enable future generations to make biological computers. The technology being used would have no bearing upon the issue discussed by Dr. Bostrom's paper.

If the future generations are using biological computing technology then, it would not be a case of an electronic computer simulating minds that believe they have biological brains, but rather a biological computer (or brain) simulating people that believe that they have biological brains. The biological vs. silicon distinction is not one that that we need to stress.

And as Dr. Bostrom points out brains are not essential different from computers. Thus it does not effect Dr. Bostrom's arguement whether we call the hardware possessed by the future or forebear generations, "computers" or "brains."

As part of the proof of the likelihood that we are simulated brains, Dr. Bostrom requires that the future generations are capable of simulating a great number of their non simulated forebears. Dr. Bostrom seems to envisage future super computers running a great deal of simulations. However, in this age of the personal computer, it is not unreasonable to assume that the future generations use one piece of hardward for each simulated mind. The only stipulation is that they should be capable of making a very large number of such simulations.

It is also of note that intent is not particularly an issue either. Dr. Bostrom talks of future generations evolving to the stage where they are capable of "running" simulations, and this would suggest that they the simulations are created deliberately. There is nothing in the reasoning that asserts that the brains need to have been created deliberately.

It does not seem to be an issue whether the future generations have themselves become extinct or not. If the future generations have become extinct then this increases the likelihood that we are simulated rather than real.

While Dr. Bostrom hypothesises a situation in which a future race simulates their forebears using supercomputers, combining the last two points above it does not seem to affect the arguement if the simulation is being carried out by computers, possibly organic ones.

Those parts of the arguement that are essential
Having removed some of what I hope are non-essential parts of Dr. Bostrom's hypothesis, it is necessary to recap and clarify the types of situations that might be occuring.

Dr. Bostrom argues that whatever the situations there are minds and brains. Calling on the principle of "substrate independence," he argues that minds are run on hardware irrespective of the hardware type. This being the case, it is not clear whether minds are by their nature "simulated" entities, and whether this impacts on their existance. I will leave this question aside and merely point out that there are always mind-brain paris.

As a point of departure we may point to the following types mind-brain situations that we might find ourselves to be in.

1) Real forebears with minds and brains.
2) Simulated forebears with minds and simulated brains.
3) Real subquent generation simulating brains (computers) that are runing programs to simulating those in situation 2.
4) Real subsequent generations with minds and brains, that possess and control computers as described in (3).

As previously noted, it is does not necessary that the simulating computer-brains have masters,(4) so I will ignore them from the following discussion. Additionally on closer examination, the mind-brain situations (2) and (3) above are identical. So the question as to whether we are simulated becomes.

(1') Are we minds of real brain hardware
(2') Are we minds of simulated brains being run on simulating machines

Dr. Bostrom uses the pertinent analogy of the "java virtual machine". Java is a computer language that runs on a virtual, or simulated computer. The question as to whether we are simulated or not is rather similar to asking whether we are java programs or assembly language programs, the latter being programs that run on real machines. ]

He also asserts, as noted above that if we start running simulations, that would be very strong evidence that we are simulations. He is thinking of electronic simulations. At the present time our electronic simulation technology is not such that they are very convincing, yet. They are slowly getting that way, and it is partly the ability of computers to create convincing simulations that has lead to the increase in speculation that simuation may occur in the future, and that it may be already occuring now.

However, while our computer simulation technology is certainly advancing, we are aware that biological simulation technology is more advanced. We are aware that we dream and that our dreams are sometimes convincing simulations. Hence we are aware that a highly evolved simulation technology already exists.

Thus, if Dr. Bolstrom's reasoning is correct we should assume that we are the simulated brains running on virtual machines within biological computers.

Hence, Dr. Nick Bolstrom, and I, are very likely to be simulations and we should behave accordingly.  

Posted by timtak at 01:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2004

The Anthropic Ends of Science

Recently in the fields of cosmology and philosophy there are a lot of scientists and philosophers getting revved up about the anthropic argument.

The anthropic arguement (or rather arguements, since there are many of them) start from the assertion that the universe seems to be "finely tuned" for human life. In otherwords, had any of the 20 or so contstants of the physical universe been very slightly different, then there would not have been the conditions for life.

There are a number of papers on the Internet that describe the ways in which the universe appears to be  finely tuned, this excellent site introduces most of them indetail and this excellent summary covers the main ones.

Scientists and theologians give a number of explanations as to the reason for this apparent fine tuning.

In the physics and cosmology community there has been a tendency to explain the lucky chance of fine tuning through the assertion that this universe is only one of very many universes, perhaps an infinite number. And in most of the others life did not arise. We should not however be surprised, they argue, that there was one universe in which there exists the conditions for life. The assertion that there are  an infinite number of universes raises problems of its own. But, nonetheless, "the multiverse," hypothesis tends to be the response of the scientific community.

On the other hand, a great number of Christian theologians, are very pleasantly surprised by the recognititon of "fine tuning," and use it as proof that they were right all along. This paper, by a Dr Hugh Ross, a Christian, describes 16 ways in which the Universe was fine tuned to be a "fit habitat" for us to exist. Dr. Ross claims that the only way that this coincidence could have happened is if there were a divine intelligence at work creating a universe tuned to our needs.

Another way of refuting the fortutious-ness of the universe is to describe it in terms of "an observer effect." In other words, had the universe not been such as to support observers, then there would not have been anyone around observe the universe and note upon, or be thankful for the lucky chance.  Hence, in a sense, some argue, the universe could not have been any other way. The majority of the scientific community however, reject this arguement asserting that there could have been universes that did not become aware of their own existance by nurturing life. Hence, it is argued, it remains fortuitous that this universe is one which is observed.

Nonetheless, arguement in support of some sort of observer effect is quite strong. The fact that that the universe is fine tuned to our needs sure has something to do with the fact that we are the ones that is observing it. But what?

It seems quite possible to explain the fine tuning of the universe based upon the Buddhist assertions that the universe is illusory. Another way of putting this is to assert a Strong Athropic Principle, as a Strong Observation Effect: the universe is the product of observation, it is an observable world.

According to my understanding of the Buddhist world view, what we call "the universe" is described as being an illusion, due to the fact that it is "relative", or an anthropic interpretation of something more complex. Thus what we call "the universe" exists ony as one point of view and is not itself the ultimate reality. Hence, the answer as to why the universe is finely tuned would then become a direct product of the strong observer effect; we are observing an observable universe because "the universe" is an observation.
Mathematically, perhaps, is rather similar to the "multiple universe," answer to why the universe appears to be finely tuned, except that instead of proposing that there are many other universes existing lifelessly elsewhere, those other universe exist here all around us as aspects of the same ultimate reality that we cannot observe.  Under this interpretation, that which we call "The universe" becomes, not one real possible world among many, but our "observational world," our "interpretation of", our "handle upon," a reality which is far more complex.  Since our universe is only an observation, and not the ultimate reality, there is nothing in the slightest surprising about the fact that it is observable.

I find the Anthropic Arguement quite shocking because it seems to me to signal the end of science as we know it. Most scientists like to believe that they are unvieling being. And in a sense they are. But the existance of fortutious coincidences should encourage them to belive that their unvieling processes is radically bounded by the nature of human powers of observation, and that the universe they hae in their hands at the moment is only a theory about the universe and not "the real thing".

Very few people are aware of the relativity of their view of the world, so this is not only the problem of scientists, of course.


Posted by timtak at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2004

Einstein was Batty

As mentioned in a previous entry, science started to puzzle me when I was told that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. This seemed to be particularly fortuitous since light happens to be the medium of our fastest sense.

Science purports to tell us about the universe, about the whole of everything in all its possibilities.  It thus seemed very strange to me that the universe in entirity should have a speed limit. Even if electro-magnetic waves can not travel faster than a certain speed surely there should be other waves, or things that move with a non-wave-like motion, perhaps with an "arfdarf" motion, should be able to move faster than light. Or even if matter cannot travel faster than like then shouldn't there be some "smatter," with an entirely different composition, that can travel faster than the speed of light. One would think that in the universe, there should be possibilities for a lot more than the theory of relativity  allows.

I am purposefully using nonsense words, like "arfdarf" and "smatter" since I wish to refer to things that we have not yet, and perhaps even cannot ever observe, or concieve of. If science is describing the whole of everything, then the rules it proposes should be big enough to cope with things that are beyond our understanding. But science insists that the fastest speed that *anything* can travel is the speed of light. Does this sound plausible?

The fact that we have an organ for sensing the fastest thing in the universe seems is a little strange. Dogs may rely on their sense of smell, bats upon sonar, but humans rely on a sense organ that uses the fastest medium in the universe. I am not sure what evolution will hold in store for the human race over the coming eons, but it would seem that in terms of our choice of sense medium, we are at the pinnacle of the possible.

This strikes me as being rather fortuitous. It also raises another possibility. Is it not possible that, rather than assuming that light travelling at the speed limit of the universe, we may instead postulate that light only travells at the speed limit of the universe that we may select. Perhaps there are lots of things that travel faster than light but we are simply not able to sense them. Not so fast....

Einstein's equations are both predictive and applied. The theory of relativity predicted the existance of compacted "neutron stars" at the end of their life. These were first observed in 1967, more than 50 years after Einstien put pen to paper. And Einstein's equations were used in the making of the atomic bombs that killed so many inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The theory of relativity is not one which can simply be shrugged off because the theory stands as a foundation of who we understand the universe.

Imagine Einstein was a Bat

Imagine the cosmology of a bat, assuming that the bat is blind, and that it is using sound waves to judge the distances between itself and the nearest objects in its universe. The bat is of course unable to see light.

Since (let us assume at least) bats are unable to sense anything that moves faster than sound, bullets and other things that travel faster than sound, must be difficult for bats to comprehend. The bat scientists might postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks. 

Or perhaps not? Would they realise that some things travel faster than the speed of sound? That would depend upon how they understood their universe, whether or not they understood it in a "batty" way.

A "batty way" of seeing the world is one which is based upon a sonar screen view of the world, where being sonar-detectable has conditioned the way that matter, time and space and velocity is understood. In this batty world view, matter, that which exists, would be defined in terms of its sonar-detectability. This is not to say that everything in their world shows up on the sonar screen. If the bats bumped into sheets of silk that do not reflect sound then the bats may presume that there are somethings that are sonar transparent. But these "sound-transparent" things will be understood upon the metaphor of other objects that do appear on the sonar screen. Other things, such as the colours of the setting sun, things that Bats will never become aware of, will not be given existance in their batty science. In other words, in a batty sceince, their understanding of space and matter would be governed by being detectable by sonar, and sonar-detectability will have got in at the ground floor of their world view.

We are told that, when Einstein was 16, in 1895, he asked himself a question which was to lead to the discovery of relativity.

"If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the basis of experience or according to [the theory of electricity and magnetism]. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, judged from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how, otherwise, should the first observer know, i.e.. be able to determine, that he is in a state of uniform motion?"

If we look carefully at this statement we can see that, while Einstein mentions field theory in passing it is not field theory that is the basis for his initial observations. The thrust of the arguement is based upon intuitive assessment of the conditions for observation, experience, and determinability.

Einstien's argument can be re-written from the point of view of a bat. If a bat flying at the speed of sound where to attempt to 'look' at the sound he were flying alongside, he would like Einstein say "there is no such thing," "on the basis of experience." Again, for the bat also, it would appear "intuitively clear that everying would have to happen according to the same laws as for a bat who was at rest. For how else would the nearly supersonic bat know, *i.e. be able to determine,* that he is flying so fast." As we can see, for the bat and for Einstien, the possibility of going at speed depends upon the determinability of that speed. And for determinability, both the bat and Einstein can only appeal to their best methods of determining.

This is not  a problem faced only by bats and Einstien. Einstien certainly did not create the problem. We all understand the world in terms of how we observer it. Einstien became aware of the fact observability was getting in at the ground floor of our understanding of space and time. Once we realise that our "space" is a light observable space, then it becomes apparent that some strange things will have to happen to objects that fly at close to the speed of the medium (light, sound) that is defining space, and speed itself. At speeds close to the medium that was used to define space and speed, then there will enevitably be the sort of bending of mass and time as described by Einstien.

But what I would like to assert is that this bending takes place in the "observable world" of the observer, because it the direct result of an observation effect. "The universe" being defined by Einstien and modern scientists is an observable world, or a humans' eye view.

That being the case then, we can ask "what would happen if we move a bat (or Einstien) faster than the speed of sound (or light)?" While it is very difficult to move at anything like the speed of light, it would be quite easy to move the poor unsuspecting bat at speeds seven times that of sound.  The bat, of course, would not be able to tell what is happening to him. It might even seem to the bat as if time stood still, or the bat is flying back in time, as it caught up with sounds that had flown off into the distance. To the bat, it would be a very mind expanding experience, that will not make sense to the bat. However the bat would make it to familiar places fast.

I do not think that it will ever be possible to accerate humans to speeds anything close to that of the speed of light. However if Einstien's theory is an observational effect then by comparison with the bat, in theory at least "hyperspace" is perhaps possible.


I read years later that Einstien knew he was batty. He gained inspiration for his theory of relativity from Ernst Mach, of Headless picture fame, who said (in his "the science of Mechanics) "Nature is composed of sensations as its elements.... Sensations are not signs of things; but, on the contrary, a thing is a thought-symbol for a compound sensation of relative fixedness. Properly speaking the world is not composed of "things" as its elements, but of colors, tones, pressures, spaces, times, in short what we ordinarily call individual sensations." (p. 579)
I.e. Einstien was aware that nothing goes faster light not because there is any speed limit of any kind, but because nothing goes faster than sensations, because that is what the world is. The world that does not faster than light is the world of sensations, it is our batty, human world.

It also occurs to me now, in 2012, that if special relativity is a batty, "sensational" effect then there should be some apparent retrocausality around. Consider the world of bats. Occasionally bats get shot by bullets traveling faster that sound. In the disucssion above I suggested that bats might "postulate that their brethren are liable to spontaneously explode when in the presence of human's with steel sticks," but they would also sonar the movement of the gun, and hear the bang as it goes off, *after* one of their brethren has been blow away. I.e. from a bat's point of view, there appears to be retrocausality, effects preceeding causes. On this batty "sensational" view of relativity, one would expect there to be some retrocausility occuring in our world too. Why isn't there more "spooky action at a distance"?   

It could be that retrocausal events are rare, just as bullets are rare in the world of bats. Or that there are retrocausal events but we are not noticing them, believing the events to be independent. Or it could be that we really are lucky enough to be able to percieve the fastest stuff in the universe, but that strikes me as being as implausible as the existence of god. Indeed a "sensational" theory of special relativity, in the absense of retrocausality, might even be used as a proof of the existance of god. If special relativity is based on the limits of our senses, and there are no retrocausal events occuring, then we really are at the limit, seeing the whole of the universe. Man would be the measure of all things. That we, an evolutionary blink away from goats, should be so lucky almost suggests divine intervention! My money is on the existence of superluminal hidden variables, such as "pilot waves."

That Einstien read Mach:
The above quote from Mach

Related Books and Articles
Albert Einstein "Relativity: The special and General Theory"
David M. Harrison "Special Theory of Relativity" (a superb introduction)
Thomas Nagel What is it like to be a bat?   [From The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-50.]
Sadly this article does not address relativity but it does address the problem of explaining things that are beyond the listener's power to observe.

Posted by timtak at 06:19 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2004

The Ring (A short Story)

   Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members of the Royal Academy, I present to you today the results of our prolonged research, into that most beautiful and radiant of celestial bodies, gthe ringh, also known as "the ring of fire," or more affectionately "the doughnut of light."  During my talk today I will refer to it as "the ring," so as not to prejudice the issue of its composition. I do not, of course expect, any of our audience to believe "the ring" to be the product of any celestial bakery! But, as you are aware there are still those that believe the ring to be, in some sense, made of gfireh, a superheated cloud of gas, occluded by a gstella-stationaryh planet. However, as members of the academy are also aware, long-range thermo-sensitive testing has shown, that even when the ring is at its brightest and hottest, it is not at a temperature that would support combustion.   

In this presentation, I do not wish to enter into discussion regarding the origin of the ring's luminescence. I will limit myself rather to the discussion of that which is probably the second most controversial issue. And, while, I will admit, the results of this research are not conclusive, I think that you will agree we have gone some way to providing an explanation to one of the most famous, or notorious, of questions posed by the ring: whence the ringfs toroidal shape? And if I may be allowed to whet your appetite a little future, our research may even give some idea as to the constitution of the central, dark core at the centre of our most famous celestial body.

   Before I introduce our findings, I would like to start by introducing some of the theories, which surround "the ring," both scientific and others morecahemccolourful.
   As you know there are several myths surrounding the ring, which is even the object of worship by some of the less educated members of our community. Among the more bizarre beliefs held by the members of that religion, are, as you know, that "the ring is the source of all life," "the ring is the gateway to heaven," and "at the beginning of the world, the ring was a circle." This belief relates to the myth, at the start of gThe Book.h I quote, "In the beginning was the ring, but the ring was not a ring, it was a circle! In those times before the beginning, the ring was the Garden of Keden, the magnificent the perfect." And later on -- I am skipping a few pages, since there follows a long passage describing the magnificence of the "Garden of Keden,h in detail as fabulous as it is preposterous -- the second chapter of gThe Pale Bookh continues,  "Seventeen eons after the impetuous male, Kadam, had fallen, the ring once again became a circle! Yes! Lo! The centre of the ring came down unto us, and there upon from out of the centre appeared Keve, the illustrious female."

   As you will understand ladies and gentlemen, there is much in this myth, which is entirely preposterous. We are now fully aware of the origins of life, by the process of metamorphosis, and the notion that a celestial body at the far reaches of the universe should visit us is utterly absurd. The notion, however, that the centre of the ring is separate from the luminescent extremity, is one, which has gained the full approval of the scientific community. The days when we believed that the ring is in any sense, a "*ring*h of any sort are past. It is now generally accepted that the luminescent toroid, and the dark core are not equidistant. While both the ring and the core are know to be extremely distant, at the very limits of the known universe, it has also been shown from calculations based upon multiple, simultaneous, triangulated sightings, that the core is considerably closer to us that the luminescent gringh which surrounds it.

This discovery has given birth to a variety of theories to explain the ring's structure. Many researchers now accept that the ring is indeed circular, or rather spherical, and occluded, as I mentioned at the start of my talk by another, spherical mass of gdark matter.h

Some have asserted that the core is held in some sort of electromagnetic or anti-gravitational field. The problem with these field theories is, however, that that they fail to explain why the core does not "fall" into the centre of the celestial body. This has lead, as mentioned earlier, to some cosmologists to suggest that the core is a stella-stationary or stella-synchronous dark mass. This gplanet,h it is argued, may be in rotation about a mass of superheated gas, revolving in the same direction and with the same period as the luminscent sphere itself, in such a way as to be held at a constant distance due to centripetal forces. The major problem with this theory is that it would entail that we, and the whole of the known universe are also rotating, with the same period, about a central celestial body. I would like to suggest ladies and gentlemen, that this assertion is surely absurd.

Which brings me, to our research into how the dark core of the ring is maintained in it central position. Our results are both surprising and profound. But first a word about our method. The major problem with observations of the ring are a result of its extreme brightness. As you know the ring is so bright that direct observation with the naked eye, can cause retinal damage. Indeed the ring is so bright that many cosmologists, some of whom are present in the todayfs audience, have argued that the ring is the sole source of light in the heavens, and that all other celestial bodies are not luminescent in themselves but reflect the light of the ring. This would explain why, at periods when the ring is dark, all other celestial bodies, other than pinpricks of light in the region of the ring, are dark also.

Our researchers overcame the extreme energy of the ring through the use of occular filtering. This was achieved by observing the ring from a position deep within the ocean. At a depth of 400 Kfathoms, near the ocean bed, the ring appears to be no more than a dim halo. Disturbances in the surrounding water were the biggest problem for our team to overcome. However at certain times of year, when submarine activity is parlicularly diminished, it was possible to make observations with clarity and precision, to reveal a surprising result.
  Our observations have shown, ladies and gentlemen, that there is a dark line or axel, bisecting and connecting the dark central core of the ring, with what I shall call gthe rim,h the darkness surrounding the ring on all sides. The central core of the ring may thus be held in place by some sort of focused, dark, electromagnetic beam to the edges of the luminescent orb. Explanations for this beam, or line, have so far escaped our researchers but, we believe that further examination of the bisecting line, hithertoo, unobserved, and unobservable to the naked eye may hold the key to understanding the structure of this most mysterious of natural phenomina.


By some fortutious chance, in a distant and colourful English country Garden, John, the gardener approached a disused well at one corner of the lawn and, peering down into its murky orifice, wondered why the frogs, that made their home within its depths, were making such a din at this time of year. Partly out of curiosity and partly out of a desire to rescue a frog or two -- gthey must surely be short of foodhC-- John put his hand to the winch and started to lower the rusty old bucket.

Posted by timtak at 06:25 PM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2004

Preposterous Vanity

While I am fan of science there are some things about the scientific outlook that I find rather absurd or arrogant. I call this the following the arguement from humility. It is not my own. I first read about it in more than one aphorism of Friedrich Nietzsche.

(I) Science generally upholds a principle of non-contradition.

(II) Science demonstrates to us that humans are *uttterly* insignificant when compared to the universe. Science demonstrates we are in our size, our similarity to other things numerous, the time we have existed, and the fortuitousness of our existance, *utterly* insignificant.

Spatially, science tells us that we are extremely small. If the solar system were scaled down to the size of a house, then the earth would be much smaller than a grain of sand. But, we are told the solar system is itself a spec within the galaxy and the galaxy but a spec within the universe.

Temporally, we are also, apparently tiny in terms of the length of human history to date. If the life of the world were compressed to 24 hours then the arrivale of humans would occur three seconds before midnight. Compared to the age of the world the life of any individual human is of course fleeting in the extreme.  It is no surprise then that the world view of youngers (the basic tenets of science are taught at schools) and the world view of the ancient Greeks, are not so different from the world view held by scientists.

In terms of our uniqueness, we share 97% of the same genetic material with an earthworm, more than 99% with other mammals and about 50% with a banana.

In terms of our fortuitousness, we are, science tells us, the product of chance.

We are of a level of utter insignificance that, science shows us, boggles the mind. We are, science tells us, a virus that lives fleetingly upon cosmic dust. For all intents and purposes, we are dust.

(III) However, Science claims that this dust, that we are, knows a lot about the universe. That for instance we know the limits of the universe (the fastest speed "c", the smallest mass). Or that we dust that we are can conject about the origins and end of the universe.

Oh, let us laugh loud and strong! Such, preposterous vanity!

How could anything as small as the human pretent to understand something so vast as the universe? How could anything so short lived as the human pretent to understand the universe? Even though we don't believe that earthworms, cats, or even monkeys understand the universe, we are prepared to believe that we know the limits of the universe. While it is difficult to see how chance could have evolved something as complex as the eye, Dawkin explains how this could have been acheived in this recent book "Climbing Mount Improbable." However Dawkin is convincing with his explanation of the evolution of the eye, can he be so convincing with regard to the theory of evolution, or the theory of relativity. How could chance have created a mechanism that would understand creation?

It is true that sciences has acheived a lot. We have learnt to fly, make nice electronic gadgets, life enhancing medical equipment and some awesome bombs. However these achievements are only such as to allow us to double or triple our life expectancy, move around our speck of dust quite quickly or destroy ourselves still more quickly.

But that we have framed the universe in our equations, that we have understood it substance, its beginnings, is limits, it mechanisms, this "achievement" is reaching far beyond our time and place.

In my own field, that of psychology, we are shown the extent to which humans are inclined to overestimate themselves. It is called "self-enhancement," and it is so pronounced that only the those that are clinically depressed are inclined to understand themselves correctly.

Rather than assume that some cosmic bacteria has understood the whole of everything, it seems much more plausible to me to assume that this is a vain misapprehension.

This is not to say that science teaches us nothing. But that we should interpret the limits that it teaches us as being limits upon our world, the world that we can understand, the world that we observer, the world that we experience, the world that we mistake for the real thing.

Posted by timtak at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2004

Matchstick Men Spoiler

Fortunately I did not know that the film's director was Ridely Scott (a genius) so I was watching without knowing what to expect. Okay so this is a con-film, possibly the earliest genre of BuddhaMovie, and true to the genre, I expected a twist. I thought that the twist was just going to involve Frankie's double dealings and, thanks to the intervention of Angela, we were going to be left with some polly-anna, silver moon thing and actually, it was a little like that.

But also I was taken in. And yes I admit it, I wept. I wept when, after an arguement, Angela, refused to get out of daddy's car. I wept at the thought of a little girl losing her father againg, and just at Alison "I can cry on cue" Lohman's pretty tears.

But it all turns out to be a big con. I did not expect such visciousness in Hollywood. After building up our hopes for patrifillial bliss, the prodgigal daughter, Angela turns out to have been an actress employed by Frankie in order to fleece Roy.

In an epilogue we see her has her real-self, looking closer to her real age, buying a carpet from Roy, who has ended up a carpet salesman. When she asks if Roy wants to know her real name, he replies that he already knows. She calls him "daddy," and drives off in her boyfriends car. For a higher Satori-ranking, should the film have ended there, in the carpet remnants shop of mediocraty?

Okay, sad for the squeamish, we get a little Hollywood treat at the end. We get see Roy go back to his immense while detached home (why Frankied did not screw him for the deeds, I am not sure) with its swimming pool and there Roy's new, pregnant wife. Happily Ever After?

The actress Alison Lohman cries, in real life, when she wants to get let off a parking ticket apparently. She is a good actress. But it is not really her acting that pulls it off. It is more the combined weight of our desires, to believe in children's tears and fairytales of long lost loving daughter, and the fact that Hollywood usually panders to them.

While it made sense, there was nothing particularly slick about this con film. If the film acheinves, and messes with, the suspension of disbelief, it does so because we want to believe in it, we "want to give our money away". What is Alison when we see her again at the end of the film? Both the audience and Roy is not sure how to treat her. Should Roy punch her lights out? Do we want to know who she really was? What was she till then? It is This is the story of a neurotic con-man called Roy, played by Nicolas Cage, and his parter Frankie, played by an ever-effervescent Sam Rockwell. The film starts with paranoid, twitching Roy, fleecing an old couple because, according to Roy, they "want to give their money away". The film charts the way Roy changes when his daughter Angela comes back into his life. Angela is played by the talented Alison Lohman. kind of a confusing moment. But I found Roy's choice kind of inevitable and comforting. He starts playing the daddy again - "Hey, so do you like this guy then?" He asks about her boyfriend. We are back here again, believing in Hollywood, because it more comfortable that way. We could have watched angela's car roll of into the sunset, fade to grey.

Did Ridely Scott want to end the film there? I don't think so. This is mahayana Buddhism at its best. Or the film can also been seen as a successful psychotherapy. Paranoid Roy is thick with phobia's ticks and twitches. Their origin is hinted as being in his rejection of fatherhood. Roy has thrown Angela's mother out of the house when she is two months pregnant. But by the end of the film, he has come to terms with his fear and inadequacy and, embraced reality by selling carpets and bringing up bratts. Wifey waits with good home cooking, bun in the oven and flowers on the table. Perhaps life is as simple as this? Perhaps if we can give up on our "con artistry," it can be?

Matchstick Men darker and more realistic than that. As Roy explains as carpet salesman, he feels differently now. He realises that he too wants to give his money away. In Roy's final choice of fantasy, indeed, Matchstick men is way up there (past Solaris) in getting to the shocking truth of the human condition - we prefer the bullshit. This is a film that speaks deeply about our desire to be in fantasyland, and it is clear that Sir. Ridely Scott is a lot more enlightened than I.

Posted by timtak at 10:37 PM | Comments (1)