Sunday, August 19, 2007

Homesteader's Garden

This picture from the Online Exhibit-Bound for Glory is entitled "Garden adjacent to the dugout home of Jack Whinery, homesteader"
Pie Town, New Mexico, September 1940

Pie Town is southwest of Albuquerque.

The Author cannot determine the variety of plant that the girl is picking. The large plants in the center forefront of the garden could be tobacco. As an aside, many current generation New Mexico "homesteaders" grow a different plant, far less legal, for smoking purposes.



Occasionally, the Author’s reading, and sometimes, writing, veer into weirdness. Were Christopher Columbus’ ships invisible to the Native Caribbean islanders of Guanahani? Could Edgar Cayce predict stock price movements? Did they have cable television on the continent of Atlantis?

There was a fascinating article in the August 14th edition of the New York Times, “Our Lives, Controlled from Some Guy’s Couch”, written by John Tierney. The article discusses a paper written by Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford University. The premise is fairly straightforward and fully described in in the paper “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?”

The NYT article describes the premise as follows:

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.


Such computer simulations would be consistent with “The Matrix” film trilogy. And would not require the huge vats of people.

The world in the Matrix is a Simulacrum, a computer–generated illusion. It only “looks” like the late 20th century. Instead, human beings are enslaved in tanks of fluid, wired to the Matrix. Human brain activity powers the machines that control the Matrix. If you haven’t seen The Matrix, the first of the Matrix Trilogy, rent it. Sequels two and three are okay, but the first is the best. It is a monumental and profound film.

A supercomputer with the processing power and memory of the human brain will probably exist by 2010. By 2020, PCs will have similar processing power. And according to Ray Kurzweil, such computing power will cost only $1 in 2030. Whew!

But a computer capable of running such simulations will take a lot longer. Such a computer would require processing speed of 10 to the 33rd or 36th cycles, or processes, per second. A long way from a few gigs.

The NYT article states:

Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn’t matter for Dr. Bostrom’s argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.


Bostrom’s paper proceeds from three hypotheses.

1. DOOM-Most civilizations self-destruct before they obtain the computer processing power to run a post-human simulation.
2. NOT INTERESTED-Civilizations that do acquire the processing power decide not to run simulations, for whatever reasons.
3. YOU’RE BINARY-Civilizations run simulations and we just might be living in such a simulation.

Bostrom puts the probabilities of one and two at very low. But get past these points and simulations are very likely. In the NYT article Bostrom states:

Dr. Bostrom doesn’t pretend to know which of these hypotheses is more likely, but he thinks none of them can be ruled out. “My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that,” he says, “is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation.”

In another post, or perhaps two, the Author will discuss “life” within a simulation.