Reductio ad absurdum – Reloaded

Tämän kirjoituksen innoitti Facebookissa käyty keskustelu, jossa esitettiin allaoleva sarkastinen kommentti olkiukkona äärimmäisen reduktionistisesta maailmankuvasta, joka perustuu fysiikkaan. Kuitenkin tämä teksti voidaan nähdä jatkona aikaisemmalle kirjoitukselleni, joka myös käsitteli tietokonevertauksen kautta fyysistä todellisuutta, mutta siinä painopisteenä oli staattisten kuvausten ja dynaamisen suorituksen välinen suhde.

”But then again, everything that REALLY exists is physical, and every real event is a physical event, so if you know your physics then you know everything worth knowing about anything.”

Physics (excluding cosmology) is mostly concerned about the laws of nature and not the information contained in the ”state” of the world visible to us, which is much more significant in daily life. As an analogy, if we think that the universe is a computer, physics is the study of the hardware, but it does not necessarily help us at all understanding the software, the state of the world, run on it. In fact, most actual software is written on top of a hardware abstraction layer to make it agnostic about the underlying platform and in the same vain we can say that many structures we see around us in the real world, such as some artefacts of culture (I use the term in a very general sense in my philosophical texts and include languages, machines etc. under the concept) could be said to exist on top of some kind of ”interface” that hides aspects of the reality underneath (for example, different brains can use the language, on some level with clear boundary, in the same way even though they may have very different wirings). Going back to our computer analogy, if we want to understand the inner workings of a paint program, for example, it would be utterly useless to know which instructions the CPU supports because the code written on a high-level programming language is independent of the low-level details. The logics of such programs can be thought to reside ”inside” their own little virtual machines/worlds rooted in human culture.

It should also be noted, that because humans can only understand anything at all by dividing complex systems into smaller modular objects under some concepts, it is not even enough to know the hardware + state of the memory of a single object when trying to understand what the program does. Even though this allows the physicist to simulate the program with _some_ input, in most cases, it will still not reveal the relevant meanings of the events witnessed by running the program as the software architecture, use cases etc. are interwoven to other objects and users and get their meaning from the interaction: The same bit in the memory of the computer, part of the implementation of, say, integer state object, could be interpreted as the color of the eye of a game character or the balance of a company account, depending on how the object is connected to its environment, the other objects. Therefore, the physicist trying to understand such simple concepts from the level of physics, would need to model larger world state, and possibly even simulate history backwards to see how and why some structures evolved, in order to understand them (as some assumptions may just be implicit in the program design). And even then, this ”understanding” would need to contain the much simpler cultural explanation, that is probably on top of its own ”hardware abstraction layer” in some way AND..

The cultural concepts are mostly abstract – physics sees the evolving state of the world as some kind of ”4 dimensional image” (for the simplicity of the argument I am dismissing quantum mechanics here) where as in language we can talk about concepts such as power sets or logical ”or”, that do not directly appear in minimal physical descriptions of systems. Basically, this means that cultural concepts can be modular: we can plug these abstract concepts into multiple situations even when we cannot see all the scenarios in advance. In this sense, the physicist could never ”get” the meaning of the cultural concept in any other way but understanding the cultural abstraction, because it is impossible to simulate the future before it happens.

(The Matrix Trilogy – Dies Irae)


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