Wednesday, January 30, 2008

On space and time

Can we imagine a situation where there is no space or time? When scientists say the Big Bang is the start of time, it immediately begs the question, "Then what went on before that?" Similarly, one cannot fathom the situation where there is no space. According to the current theory, the universe is bounded. So again, the question would be "What lies beyond that then?"

It seems like even philosophical schools which dwell on the concept of "nothingness" implicitly acknowledge the presence of the framework of space and time. "Nothingness" really refers to something like an empty street. To me, this in itself exposes the limitation of the human mind when it comes to questioning the very framework on which conscious experience is based.

To me this strongly suggests that the perceptions of space and time are not something which are tied to fundamental laws of the universe in any obvious manner, but necessarily have to do with consciousness. I have already brought up the concept of the CBS many times before. This is our perception of the 3-D space around us, be it in the waking or the dream state. Similarly, we are aware of the flow of time in both these states.

If we assume that there are no conscious entities in some universe, is it possible that that universe is devoid of our concepts of space and time, yet obeys fundamental laws similar to our own universe?

If we assume that our own universe is a program being executed on some computer, then there is no reason to believe that the program variables (of that computer) dealing with our space and time have any correlation with the space and time dimensions of whatever space and time that computer exists in (assuming those concepts exist in that universe).

Even if strong AI concedes that a computer can produce consciousness, it constrains the computer's concept of time (even if in discrete clock cycles) to lie in the same physical time dimension of what it is simulating. This, to me, reflects a narrow-minded approach to the highly metaphysical topic it claims to address.

As I had pointed out in this post, a computer simulating this universe may not have to step through the states according to its concept of time. It can step through them in its concept of space. In fact, why even stop there? That computer need not even operate according to any notions of space and time that we are familiar with. Space and time are very anthropocentric concepts. The states of that computer need to have some labeling, if only by some abstract members of some infinite set. In fact, when we index the operation of the computer to these abstract infinite sets, the coordinates x, y, z, and t can be freely switched around, and mean no more than the names given to variables in a conventional programming language such as C.

But there is an additional complication (described in the referenced post) which I call the Interpretation Problem. In short, the results of any program can always be mapped according to some look-up table (whether real or imagined), and as a result, can mean totally different things depending on which look-up table is used. Note that the word "interpretation" itself implies a conscious observer in that universe, so the creation of consciousness implies the presence of another one at a higher level.

As far as the philosophical riddle of "If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it still make a sound?" is concerned, the answer is that the tree may not have fallen at all in a universe devoid of conscious observers at any point in the spacetime history of that universe, since it depends on the interpretation of what a tree-fall constitutes. This can be decided only by a conscious entity.