Answering Questions on Sentient Information

After speaking with some religious folks, I realize that my recent essays cause them a bit of a problem.

They believe I’m talking about Cartesian Dualism.  That is, a body and a soul (mind) of different substances.  They believe this because I do point to the fact that theological thinking on the subject seems to be more accurate than the purely materialist view of the mind as just a brain, end of story.

What they are wrong about, however, is that I believe a mind exists outside the body as Descartes believed.

Descartes was wrong.  But he wasn’t “very wrong”.

Imagine a piece of paper with writing on it.  The writing is in a language unknown to the reader.  The paper, the ink, and the pictures of words on it are all physical things which anyone can see.

But if you show the paper to a reader who knows the language, they receive information from the paper.

As an example, let me put up the following Latin phrase on a piece of paper: Condemnant quod non intellegunt.

This is meaningless to those who do not know Latin.  It is merely physical representations, either represented by light on your computer screen or ink on paper.

But if I write the translation, and you speak English, you will understand the phrase: They condemn what they do not understand.

This is not merely physical words, but contains a metaphysical property called information.

Now, information is not purely some metaphysical concept without experimental data.  If we look at quantum mechanics, we find that observing information can change the outcome.

For instance, if we do the Double-slit Experiment on light, we find that observing one type of information will change the physical world.

Just because information is metaphysical doesn’t mean that it’s not a part of reality.  It’s simply not a part of the physical reality that we normally interact with.

The story of Jack and Jill going up the hill for water is an example of something with a metaphysical existence.  It can be put into physical form, but it is put onto something physical, rather than being a stand alone physical thing.

Now, this brings us to two questions.  What of the Identity of Indiscernibles, aka Leibniz's law?

The paper with our Latin phrase is a physical object.  To you it is indiscernible.  But another piece of paper contains the translated phrase.  One paper has information you can discern, the other has information you cannot discern.  You therefore believe one piece of paper has information while the other does not.  But to a different reader than can interpret both, they believe both pieces of paper contain the same information.

While the paper may be different, the information is the same.

So how do we apply this to the existence of the mind?

On person sees no difference between a brain and a mind.  To them, they are the same object.

Another person sees a difference between a brain and a mind.  To them, they are different objects.

The person who cannot tell the difference is like a person looking at both pieces of paper who associates the information and the paper as being the same thing.

Are they the same thing?  If I take a piece of chalk and write the same phrase on a brick wall, the same information exists now on the wall.  Only an idiot would say that the wall and the paper are the same object, no?

We then see the information is clearly separate from the medium that it is written on.

I have three identical computers. and an observer who doesn’t know that there are two different computers.

On the first computer, I run Windows XP.  On the other two computers, I run Windows 10.

An observer viewing the second and third computer 30 seconds apart will assume that I brought in a computer, walked out, and walked back in with the same computer.  They will not know the difference when the hardware and the software match.

The observer can say, “There is at least one computer.”

But if I walk in with the first computer running Windows XP, then walk out and immediately back in with the second computer running Windows 10, the observer will know that I’ve switched computers.  They alternatively might think that I’ve performed a miracle, but an observer in this case is safe in assuming Occam’s Razor leads to the correct conclusion.

The observer can say, “There are at least two computers.”

Furthermore, if I bring in all three computers, they will know there are three distinct computers.

The observer can say, “There are at least three computers.”

Now, when we try this experiments on identical triplets, we find something interesting.

We have the first identical triplet was raised abroad in France.  The second and third identical triplet’s were raised in California and never separated for their entire lives.  We ask them all to dress the same and to read the same paragraph and walk out.  We even allow the triplets to practice with each other until they are sure they can perfectly mimic one another in facial expression, tone, tember, and speed.

If show the observer a single person doing the same task on three separate occasions, they will be highly suspect.  The observer will say that the similarities are so great, that without seeing all three of them at once, we may be just showing them the same person over and over again.

They would be correct.

The observer can say, “There is at least one person.”

And if we show the observer the second person doing the same task twice and the third person doing the task once, they will come to the same conclusion.  They should be able to tell no difference.  Not only are the bodies perfect copies, but the minds of the unseparated should have a near identical programming and being together, be synced to some degree.

The observer can say, “There is at least one person.”

Now, if we show the first person doing the task and the second person doing the task, the observer will notice big differences, which only grow over time.

They may take a risk now and say, correctly, “There is at least two people.”  Because they have been separated greatly, there is very little chance that they can mimic each other and they are likely never to be in perfect sync.

In this case, we see a clear difference in the information.  The people are naturally occurring clones, perfect DNA replicas of one another.  But the programming information is different.

Now, one might argue that the cells are not perfectly the same, and they are correct.  They may argue that the brain is configured differently, and they are correct.

The body changes due to circumstance.  But we observe that this is also true of the two who were not separated.  If they are never separated, they will essentially have nearly the exact same information, while having some internal physical differences on the cellular and brain levels.

We then start seeing this separation.  We see that even in a translation, the information is very different and depends on the interpreter of that information.

A fourth child raised without any separation with the two other children who were never separated will have the same information, but completely different biology.  This will result in a failure to mimic information in the same way.

Put simply, it’s the same information, but on different hardware.  If I change the chips in the computers, Windows 10 will run differently, for instance, regardless of if everything else is identical.

Therefore, we can say that both hardware and software make a difference.  Someone who receives a brain injury will have their information run differently, even if the information isn’t changed.  We can also separate twins, and have two adults come to very different ways of living their lives and what values they have.

We can show hardware distinction and we can show software distinction.  This means that we can show the mind as separate from the brain just as we can show Windows XP is separate from the laptop it runs on.

And we do not have to resort to Cartesian Dualism and create unknown substances.  Information is a property of the physical world, but it is not a physical thing itself.

Information is a property.

For instance, I can have a sign with the same letters on it, but with different information.

“The dog bit the man.”

“The man bit the dog.”

Those sentences contain the same letters, same type of structure, same letters to make the same words.  Physically, the sentence exists as the same sum of parts.  Put on paper, it will weigh the same.  It will reflect the same amount of light.  Each will share every property of the whole as the other.

But two words are rearranged and convey completely different information.

If I take a basketball, a baseball, a tennis ball, a soccer ball, and a bowling ball, and put them side by side on the ground in various random orders, there is no information conveyed.  There could be, but that would have to be inferred by an observer.  To an observer taking the sight at face value, it’s equally meaningless regardless of the order.

But if I place the words “I Am Happy” on the ground, certain orders will convey information.

Meaningless phrases will include:

I Happy Am
Am Happy I

There are all equally meaningless and convey nothing.  They say no more than the random balls.

But if I say these phrases, they carry unique meaning.

I Am Happy
Happy I Am
Happy Am I

These are equal statements of information.  I’m obviously happy.

But I can change it yet again with these unique meanings:

Am I Happy

When I say this, I’m asking a question.  I don’t know if I’m happy, and I’m asking.

Unlike the balls, whose order does not matter, the order of the words matters greatly.  The physical things are the same, but the information is radically different. And sometimes, it matters even how it is punctuated in the slightest degree.  Take the Oxford Comma, for instance.  A recent news story omitted this piece of information as radically changed a real headline.

The headline read, “Top stories: World leaders at Mandela tribute, Obama-Castro handshake and same-sex marriage date set…”

Wow, Obama and Castro are getting married!  No.  The information was corrupted by the change in information.  It was not a physical change.  We could toss in a comma right after Obama-Castro, and still not change the information.  But if we move that comma to right after handshake, we get the intended information and meaning.

No physical change, but clear information change.

This happens on the time on a computer.  These words are appearing on the screen as information is encoded onto the hardware through the keyboard.  But the physical machine is never added to nor taken away from.

One computer may have thousands of hours of music, while an identical one may have dozens of games, while still another identical one may have nothing by spreadsheets.

Same physics, different information.

DNA is a lot like this.  Undamaged Human DNA is perfectly the same, every single copy (we’re ignoring the zipper ends, btw, for you DNA geeks).  Yet, every single person has a completely unique order of DNA.

The DNA is the same thing, but with different information between different individuals.

In the example of DNA, we have a lot of different physical objects, but only 1 information set that they all share.  It is an example of proving that physical objects are unique.  They don’t contain the exact same molecules, the same place in space.  But the information is identical.

In that example, the information of the DNA seems to transcend the lowly strand, and be something more important than any individual strand.

Not only that, but the information contained in DNA doesn’t require DNA.  We can sequence it and put the information in your DNA into a computer, store it as ones and zeros.  We can upload your DNA anywhere in the world, and copy and paste it with a few mouse clicks to the other side of the globe.

On the other side of the globe, a machine that pieces together DNA could literally recreate a DNA strand using this information, and have a copy of the strands in your body that is identical and indistinguishable.

After all, DNA is just information written in a molecular format.  The format can be changed depending on our purposes.

Done with an embryo, it might be possible to “save” a copy of a child, and reproduce it later.  How would you like to raise yourself?  When you have children, the embryo structure is reprinted as an exact duplicate and implanted into a surrogate mother, and given to you to raise… yourself.

It’s slightly more complicated than that, and the resulting child will not be an exact duplicate even if the science gets everything right.  Physical objects are almost never perfect duplicates because of the laws of physics, chaos, and entropy.

But the information can be saved uncorrupted.

Let’s say we can save the information in your brain, and later, we reconstruct a brain and imprint this information on it using the same materials.  Let’s say we replicate the structure exactly.

Is this you?  If you are both alive at the same time, you certainly won’t think so.  But it will certainly think and feel just like you do.  Over time, differences in time, place, and experience will diverge this mind from yours and gain its own distinct information.

Sci-fi likes playing transporter tricks to investigate this as a real possibility.

But let’s say that we don’t recreate the physical object.  Let’s say that the information that is in your brain is simulated.

In computing, we call this a Virtual Machine.  In a Virtual Machine, you could do many things, one of which is making a perfect copy of a “real machine”.

I sit down at a computer, I use it for a few years, and then I have all of it copied to a backup location.  I also store the type of hardware it was on as a few variables.

Years later, I want to use my old computer.

So, on a new computer, I create a virtual machine and tell it “use a copy of my backup”.  I tell it the hardware that it ran, and it replicates its speed and functionality.

I now have a computer Virtual Machine that is perfectly identical to my old computer, but with none of the physical objects.

It IS the same information, and NONE of the physical objects.  This information is just a property I transferred onto completely new physical objects, the new computer.

Back to our sentences, “I am happy” can be pure information.  When you load it up on your computer to read, you are not reading anything physical from me.

When I type it, it’s appearing on MY physical objects, and when you read it, it’s appearing on YOUR physical objects.  The property of information is transferable in a perfect form.

It could be put on a computer, on paper, on a led sign, written on the sand, spoken aloud, video taped, etc.  The information remains the same, only the medium and format change.  The information is expressed by the physical world, but it is NOT the physical world.  It is metaphysical.

Thus, the information of a Sentient mind contains the same examples.

The only limitation to backing it up, transferring it, making copies, and expressing it in different mediums such as a Virtual Machine is our ability to scan, record, and process this information in real time.

While it is perfectly simple for me to copy a music file to my friend, a few things do stand in the way.  My speakers are different, so the information will be EXPRESSED differently, for instance.

But in the case of a brain, we run into a few issues.  The Virtual Machine of a computer is only my old computer at the time it was backed up.

If after backing up my computer, I write a 100 page thesis on the meaning of the universe and life, and then the old computer dies, the Virtual Machine will have none of that information.

The backup is just a snapshot in time.

So, if we make a snapshot of the mind, we don’t have any information after that snapshot.  If my mind was backed up at the age of 10, and you try to load up my mind to talk to me about philosophy, you will get 10 year old me who had no concept of philosophy.

If the copy of 10 year old me were started immediately, then many decades later, there would be the Virtual Machine me and the physical brain me, and we would be quite different.  The same happens with computers.  We often copy machines into Virtual Machines to try things out that could destroy the original, such as testing a file for a virus.  If the Virtual Machine gets hit with the virus, we just stop the machine, load it up from the backup, and start all over again, as many times as we want.

This can cause issues when running multiple versions of people, for obvious reasons, but which we will examine in the future.

The other issue is that we invented the hardware that a computer uses to store software on.  We created it, and know with perfection how it works and how to manipulate it.  We invented the hardware, designed it, manufactured it, and installed it.  We wrote the software as well.  Therefore, we can make perfect copies.

But making a copy of a mind isn’t so simple.  We didn’t invent it, didn’t create it, don’t know how its programmed, and don’t even understand how it works yet.

There are two solutions to this.

The first, and hardest, is to learn all of this.  Once we learn how a mind works within the brain, we can have machines that look specifically for this information and only this information.  This allows us to highly customize the new Virtual Machine hardware to run the brain at super fast speeds and small storage sizes.  Doing this will take a lot of time and research.
The second, and only slightly easier method, is to do a completely state scan of the brain.  Essentially, taking a snapshot of the entire physical and electrical structure of the brain, and reconstructing it into a simulation.  This will create a slow, bulky simulation, but has fewer chances of screwing up later if something was forgotten.

The problem with this method is like trying to take a picture of a harddrive with a microscopic camera.  Sure, it could be done, but in this case, it must be done WHILE the machine is running, and that’s essentially impossible to do even on our own computers.

I will continue later, but hopefully this answers some of the basic questions.

No, I’m not talking about a soul.  I’m talking about information.  And I’m talking about metaphysical properties, not crystals and fortune tellers.  Nothing here is outside the scope of current scientific understanding and requires no belief in a non-physical world or separate reality.

It’s very much grounded in our own reality