Nonlocality, Spontaneous Order, 100% Natural

Crosby_M (
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 14:47:00 -0400

[On 9/12/96 David Musick wrote:]
"There is a meme going around [that] 'natural things are superior to
artificial things' ... EVERYTHING is natural, including humans and their

[On 9/16/96 Chris Hind wrote:]
"Nature is a far better engineer than any of us... The reason nature is
a greater engineer is because it looks at a problem in infinite
directions. Human engineers look to accomplish a certain task with a few
variables but nature looks at infinite variables..."

[On 9/17/96 Sarah Marr responded:]
"Within a Darwinian framework I find it hard to consider the workings of
nature as a gestalt entity; rather, it seems to be a series of
interacting events in which there is no prior assessment of effect, no
plan. So 'nature' doesn't look at a problem in any direction at all."

[On 9/17/96 Eugene Leitl responded:]
"One common view of Darwinian evolution is population drift on a
multidimensional fitness landscape ... in a certain sense one can speak
of a gestalt ... the Darwinian evolution leaves a stamp of purposeful
design on its products."

Eugene is probably speaking of the work of Stuart Kaufmann, among
others. Research into the processes of evolution also involves: cellular
automata simulations (Stephen Wolfram: "cellular automaton evolution
concentrates the probabilities for particular configurations, thereby
reducing entropy. This phenomenon allows for the possibility of
self-organization by enhancing the probabilities of organized
configurations and suppressing disorganized configurations"); genetic
algorithms in complex adaptive systems (where there's a little more
going on than simply natural selection and mutation - See John Holland's
recent book "Hidden Order".)

Though I haven't studied it, there is also Robert Rosen's work. He is a
mathematical biophysicist and the author of "Life Itself: A
Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life"
(1991, check I am only vaguely familiar with Rosen through
Paul Davies' 1988 classic, "The Cosmic Blueprint", where Rosen is cited
as saying (ch.11):

"far from being universal, the conceptual foundation of what we
presently call theoretical physics is still very special; indeed, far
too much so to accommodate organic phenomena (and much else besides)....
In particular, complex systems may contain subsystems which act as
predictive models of themselves and/or their environments, whose
predictions regarding future behaviors can be used for modulation of
present change of state. Systems of this type act in truly anticipatory
fashion, and possess novel properties."

Davies also points out that "Rosen explicitly introduces the idea that I
have called software laws ... the quantities that change will be
informational in nature." Davies then goes on to describe "wilder
ideas", like synchronicity, or nonlocality, and Rupert Sheldrake's
morphogenetic fields. That's too big a subject to go into here
(although I do have a review of F.David Peat's 1987 book "Synchronicity"
that could be posted if there was any interest).

The implications of these latest theories of evolution & physics take us
far beyond the simplistic entropy and heat death scenarios of
traditional physics (note that Rosen is explicitly saying that complex
adaptive systems cannot be modeled as Markov processes, which is a basic
assumption in Frank Tipler's "Physics of Immortality", for example) with
its study of 'closed' systems to explain how, as in John Holland's
recent title, "a hidden order" (Maxwell's immortal demon, at last
perhaps?) emerges from evolution, not only in living systems, but also
in many of those that we currently regard as non-living. Taken to one
extreme, these cellular automaton theories seem to indicate that
material objects are *just* the 'pixels' on the 'display screen' of what
Rudy Rucker has called "an incompressible computation by a fractal
cellular automaton of inconceivable dimensions," that is, our universe.

Some recent posts have claimed that the universe is compressible because
it contains so much space, ignoring that this 'space' is far from empty,
being filled with sundry species of cosmic rays and 'vital' dust
(archives of the universe?)

[On 9/18/96 Max More wrote:]
"Moravec enthusiastics might want to read my recent interview of Hans in
the new issue of [11/96] Rage ... Moravec talks about
mind-as-attribution, self as mechanism, how to tell whether we're living
in a virtual reality, and the virtual recreation of history."

[I wish I could find this interview, but, in the mean time, on 9/21/96
Alexander Chislenko wrote ('Carriers & Runners'):]
"When software and nanotech gain enough control over matter so that
physical objects would be all in flux, created and disassembled on the
whim of immortal functional entities, will that mean that software will
be 'running' hardware?"

This could, in theory, already be what's going on. As Sasha asks, "Did
the debate of what carries what ever make sense?" Minsky doesn't seem
to 'get this' (based on Sasha's discussion), but perhaps Moravec does.
For example, at the end of his Extropy #10 "Pigs in Cyberspace" article
Moravec says: "The very moment we are now experiencing may actually be
(almost certainly is) such a distributed mental event [a virtual
recreation by someone else?], and most likely never happened

This is a pretty radical point of view, which could imply that we're
just sort of 'dumb radios', ecstatically frying our brain circuits and
unzipping our genes, pretty-much oblivious to the programs that are
currently being broadcast thorugh us by higher-level distributed
intelligences? If this is the case, then Moravec's earlier statement in
the same essay, where he assumes that "only a fraction of existing
matter and space is doing interesting work, [while] in a well-developed
cyberspace every bit will be part of a relevant computation or storing a
useful datum," may be a bit premature. We ignore the incompleteness of
our present physical theories at our peril.

Indeed, I'm worried about the attitude toward evolution expressed by
John K. Clark and others.

[On 9/20/96 John K. Clark wrote (The Singularity and Nanotechnology:]
"Life is a nanotechnology, sort of, but it's a very primitive, very
stupid sort of one. It's not surprising that life is dumb, considering
that the processes that made it had no mind at all, just random mutation
and natural selection."

In remedying this, Dr. Rich Artym also looks forward to a singularity
provided by nanotechnology "where everything costs nothing ... when
everyman can create cross-continental engineering works." Even if
nanotech can do everything we want, there's still a limited geospace, at
least here on Earth, that wouldn't allow billions of 'everymen' to
build their own cross-continental tinker toys without running into each
other and dealing with various economic tradeoffs. As for Rich's "Guy
Fawkes scenario [of] honeycombing the Earth's crust with communication,
water and raw materials pipelines", this *already exists*. It's called
acquifiers (filled with lots of living organisms), mineral deposits,
tectonic fault lines, etc. Yes, I know you're talking about something
more *sophisticated*, my point is that there are potential 'nanites'
already living there, we just don't control them (yet :).

It's this "pave it over" rather than "learn to use it" attitude that
worries me.

"What's the difference between improving us and improving our tools?
Aren't tools just extensions of ourselves?" asks Lyle Burkhead in his
9/21/96 post on why "molecular engineering will merely be an adjustment
within the existing economy," rather than the radical singularity
expected by Dr. Rich Artym and John K. Clark. Robin Hanson agrees that
this natural, market transition "seems the simplest scenario to expect."
Hara Ra, on the other hand (9/21/96), worries that "perhaps the great
filter lies ahead ... A truly viscious grey goo may be hard to resist

A grey goo, I would suggest, that is driven by this "pave it over"
attitude, the opposite extreme of the "100% natural" meme by saying that
everything 'natural' is 'stupid' and needs to be reoptimized for the use
of (trans)humans or SIs, 'primitive' life be damned. This is especially
dangerous when combined with the attitude that nanotech is going to be
"as simple as programming a washing machine."

[On 9/18/96 Sarah Marr wrote:]
"[With nature] There's nobody looking ahead ... it's just trial and

There's a valid concern expressed here about not personifying nature,
but that doesn't mean we're left only with basic mechanical physical
laws to describe things. As I hope the quotes from Wolfram and Rosen
illustrate, there are ways for natural systems to look ahead (unless you
just wash your hands and say there's going to be a singularity), and I'm
not just talking about human systems here. To assume that only human
systems can look ahead (yes, we may be the best at it, but is it a
qualitative difference from other forms of life?) is to maintain the
false dichotomy between man and nature that David Musick originally
tried to debunk when he started this thread.

Given my predilection for dynamic optimism, somehow I never thought I
might end up agreeing with Robin Hanson's charge that if we assume that
the great filter is in the future "we should become obsessively focussed
on finding and avoiding disaster scenarios".

BEST DO IT SO (before it's gone),
Mark Crosby
"Purpose never *enters* into the universe, it *imbues* it." - Reilly
Jones, Extropy #15 [emphasis added]