Zork’s bloogorithm is counterfactual thinking
Yes, I am speaking about Scott Aaronson’ post “Zork’s bloogorithm“, which comes after his excellent “Happy New Year! My response to M. I. Dyakonov” (with an outstanding and funny list of comments, a very good read).
In order to avoid any misunderstanding, here is the structure of the post. Readers may go directly to the part which is more interesting, according to personal preferences.
- Proof that Scott’s argument is counterfactual thinking, (dry, not funny)
- Steampunk and the belief in universal mathematics, (funny hopefully, but controversial)
- My innocent opinion on QC. (?)
- Proof that Scott’s argument is counterfactual thinking. Here is the argument which I claim is counterfactual:
Let me put it this way: if we ever make contact with an advanced extraterrestrial civilization, they might have three sexes and five heads. But they, too, will have encountered the problem of factoring integers into primes. Indeed, because they’ll inhabit the same physical universe as we do, they’ll even have encountered the problem of simulating quantum physics. And therefore, putting the two together, they’ll almost certainly have discovered something like Shor’s algorithm — though they’ll call it “Zork’s bloogorithm” or whatever.
This passage can be put in the following form:
- Aliens inhabit the same physical universe as we do
- We encountered the problem of simulating quantum physics
- Therefore the aliens almost certainly have discovered something like Shor’s algorithm — though they’ll call it “Zork’s bloogorithm” or whatever.
This is counterfactual because in this world we don’t know if aliens exist, therefore we cannot make from this an argument for the fact that quantum computing is one of those ideas so strong because they are unavoidable on the path of understanding the universe. Mind you, it might be so or not, but “Zork’s bloogorithm” argument does not hold, that’s my point here.
- Steampunk and the belief in universal mathematics.
Preceding “Zork’s bloogorithm” argument is the belief of Scott (and many others) that (boldfaces are mine):
How do I know that the desire for computational power isn’t just an arbitrary human quirk?
Well, the reason I know is that math isn’t arbitrary, and computation is nothing more or less than the mechanizable part of solving math problems.
To this, bearing also in mind that the argument by aliens is counterfactual, I responded
By the same argument steampunk should be history, not alternative history.
To this, I pretended to be an alien and responded (comment #52 still in limbo, awaiting moderation):
…let’s take the first line from the wiki page on steampunk: “Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century.”
Now, as an alien, I just extended my tonsils around the qweeky blob about hmm, let me translate with gooble: “alternative reality based fiction on the past 5^3 years greatest idea”, and it tastes, excuse me, reads, as:
“Turinkpunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features computing machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 20th century.”
[I localised some terms, for example 1337=industrial Western civilization and OMG=20th century]
Besides arguing about thinking fallacies, what do YOU think, is math arbitrary, i.e. a cultural construct, or is it unavoidable? I think that it is a construct, contrary to many, for example I think that euclidean geometry is based on viral pythagorean ideas (see the posts about gnomons everywhere here and here), that curvature is a notion yet not completely understood and culturally charged, and that the Baker-Campbell-Hausdorff formula is still too much commutative, to give three examples.
- My innocent opinion on QC.
I am completely outside of the QC realm but, in order to disperse any misunderstanding, here is what I think about quantum computation.
First of all I believe that the research around the idea of computation is so profound that it represents the third great advance in the history of humankind, after the ancient greek philosophers and Newton (and founding fellows of the Royal Society).
As a part of this, quantum computation is a natural thing to explore. I believe that at some point there will be constructed a device which everybody will agree to call it a quantum computer.
But, being an optimistic person, I don’t believe that the Turing machine is the last great idea in the history of humankind (hence the comparison which I made between steampunk and those arguments for QC, by saying that steam engines were the greatest idea of the industrial revolution, but not last great idea, so let’s not assume now that QC is the last great idea).
Arguments that there is life after computation are to be found in the life sciences, where mysteries abound and computation-based ideas are ineffective. Available mathematics seems ineffective as well, in stark contradiction with the well known old opinion on “The unreasonable effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences“.
This is not meaning as an appeal to use magic instead mathematics, but is only a sign that many more new mathematics (and computation) ideas await us in the future, to be discovered.