Turing, and Constructor Theory, and The Logic of Universal Survivors
The thinking behind Turing Machines and "universal systems," is being extended to build a new kind of physics. “Constructor Theory,” is being developed by David Deutsch and Chiara Marletto to better explain life. It even suggests why morality arose.
1. To read this you need at least 4 “universal” systems: a Turing machine (computer), language, text, and DNA.
Each has an unlimited any-ness (whereby you can use any word, run any valid program, describe any protein).
3. Alan Turing built a theory of universal calculation (as did Church and Post independently) and showed how a single device could theoretically be a universal calculator (=do any valid calculation). This formalized the idea of programmable devices (which may seem obvious now, but it had to be invented, as did text).
4. Turing described how symbols on a paper tape could tell a multipurpose machine what order to operate in, thereby universalizing it (prior “jumps to universal” systems include Jacquard looms, and Babbage engines).
5. Turing focussed only on calculable math (most math isn’t), but he inspired similar “universal” thinking in other fields.
6. Some universal features of life (of any “self-replicator”) were figured out by John von Neumann, before DNA was discovered, expressing precisely those properties. Dawkins later cast genes as replicators (replicating “by a complicated and very indirect chemical route”).
7. Such universal systems depend on digitalness, notes David Deutsch. They all have a language-like structure = discrete symbols + syntax ( = parts + composition rules).
9. Constructors are theoretical objects that can reliably and repeatedly perform discrete transformation tasks. “Factories, robots and living cells are good approximations to constructors.”
10. CT considers only whether transformations are possible, under the principles and laws of physics, and what objects, tasks, and logic those transformations need. (Principles, like energy conservation, constrain possible laws).
11. For physics to “explain,” say, a goat, it currently uses initial conditions and the laws of motion. So fine structure shortly after the Big Bang, somehow encodes the configuration of atoms that, billions of years later, become that goat.
12. Marletto writes that CT better explains how life, and “design” emerges from the design-free laws of physics. The details are tricky, but not important for the following.
13. Biology abounds in constructors, which like all constructors, need input objects, and “instructions” or recipes, and digital error correction. Life is deeply algorithmic (needing specific sequential logic vs prior physics-like algebra).
14. Now let’s consider what traits a “Universal Survivor” would need? Evolutionary theory currently focuses mainly on competing to reproduce, but what further principles or logic are needed to prevent extinction?
15. I’d suggest the idea that Universal Survivors shouldn’t destroy what they depend on. Since all environmental niches and ecosystems are finite, this yet-unnamed natural principle constrains evolution (perhaps call it “needism”?).
16. So, to fit the logic of Universal Survival, life must generate traits akin to human-like foresight, or it risks exhausting its resources. Likewise means of self-restraint and other-restraint (= team survival rules = morality).
17. Evolution is a grand game theorist, it blindly tests endless forms and strategies, which have generated widespread collaboration (probably selected for joint productivity).
18. Gregory Chaitin calls game theory an objective logical “theory of…morality." Its patterns are as certain as geometry. “Moral geometry”! And we know some game-theoretic social rule sets are objectively more productive.
19. Life either generates these sorts of traits or it can’t ultimately survive (= a sort of “negative telos”).
20. We’re the only potential Universal Survivor yet known.
Illustration by Julia Suits, author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions, and The New Yorker cartoonist.
Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.
- Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
- At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
- Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.
- Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
- Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
- The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.
- Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
- Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
- Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.
- Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
- Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
- The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.