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).

2. Similar Turing-like any-ness thinking makes possible a new kind of physics—>“Constructor Theory,” which can better explain thermodynamics, life, and perhaps even morality.

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).

8. Having “Turingized” quantum computers, Deutsch is now building Constructor Theory (CT), with Chiara Marletto.

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.

 

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
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  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
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Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

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