Thought experiment concerning a "naivete machine" intended to make us more skeptical of our faith in our basic senses

by phil on Thursday Oct 28, 2010 3:25 PM

It's probably not original, so if you know of related thought experiments, I'd be curious to know what they are:

I get into arguments often about my Theory of Everything. I think the universe is a giant abstract computer that doesn't actually have to be run. The obvious counter-argument is that you can look all around you and see "stuff" that changes over time. And that even if we're in a simulation, there has to be a recipient of that "stuff" that processes it over time and appreciates/reacts to it.

The biggest barrier to accepting my Theory of Everything is our absolute faith in our senses. And so I present a thought experiment that could maybe help us get over this faith.

What if we built a naivete machine, one that had absolutely no preconceptions of the world. It would have no concept of time or cause-and-effect, just simply the ability to check variables with values filled out. Initially it would be useless, since it wouldn't have access to our world. So we'd give it a pointer to a memory address where we'd throw a video feed. The computer could run a loop, check the memory address, and notice some bits. And then after one frame, it'd notice different bits there. So the computer would notice that as the loop advances, those bits are different than what was there before. Then it could notice patterns. That the bits make a lot more sense if composed in x-y coordinates. And maybe it could figure out that it's a series of 8-bit numbers, seemingly repeating every three. Those would be, to us RGB, but to it, simply (0-255, 0-255, 0-255). The computer at this point would not necessarily have a sense of time, but maybe it would have a sense of a "tick" since it can execute one line at a time. And at each tick, there is a different value in that field.

It could have a history of the values at all the previous ticks. But it wouldn't know whether or not ticks in the future have to be calculated in order to be known. It'd only know that to get information for future ticks would require ticking forward.

Based on the video feed, it could notice objects, but these wouldn't feel solid to the machine. Instead it'd see recurring patterns of clumps of bits. Eventually, it could form rules to predict what will happen on the next tick based on where clumps were in previous ticks.

At this point, what does the naivete machine believe? It doesn't believe in cause-in-effect. It doesn't believe in materialism. It doesn't believe in time. All it believes is that as each tick advances, there is different patterned data in a memory address.

Even the language I use to imagine how the machine thinks is prejudicial. For humans, data is in a memory address, like it's a container. For the machine, it's simply, "my code execution feed has a line called 'check memory address' and then the next execution feed will be 'image data.'"

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