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Rick Searle: on 4/8/17 at 23:20pm UTC, wrote Hi Jochen, What a brilliant use of Von Neumann replicators! I can't say I...

Jochen Szangolies: on 4/7/17 at 7:33am UTC, wrote Dear Marc, thanks for your kind words! Although I have to say, I'm still a...

Jochen Szangolies: on 4/7/17 at 7:25am UTC, wrote Dear Torsten, thanks for your comment. Glad you found something to like...

Marc Séguin: on 4/6/17 at 23:16pm UTC, wrote Dear Jochen, In your reply to Stefan Keppeler above, you noted that your...

Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga: on 4/6/17 at 19:24pm UTC, wrote Dear Jochen, very interesting essay. I rated it with the highest number. ...

Dizhechko Semyonovich: on 4/5/17 at 16:49pm UTC, wrote Dear Jochen Szangolies Physics of Descartes existed before Newtonian...

Jochen Szangolies: on 4/4/17 at 13:49pm UTC, wrote Dear Stefan, thanks for your comment. I have to say that I feel somewhat...

Jochen Szangolies: on 4/4/17 at 13:47pm UTC, wrote Dear Donald, thank you for taking the time of reading and commenting on my...


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The Complexity Conundrum
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Watching the Observers
Accounting for quantum fuzziness could help us measure space and time—and the cosmos—more accurately.

December 14, 2017

CATEGORY: Wandering Towards a Goal Essay Contest (2016-2017) [back]
TOPIC: Von Neumann Minds: A Toy Model of Meaning in a Natural World by Jochen Szangolies [refresh]
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Author Jochen Szangolies wrote on Jan. 27, 2017 @ 17:03 GMT
Essay Abstract

The question of meaning, or intentionality, is plagued by the homunculus fallacy: postulating an 'internal observer' appraising mental representations leads to an infinite regress of such observers. We exhibit the structure behind this problem, and propose a way to break it down, by drawing on work due to von Neumann. This allows to eliminate the dichotomy between a representation and its user, eliminating the infinite regress. We briefly comment on how the resulting model handles other problems for a naturalistic account of meaning, such as the problem of error and the frame problem.

Author Bio

Jochen Szangolies studied physics in Siegen and Düsseldorf, recently completing and defending his PhD-thesis. He has worked on the phenomena of quantum contextuality, the detection of quantum correlations, and their application in quantum information tasks.

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Lee Bloomquist wrote on Jan. 27, 2017 @ 23:07 GMT
Jochen Szangolies writes to us:

"The source of the homunculus fallacy is glossing over whom a given symbol is supposed to have meaning to: we imagine that the internal picture is simply intrinsically meaningful, but fail to account for how this might come to be—and simply repeating this ‘inner picture’-account leads to an infinite regress of internal observers."

In this way we...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 10:56 GMT
Dear Lee Bloomquist,

thank you for the interesting response! I'll have to take a look at both the book you cite (hopefully the university library has a copy), and your essay before I can comment more in depth, but I think we have broadly similar concerns---a circularity need not automatically be vicious. In some sense, my whole essay is an attempt at removing the vicious circularity in the idea that 'a mind is a pattern perceived by a mind', which seems to bear some relation to your 'self=(self)' (I interpret this as a kind of set notation?).

The homunculus regress is vicious, because it needs to be completed before, so to speak, the first element of the hierarchy is done---i.e. before a given representation has meaning to the lowest-order homunculus, all the representations on the higher levels must have meaning.

In contrast, an acoustic feedback, or a control loop, aren't vicious---in a feedback loop, we have an acoustic signal being generated, which is then recorded by a microphone, amplified, re-emitted, re-recorded, and so on. This may be undesirable, but there's nothing fundamentally problematic about it. It would be different if, in order to emit sound on the first 'level', the whole infinite tower of recording-amplifying-emitting would have to be traversed: in this case, the production of a sound is simply logically impossible, and likewise the production of meaning in a homuncular setup.

The same goes for an algorithm that calls itself before producing a certain output: no matter how long the algorithm is run, the output is never produced.

Anyway, I'm going to go have a look at your essay!

Lee Bloomquist replied on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 23:07 GMT
-- "'self=(self)' (I interpret this as a kind of set notation?)"

Yes! It's the language of "non-wellfounded sets" where the set need not be "founded" in different objects.

-- "The homunculus regress is vicious, because it needs to be completed before, so to speak, the first element of the hierarchy is done---i.e. before a given representation has meaning to the lowest-order homunculus..."

In "self = (self)" there is no hierarchy of order between "selves." There is only one "self": "self = (self)."But I do think that hierarchy is relevant. In "The Knowledge Level Hypothesis," there is a hierarchy of analyses-- One could analyze the system in terms of the wave functions of the electrons in circuit components; or in terms of the voltage and amp levels at circuit components; or in terms of microcode in the processor; or in terms of the assembly language; or in terms of the higher level language used (e.g. C++, Pharoh); or in terms of the formal specification of the algorithms involved; or finally, in terms of the "knowledge level" where there are knowledge, *goals,* and actions. The knowledge level hypothesis says there is no higher level than this useful for analysis.

-- " algorithm that calls itself before producing a certain output: no matter how long the algorithm is run, the output is never produced."

As I understand it that's the classic "halting problem." Pragmatically, in a real world computer the called routine would never return to the memory address of execution. But I want to mean something different. "self = (self)" will terminate when all it's possibilities are zeroed. But during its lifetime, it's possibilities are not all zeroed!

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 12:35 GMT
Note that the hierarchy of homunculi is something very different from the hierarchy of knowledge you propose. In the latter, you can, in a sense, go as far as you like---each new level being a sort of 'coarse-graining' of the level below; in many cases, in fact, the hierarchy will terminate, because eventually, there's nothing left to coarse-grain.

The hierarchy of homunculi, however, is...

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Jack Hamilton James wrote on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 10:36 GMT
Great essay - I enjoyed it very much, thank you. A couple of questions.

1. Is this analogy/explanation a modern (physical/informational/mathematical) form of idealism?

2. If it's not, how does the self-reproduction arise initially from non-life?

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 11:05 GMT
Dear Jack,

thanks for your kind words! I'm not quite sure I understand your questions correctly, though. I don't intend to put forward a modern form of idealism in the traditional sense---i.e. that everything is ultimately mental at the bottom. In some sense, I suppose one could argue that in my model, ideas are shaped only by certain mental background conditions, and hence, properly speaking, only refer to those---but I still intend for these background conditions (providing the fitness landscape) to be essentially provided by the outside, physical, world. You could think of a robot, having a cellular automaton for a brain, in which ideas 'evolve' according to the conditions created by the impact of the outside world.

Regarding your second question, are you asking about how self-reproduction arose in biological systems, or how it got started within the minds of biological creatures? If the former, I'm hardly an expert---but the basic idea is that there exist certain autocatalytic reactions, which then, over time, grow more efficient at creating copies of certain molecules. I think something like that may also have occurred in the brain: organisms prosper if they can adapt to a wide variety of circumstances, and as I outlined in my essay, the evolution of stable structures mirroring the outside world within the brain may be a general-purpose way of coping with near-limitless variation in the outside world.

Thus, creatures with a simple sort of self-replicating mechanism in the brain did better than creatures without, and this simple mechanism then got gradually refined via natural (and perhaps, also cultural) selection.

Did that address your questions at all?

Stefan Weckbach wrote on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 12:28 GMT
Dear Jochen Szangolies,

your essay is interesting and thought-provoking, at least for me. You give an attempt to model meaning in terms of algorithmic encodings. Your attempt is based on the assumption that brains are cellular automata, exhibiting patterns that can be encoded by the cellular automaton itself. You define CA patterns to be mental representations, thereby excorcising the...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 30, 2017 @ 09:03 GMT
Dear Stefan Weckbach,

thank you for reading my essay, and especially for your comments. I think one thing I must clarify right off the bat: I don't claim for my von Neumann minds to be a model of full-fledged consciousness, by which I mean especially phenomenal consciousness---the 'what-it's-likeness' of being in a conscious state.

But I think this problem can be usefully separated...

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Jan. 29, 2017 @ 22:41 GMT
Your model has a definite selection mechanism to it. The more precise emulation of the exterior world by the tripartite system is a sort of self-correcting system. Is this similar in ways to Dennett's heterophenominon idea, where there might be several competing systems that result in a one of them that has the best outcome. Further, could this be derived within something like maximum entropy?


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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 30, 2017 @ 09:15 GMT
Dear Lawrence,

thank you for commenting. I'm not sure the selection mechanism you outline really works---I see a danger of hidden circularity: how do I select for a 'better match' to the environment, without already having a representation of the environment in hand? Whatever tells me that a given replicator matches the exterior well already contains the information that I want to evolve within the replicator, so I could just use that instead. Or am I misunderstanding you?

Regarding Dennett, yes, there is some similarity to his multiple drafts: as different replicators come to dominance, different 'versions' of experience---or at least, of beliefs about the world---arise in the agent, as in the example where an agent mistakes a jacket in a dark room for a stranger. There, the difference between both is clear, but there might also be cases where the earlier set of beliefs is erased, such that there is no introspective evidence of having believed otherwise, but where we can extract it by behavioural experiments---much as in Dennett's model.

Your suggestion towards a maximum entropy principle is interesting. Indeed, in some sense, we should be able to arrive at the 'most sensible' set of beliefs of an agent about the world in terms of maximizing the entropy---in a sense, we should find the set of beliefs with maximum entropy regarding the constraints set up by the environment. I wonder if this is possible with a sort of genetic/evolutionary approach?

Steve Dufourny replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 20:47 GMT
Hi to both of you,

Lawrence, what is this maximum entropy ? a maximum Shannon entropy because if it is the maximum thermodynamical entropy or the maximum gravitational entropy ,it is different.Could you tell me more please?

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Steve Dufourny replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 21:04 GMT
A maximum entropy so in theory of information is when we have all probabilities without constraints for the message, the signals.But I don't see how this concept could be derived ? for what aims?could you explain me please?

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Harry Hamlin Ricker III wrote on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 14:35 GMT
Hi, I was unable to understand how this essay related to the essay topic. I don't think it does.

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 15:06 GMT
Dear Harry,

thank you for your comment. The topic of this essay contest is 'Wandering Towards a Goal – How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intentions?'.

To me, the key words here are goal, aims, and intentions: in order to have either, agents need the capacity for intentionality---that is, they need to be capable of having internal mental state directed at, or about, things (or events, or occurrences) in the world. To have the goal of climbing Mount Everest, say, you need to be able to have thoughts about Mount Everest; to intend an action, you need to be able to plan that action, for which you again need to be able to think about it, and so on.

Consequently, it is this aboutness---the aforementioned intentionality---that is the prerequisite to all goal-directed behaviour; my model then proposes a way of how such intentionality might arise in a natural world. Agents within which something equivalent to this model is implemented are able to represent the outside world (or parts thereof) to themselves, and consequently, to formulate goals, have aims, and take intentional action. Thus, the model is a proposal for how goals, aims, and intentions may come about in a natural world governed by 'mindless mathematical laws'.

Does this help answer your concern?

Lee Bloomquist replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 23:30 GMT
Yes, and "Wandering towards a goal" in the context of mathematical physics suggests to me the "fixed point problem."

Say that in a shopping mall your goal is the sporting goods store. So you stand in front of the map of the mall.

What enables you to plan a path towards your goal is that there is, on the map in front of you, the point "You are here." Which is where you are actually standing in the mall.

Without this "fixed point" you would be faced with a random walk towards the goal (If, like me most times, you are unwilling to ask strangers).

The fixed point-- "You are here"-- enables you more efficiently and effectively to move towards your goal.

So to me, the key in an effective use of a map for moving towards a goal is FIRST to know where you are. (First understand "self.")

After "self" is identified both in the real world and on the map, then a goal can be located on the map and a route planned towards that goal in the real world.

But before that-- you have to know where the "self" is, and where it is imaged on the map.

There may be a potentially useful mnemonic for this: When going towards a goal, first know what the self is so you can locate it in both places-- in other words, "Know thyself."

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 12:17 GMT
Joe Fisher, thanks for your comment. I will have a look at your essay.

Lee Bloomquist, it's interesting that you mention fixed points---in some abstract sense, the self-reproduction I study is a fixed point of the construction relation: the output is the same as the input.

In fact, you can more stringently formulate von Neumann's construction as a fixed point theorem, as shown by Noson Yanofsky in his eminently readable paper "A Universal Approach to Self-Referential Paradoxes, Incompleteness and Fixed Points". It essentially elaborates on and introduces Lawvere's classic "Diagonal arguments and Cartesian Closed Categories", showing how to bring Gödel's theorems, the unsolvability of the halting problem, the uncountability of the real numbers, and von Neumann's construction under the same scheme.

Steve Dufourny wrote on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 20:33 GMT
Hello Mr Szangolies,

Thans for sharing your work.Congratulations also.It is an intersting appraoch considering the works of structure of von neuman.It is always a question of hard drive and memmory and input and output with Of course an arythmetic method of translation, logic and an unity of checking also logic in its generality.But the add to this unity of codes in considering the mind and intentions seem really difficult considering the main gravitational codes different than photons and binar informations.That is why an AI is possible with the structure of von Neumann, but not a free mind like us the humans because I beleive that gravitation and souls are linked.We cannot approach the main singularities, personal.Like all singularities in fact.

Best Regards

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Steve Dufourny replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 20:45 GMT
It is true what.How can we define whzt is a meaning, how to quantify the importance of a meaning for the synchros and sortings of codes and informations.The nature seems utilising spherical volumes and rotations.Lawrence is right in saying that sélections with environments are important.How to rank with an unbiversal logic in fact.

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Steve Dufourny replied on Jan. 31, 2017 @ 20:59 GMT
if we consider that informations and the Shannon entropy can reach an infinity, it is more logic than a maximum.The potential is infinite simply like for the electromagnetic and gravitational informations when we superimpose nor add these informations.A machine mimating the universe could be relevant for the sortings and synchros of codes.The evolutive point of vue is always relevant.

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Erik P Hoel wrote on Feb. 1, 2017 @ 19:28 GMT
Dear Jochen - thank you so much for the essay. It's cogent and well-put together, and it's definitely hitting upon an interesting line of thought and thus is very stimulating.

I think actually what you said above to one of the other comments is the best paraphrase of your position:

"an organism with a CA-brain encounters a certain environment, and receives certain stimuli; these...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 3, 2017 @ 08:51 GMT
Dear Erik,

thanks for your comments! I'm glad you see some value in my thoughts. I should, perhaps, note that to me, my model is more like a 'proof of concept' than a serious proposal for how intentionality works in actual biological organisms (to point out the obvious difference, none of us has a CA in their brain).

So the bottom line is that if the model works as advertised, what...

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Erik P Hoel replied on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 16:20 GMT
Dear Jochen - thanks so much for your detailed response!

I agree with most everything you say, I just disagree that this solves the actual issue you bring up of intentional reference.

The initial problem you set up is this one: "the notion of reference: when we interpret the word ‘apple’ to refer to an apple, a reasonable suggestion seems to be that the word causes an appropriate mental representation to be called up—that is, a certain kind of mental symbol that refers to said apple."

When then after giving your account, you admit that there are still things like reference-error, twin-earth problems, etc, and answer those things by saying "My meanings are all in the head." In analytic philosophy this is called a "narrow content" view of representation. But once one takes a narrow content view, why specify this tripartite structure and use the analogy of the CA-replicators?

For instance, one could give a more general answer that takes the same form as your proposal, and just say that through development, learning, and evolution, our internal brain structure correlates to the outside world. But when pressed about errors in reference, twin earth, etc, the more general proposal just says "well, sure, all that's true. But the meanings are in the head anyways!"

In other words, if you've admit that meanings are all in the head anyways, can have errors, and don't have a fixed content in terms of referencing the outside world, I'm not sure what further work needs to be done in terms of the analogy to Von Neumann machines. The traditional problem that narrow-content views run into is that of underdetermination -> there are many possible interpretations to some brain states (or CA-states) in terms of what it's representing, and I'm not sure how the analogy gets you out of that.

Btw I know I sound critical here - but it's only because it's so advanced as an essay that we can even have this discussion.


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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 8, 2017 @ 13:33 GMT
Dear Erik,

please, don't apologize for being critical---if the idea is to have any chance at all, it must be able to withstand some pressure. So every issue you point out is helping me, and I'm grateful for having the opportunity of discussing my idea.

Regarding the problem you see, do you think that narrow content is just in principle not capable of solving the problem of reference,...

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 13:21 GMT
Good essay sir…

Taking your apple example….

One apple will not be same another apple. Each single apple will be different. Each apple will have a different picture in different direction.

-How will this homunculus algorithm will recognize it is an apple ?

-How will it recognize it is a different apple?

-How will it recognize it is a different view?

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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta wrote on Feb. 6, 2017 @ 13:50 GMT
Good essay sir…

I have a small further doubt, hope you will analyze it for me. Now taking your apple example….

One apple will not be same another apple. Each single apple will be different. Each apple will have a different picture in different direction.

-How will this homunculus algorithm will recognize it is an apple ?

-How will it recognize it is a different apple?

-How will it recognize it is a different view..?

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 8, 2017 @ 13:47 GMT
Thank you for the compliment! I suppose you're essentially asking about how there come to be different categories of objects that can be represented. I.e., what makes a different apple an instance of the category 'apple'? What makes a peach not an instance of the same category?

In a sense, this harks back to the problem of universals, with all the attendant baggage that would take too long to even review, much less address, here.

But I think that, from a more modern perspective, one can draw an interesting analogy to a hash function. A hash function, used, e.g., in cryptography, is a function that takes a set of inputs to the same output, thus 'grouping' inputs into distinguishable sets.

Thus, we get a partitioning of a certain domain into different classes---like, e.g., the domain 'fruit' is partitioned into 'apples', 'peaches', and so on. So, one possible response here would be that two different replicators represent different instances of the same sort of object if they are mapped to the same hash code. This doesn't have to be explicit; for instance, when the replicator guides behavior, it might be that only certain of its properties are relevant for a given action---this ensures that the reaction to 'apple A' will be the same as to 'apple B', but different from 'peach X'.

Alternatively, one can think about this more loosely in terms of Wittgensteinian 'family resemblances': if there is a resemblance between objects, there will be a resemblance in the replicators, and consequently, a resemblance in actions taken upon encountering these objects (such as saying, 'that's an apple').

However, I think that this is an issue whose detailed treatment will have to wait until the model is more fully developed, and one can start applying it to real-world situations.

Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Feb. 21, 2017 @ 12:23 GMT
Dear Jochen Szangolies

Nice reply and analysis… have a look at my essay also please….

Best wishes for your essay


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Satyavarapu Naga Parameswara Gupta replied on Mar. 18, 2017 @ 10:30 GMT
Hi JS,

I want you to ask you to please have a look at my essay, where ……………reproduction of Galaxies in the Universe is described. Dynamic Universe Model is another mathematical model for Universe. Its mathematics show that the movement of masses will be having a purpose or goal, Different Galaxies will be born and die (quench) etc…just have a look at the essay… “Distances,...

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Lawrence B. Crowell wrote on Feb. 8, 2017 @ 11:37 GMT
I found your small paragraph at the top of page 5:

The key to shake the agent’s mind free from empty, self-referential navel-gazing is the design’s evolvability.

Assume that the agent is subject to certain environmental stimuli. These will have some influence

upon its CA brain: they could, for instance, set up a certain pattern of excitations. As a result, the

evolution of patterns within the CA brain will be influenced by these changes, which are, in turn, due

to the environmental stimuli.

as interesting. This is similar to what I argue with the necessity of the open world. The open world, or the environmental stimuli that is not predictable in a closed world, is what cuts off the self-referential endless looping. I discuss this in my essay at the end with respect to MH spacetimes and black holes. I don't necessarily think black holes are conscious entities, but that they have an open quantum structure means they are not complete self-referential quantum bit systems. In my essay I also invoke the MERA logic which has a cellular automata nature.

The randomizing influence of the environment is crucial I think to prevent the duplicator from the universal Turing machine problem. The duplicator duplicates the object and blueprint, but in doing so duplicates the blue print encoding a copy of itself, which leads to this infinite regress. This is why there is no UTM; there is the need for the UTM to emulate itself emulating all TMs and itself emulating TMs which then ... . It leads to an uncountable infinite number of needed copies that runs into Cantor's diagonalization problem.

Great essay! LC

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 09:05 GMT
Thanks for your comment, and the compliment! I've already had a preliminary look at your essay, but I'll hold off on commenting until I've had time to digest it somewhat (there's quite a lot there to be digested).

I'm thus not quite sure we mean the same thing by an 'open world'. It's true that I use the evolvability of my replicators in order to cope with the limitless possibilities that an agent in the world is presented with---that's why something like an expert system simply won't do: it's essentially a long, nested chain of 'if... then... else' conditionals, which the real world will always exhaust after some time (and given the limitations of feasibility of such constructions, usually after a rather short time).

It may be that something like this intrinsically non-delimitable nature is what you have in mind with the concept of openness, which you then more concretely paint as the existence of long-range entanglement between arbitrary partitions of a system, defining a topological order. But I'll have to have another look at your essay.

Lawrence B. Crowell replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 01:10 GMT
This definition of open world is with respect to entanglement swapping in the framework of ER = EPR. With cosmology there is no global means to define a time direction. A time direction is really a local structure as there does not exist a timelike Killing vector. Energy is the quantity in a Noether framework that is conserved by time translation symmetry. So if you have cosmologies with entangled states across ER black hole bridges (non-traversable wormholes) the only means one can define an open world is with entanglement exchanges. For instance the right timelike patch in a Penrose diagram may share EPR pairs with the left patch. In general this can be with many patches or the so called multiverse. There can then be a sort of swapping of entanglement.

I then use this to discuss the MH spacetimes and the prospect this sets up the universe to permit open systems capable of intelligent choices. Your paper takes off from there to construct a possible way this can happen.

Cheers LC

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Declan Andrew Traill wrote on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 06:36 GMT
I found the essay a but hard to read and a bit waffly.

It seems to me you are over complicating the problem.

We can easily see how a robot can build another copy of itself & then install the software that it is using itself into the new robot - job done!; no problems about infinite regress etc.

In nature, creatures that are unable to reproduce will die out, so given enough time and different types of creatures being formed due to essentially random changes, those that have formed the ability to copy themselves will continue to exists - those that don't won't.

Declan T

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 9, 2017 @ 09:16 GMT
Thank you for your comment. I'm sorry to hear you found my essay hard to read; I tried to be as clear as I can. One must, however, be careful in treating this subject: it is easy to follow an intuition, and be led down a blind alley. Hence, I simultaneously tried to be as scrupulous in my formulations as possible---perhaps excessively so.

Take, for instance, your example of the self-reproducing robot: at first sight, it seems to be a nice, and simple, solution to the problem. Likewise, a machine that just scans itself, and then produces a copy, seems perfectly adequate.

But both actually don't solve the problem, as can be seen with a little more thought. For the self-scanning machine, this is described in my essay; for your robot, the key question is about how it copies its own software. The first thing is that the robot itself is controlled by that software; hence, all its actions are actions guided by the software. So, too, is the copying: consequently, the software must actually copy itself into the newly created robot body.

But this is of course just the problem of reproduction again: how does the software copy itself? So all your robot achieves is to reduce the problem of robot-reproduction to software-reproduction. Consequently, it's an example of just the kind of circularity my essay tries to break up.

So I don't think I'm overcomplicating the problem; it's just not that easy a problem (although as von Neumann has shown us, it is also readily solvable, provided one is a little careful).

Edwin Eugene Klingman wrote on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 01:26 GMT
Hi Jochen,

You began by observing that "a stone rolls downhill because of the force of gravity, not because it wants to reach the bottom." In fact, life is almost defined by its ability to work its will against gravity. One might ask how this happens.

But your paper, on the homunculus fallacy is excellent. The main problem of representations 'using' themselves...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Feb. 11, 2017 @ 10:19 GMT
Hi Edwin,

thank you for your kind words, and for giving my essay a thorough reading! I'll have to have a look at yours, so that I can comment on some of the issues you raise.

Regarding the selection problem, I think this is something my model can only hope to address in some further developed stage. Right now, my main concern is to show, in a kind of 'proof-of-principle'-way, that a...

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Member Rodolfo Gambini wrote on Mar. 1, 2017 @ 13:43 GMT
The essay is well written and calls attention to von Neumann's self-replication construction that could have a relevant role in some forms of intentional behavior.

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Mar. 2, 2017 @ 08:59 GMT
Thank you for your kind comment!

Peter Jackson wrote on Mar. 4, 2017 @ 13:42 GMT

I must say I consider your essay one of the best here. I didn't find it difficult to read and it was spot on topis with some important points. The homunculus fallacy and regression are too little considered in the contest.

I agree and also discuss the 'three-partite' relationship area, but suggest it seems to leave out the key element, whoever it was who turned a blank sheet of paper into a blueprint, and how. Perhaps you 'roll that in' to the drawing', but I think other important points emerge. Perhaps discuss when you've read mine?

I also agree your points on mutation but ask; How?. Again I identify a mechanism in my essay which has the advantage of a classic analogue of QMs predictions to shed light on the smallest scale mechanisms.

Very nicely written. I don't understand why your score is so low, perhaps it's n been trolled with 1's like mine? (three 1's without comment early on!)

I look forward to discussing further.

I certainly think yours should be a finalist and my score should help.


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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Mar. 14, 2017 @ 12:04 GMT
Dear Peter,

thanks very much for your kind words! (Sorry, by the way, in being so late in replying---I was on holiday the past week...)

I think you correctly identify one of the main points where my proposal still needs work: as it stands, it's indeed not clear how, exactly, the selection process is implemented in the brain (if indeed it is). Mutation as such isn't that difficult: we merely need to stipulate that copying isn't perfect, which seems only realistic. But what decides which version is more fit with respect to the conditions the environment (ultimately) sets up?

I'll certainly have a look at your essay; maybe you can help me out there!

Regarding the score---yes, I've noticed a few unfortunate one-point votes without comment. It's a bit of a shame that people feel the need to resort to such practices, but with the voting system as it is, there's probably not a lot to be done right now.



Conrad Dale Johnson wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 16:48 GMT
Jochen –

Thank you for working through an interesting problem in a very clear and thoughtful way. The argument is coherent and well-structured from beginning to end, despite its complexities.

Since I take quite a different approach in my essay on the emergence of meaning, I’m afraid my comments here may not be very helpful in clarifying your theme – I’ve tried to make up...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:11 GMT
Dear Conrad,

I don't know how I missed your reply earlier---sorry for that. And thank you for your kind words!

I agree that representationalism isn't necessarily the only way to get meaning out of some system; one could, for instance, also think in terms of subsymbolic approaches. Representationalism's main virtue, to me, is that if it works, it's completely clear how---by simply having some vehicle standing in place of some object or state of affairs. But of course, this direct route is blocked by the homunculus; hence, my attempt to patch things up. If that turns out not to work, it might be necessary to abandon representationalism altogether, and move on to something else; but since, to me, this seems to entail a certain loss of intuitiveness and clarity, I'm going to keep on digging on this ground until I'm absolutely certain I'll never strike gold.

I'll certainly have a look at your essay; maybe I'll find something interesting to say about it.

However, a point of clarification: I don't understand my model as being mainly computational; in fact, I'm skeptical of computational models. I know that usually CAs are thought off as a computational system, but that just means that they are systems that can be used to compute, not that they are intrinsically computational. To me, what's more important is the pattern, which is a physically real thing (an analogy to the pattern of neuron firings in a brain), and its properties. The meaning I see is the semantic information the pattern contains about itself, and about the environmental conditions. But that's not a point I wanted to put too much emphasis on in the present essay.

Anyway, thanks again for your comment!



Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:34 GMT
Ah, forgot to comment regarding the two-tiered dynamics of quantum mechanics. At present, I'm not sure if one can really formalize a parallel, but just on the level of analogy and metaphor, these things may not be too far away from one another---there have often been attempts to link quantum mechanics and self-reference (one prominent exponent of this view being John Wheeler), and of course, the bipartite structure of von Neumann's replicators is exactly due to the problems of self-reference (which makes a self-scanning mechanism impossible). So well, maybe?

Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich wrote on Mar. 12, 2017 @ 21:24 GMT
Dear Йохен Szangolies!

I invite you to familiarize yourself with New Cartesian Physic

I appreciate your essay. You spent a lot of effort to write it.

If you believed in the principle of identity of space and matter of Descartes, then your essay would be even better.

I wish to see your criticism on the New Cartesian Physic, the founder of which I call myself.

The concept of moving space-matter helped me:

- The uncertainty principle Heisenberg to make the principle of definiteness of points of space-matter;

- Open the law of the constancy of the flow of forces through a closed surface is the sphere of space-matter;

- Open the law of universal attraction of Lorentz;

- Give the formula for the pressure of the Universe;

- To give a definition of gravitational mass as the flow vector of the centrifugal acceleration across the surface of the corpuscles, etc.

New Cartesian Physic has great potential in understanding the world. To show this potential in his essay I gave The way of The materialist explanation of the paranormal and the supernatural . Visit my essay and you will find something in it about New Cartesian Physic. Note my statement that our brain creates an image of the outside world no inside, and in external space. Hope you rate my essay as high as I am yours. I am waiting your post.


Dizhechko Boris

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:14 GMT
Dear Dizhechko Boris,

sorry for not replying earlier. Thank you for appreciating my essay; I will have a look at yours---however, I must confess I am somewhat skeptical that it needs a new physics in order to make sense of intentional, goal-directed behavior. But I will try and form an unbiased opinion of your work.



Dizhechko Boris Semyonovich replied on Apr. 5, 2017 @ 16:49 GMT
Dear Jochen Szangolies

Physics of Descartes existed before Newtonian physics. It is known that through the efforts of Voltaire's Newtonian physics moved to Europe and became dominant up until Einstein put it under doubt, but he did this not by returning to the physics of Descartes, and by relativism, i.e. by its complications.

I believe that by updating the physics of Descartes to achieve greater understanding of the world than did previous theories, as it provides a more intuitive mapping. New Cartesian Physic, as the concept of moving space-matter, not remakes of modern physics, and summarizes it based on the identity of the space-matter.

I appreciate your essay and wish you success in the contest.


Dizhechko Boris

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Cristinel Stoica wrote on Mar. 29, 2017 @ 18:19 GMT
Dear Jochen,

I enjoyed reading your essay. The problem of intentionality is indeed plagued by the homunculus fallacy as you described. I liked how you refer to Svozil's theorem and use von Neumann's constructors and replicators to propose a solution. Also the parallel with the immune system. And that you state clearly what open problems you see that need to be solved. Very good work!

Best regards,

Cristi Stoica

The Tablet of the Metalaw

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:19 GMT
Dear Christi,

thanks for the kind words! Yes, I think that even if there's some germ of truth in my model, it'll be a long way yet before it'll be clear whether it actually solves the problems it sets out to solve. I think things are looking somewhat hopeful at the current stage, and the main virtue is that it provides a relatively concrete, well-defined model to play with; so I think there's a justifiable hope that even if things ultimately don't work out, we'll get out some useful pointers regarding what not to do.



Miles Mutka wrote on Mar. 30, 2017 @ 18:07 GMT
Hi Jochen,

Nice and clearly written essay. I was vaguely aware about the self-replicating machines of von Neumann, but I did not know that they we formalized using cellular automata.

I like that your use of CA is very engineering/evolution oriented, rather than getting mired in the details of logic calculus or computability like so many others.

Still a lot of details missing, like if there are any natural boundaries of such self-replicating patterns, or indeed what features are necessary for a pattern to count as a "CA brain". Also if mutation is involved, how much can the pattern change and remain the "same" brain?

All the best, Miles Mutka

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:24 GMT
Dear Miles,

I'm glad you found something of value in my essay! You're right, I think of this model as a kind of 'hands-on' test bed for my ideas; and as you point out, there's still lots to tinker with.

Regarding the question of identity, I'm afraid I don't have an answer. In a sense, it's analogous to the question of when a speciation event occurs---when was the first little bundle of feathers clawing its way out of an egg no longer a dinosaur, but a bird?

I'm not sure the question is very meaningful, at least in that case: the boundary between 'bird' and 'dinosaur' is ultimately as arbitrary, and as man-made, as the boundaries between nations on a map. But is there more meaning to the question in the case of brains/minds? Lots of people, from Hume to the Buddha, didn't think so. I, for myself, am just going to continue tinkering with my model for the moment.



Robert Groess wrote on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 04:51 GMT
Dear Jochen Szangolies,

Thank you very much for your eminently readable and excellent summary on Von Neumann's cellular automata and the various implications of his work, forming much of the groundwork that is today considered to be "artificial intelligence". I wanted to let you know I particularly enjoyed the scope of your essay along with the appropriate rigorous grounding, and have rated it in the meantime too.



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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 1, 2017 @ 12:27 GMT
Dear Robert Groess,

thank you for the kind words! Yes, it's certainly a testimony to the genius of von Neumann that his work continues to influence and direct modern ideas---he ought to be rated much higher on the list of all-time greatest minds than he usually is.

I'll try and take a look at your essay, too!



Donald G Palmer wrote on Apr. 2, 2017 @ 22:58 GMT

An absorbingly written essay with a number of interesting automata discussions. I am not sure you explicitly define what you mean by 'intention' - or that how you define this fits what humans are capable of vs what is possible in an automata model.

I found the essay does need some additional context to understand, as you presume some knowledge of other items you reference. So...

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 13:47 GMT
Dear Donald,

thank you for taking the time of reading and commenting on my essay. Regarding intentionality, I agree that the concept is treated somewhat vaguely in much philosophical literature, but I'd say my level of rigor is par for the course, at least---compare my definition: "Mental content exhibits the curious property of intentionality—of being directed at, concerned with, or...

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Stefan Keppeler wrote on Apr. 3, 2017 @ 22:03 GMT
Dear Jochen,

I like your essay. Offering a solution to the homunculus problem you focus on a different aspect than most other essays which argue for a naturalist explanation of intention. I examine the compatibility of goal-oriented macroscopic behavior and 'goal-free' microscopic laws, which you may also find useful.

Cheers, Stefan

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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 4, 2017 @ 13:49 GMT
Dear Stefan,

thanks for your comment. I have to say that I feel somewhat narrow in focus in this competition---most people seem to propose entire cosmologies, while I just play around with cellular automata!

I'm glad, though, that some people seem to find some value in my ideas nevertheless. I'll have a look at your essay!



Torsten Asselmeyer-Maluga wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 19:24 GMT
Dear Jochen,

very interesting essay. I rated it with the highest number.

Your goal-oriented dynamics (replication) reminds me on evolution. I wrote my PhD thesis about physical models of evolution including the evolution of networks. Evolution is goal-oriented. Here, there are two processes, mutation and selection. Mutation produces new information (=species) and selection is a global interaction among the species giving a goal to the process. In a more refined model of Co-evolution, the selection itself is formed by the interaction between the species, so again you will get a direction or goal.

I know it is a little bit to late (maybe) but I want to recommend my essay.

All the best and good luck for the contest


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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 07:25 GMT
Dear Torsten,

thanks for your comment. Glad you found something to like about my work!

Regarding evolution, I'm unsure if I would really say that mutation adds information---in a sense, mutation merely creates an ensemble of possible signals; selection then chooses among these. The ensemble of messages doesn't really carry information, but choosing one of the options then at the very least carries information about the entity making the choice---in my case, the environment, as mediated by the cellular automaton. But that's maybe something for another day to ponder.

I had actually already read your essay, and found it very intriguing; although I apparently didn't add a comment (I find it hard to keep track of conversation threads in this forum). Thanks for your good wishes, and right back to you!



Member Marc Séguin wrote on Apr. 6, 2017 @ 23:16 GMT
Dear Jochen,

In your reply to Stefan Keppeler above, you noted that your paper has a relatively narrow focus, compared to those (like mine!) that "propose entire cosmologies". But this is not necessarily a bad thing: your paper is well written, rigorously argued, interesting and perfectly relevant to this year's essay topic: why ask for more?

I already knew about many aspects of Von Neuman's work, in particular about Von Neuman replicators, but I had never studied the details of his approach. Your essay presents it very clearly and builds on it in an interesting way. Congratulations, and good luck in the contest!


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Author Jochen Szangolies replied on Apr. 7, 2017 @ 07:33 GMT
Dear Marc,

thanks for your kind words! Although I have to say, I'm still a little humbled by the breadth and depth of ideas and concepts presented in this contest. I mean, of course I have my own ideas about what the world, deep down, is like, but I'm not sure I'll ever consider them well-developed enough to risk airing them in such a forum---so all the more props to those who do!

Von Neumann truly was a thinker of rare accomplishment; I'm happy enough if I can help popularizing some of his ideas.

Thanks for the well wishes!



Member Rick Searle wrote on Apr. 8, 2017 @ 23:20 GMT
Hi Jochen,

What a brilliant use of Von Neumann replicators! I can't say I am qualified to judge whether your theory is workable, but feel you're certainly on to something.

All the best,

Rick Searle

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