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Undecidability, Uncomputability, and Unpredictability Essay Contest
December 24, 2019 - April 24, 2020
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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
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Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


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January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
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It From Bit or Bit From It
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Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
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Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
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What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Sylvain Poirier: on 4/13/15 at 8:36am UTC, wrote Dear Jeremy, I see that you have the bad luck of having got initially bad...

Joe Fisher: on 4/8/15 at 15:46pm UTC, wrote Dear Jeremy, I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was...

Jeremy Collins: on 3/10/15 at 14:03pm UTC, wrote Essay Abstract Brains are conscious because of the computations...


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Investigating how the quantum measurement process might be related to the emergence of intelligence, agency and free will.

First Things First: The Physics of Causality
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May 31, 2020

CATEGORY: Trick or Truth Essay Contest (2015) [back]
TOPIC: Can mathematical structures be conscious? by Jeremy Charles Collins [refresh]
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Author Jeremy Charles Collins wrote on Mar. 10, 2015 @ 14:03 GMT
Essay Abstract

Brains are conscious because of the computations that they perform, and if a computer is capable of simulating a brain (and the world it interacts with), it would therefore be conscious as well. Max Tegmark goes one step further in suggesting that not even a computer is needed to create a conscious being: a computer simulation can be represented as a static four-dimensional object, and this object arguably exists as a mathematical structure even if the computer were to disappear altogether. By this argument, there are mathematical structures describing computer simulations contain conscious entities, and feel as real to their inhabitants as simulated universes or ‘real’ universes such as our own. If this is true, then there are a vast number of mathematically possible universes with the same claim to physical existence as our own; and the existence of our universe becomes indistinguishable from the existence of the mathematical structure that describes our universe, and hence our universe is effectively just a mathematical structure. This essay focuses on the critical part of Tegmark’s argument: can mathematical objects, as opposed to computer simulations, be conscious? What follows is a review of the critical part of Tegmark’s account, and then some possible arguments against it. Despite some possible holes in the argument, there is one part of it that is undeniable, which is that formal systems can describe (and even be, at least while they are being calculated) universes as complex and worth exploring as our own. Mathematical objects can be identical to conscious beings in all of their essential details, even if they lack some final spark of subjective consciousness that comes from being simulated. The profound implications of this fact transcend the possibly unknowable question of whether entities in these mathematical objects are really conscious or not.

Author Bio

I am a PhD student in linguistics at Radboud University, Nijmegen and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.

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Joe Fisher wrote on Apr. 8, 2015 @ 15:46 GMT
Dear Jeremy,

I think Newton was wrong about abstract gravity; Einstein was wrong about abstract space/time, and Hawking was wrong about the explosive capability of NOTHING.

All I ask is that you give my essay WHY THE REAL UNIVERSE IS NOT MATHEMATICAL a fair reading and that you allow me to answer any objections you may leave in my comment box about it.

Joe Fisher

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Sylvain Poirier wrote on Apr. 13, 2015 @ 08:36 GMT
Dear Jeremy,

I see that you have the bad luck of having got initially bad ratings, which diverts readers from your essay, in contrast with the success of the essay by Marc Séguin which presents quite similar ideas to yours. I think you will be interested to read his essay, and invite him to read yours.

As for me I don't believe that mathematical structures can be conscious, however I see interest in the argument, as a proof by absurdity against materialism : if materialism was true in its claim that consciousness is a mere emergent physical process, then consciousness would be mere computation, and thus also a mere mathematical system, which I consider to be absurd. In contrast to this I see consciousness as fundamental, not mathematical and not emergent from physics. I explained this in details in my essay A Mind/Mathematics Dualistic Foundation of Physical Reality. Maybe you will be interested with my works (including my description of the many-worlds interpretation) like Marc was.

I also added your essay to my list of interesting essays in my review.

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