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Book review: Darwinia
Reviewed: Friday, August 11, 2006

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Reviewed: Saturday, August 5, 2006

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What is it like to be a machine
Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Another item from the way back machine...

The definition of machine

Combination of mechanical or electrical parts

1. a. A device consisting of fixed and moving parts that modifies mechanical energy and transmits it in a more useful form.

b. A simple device, such as a lever, a pulley, or an inclined plane, that alters the magnitude or direction, or both, of an applied force; a simple machine.

2. A system or device for doing work, as an automobile or a jackhammer, together with its power source and auxiliary equipment.

3. A system or device, such as a computer, that performs or assists in the performance of a human task: The machine is down.

and so on

Is an animal a machine? Is a plant? Is a person? Not by the above definitions except metaphorically.

What does it mean to be determined? To have free will? Do we want to say that Free Will is an illusion or that it has no meaning (that the concept treads on unsteady ground and, freed from the connections that spawned it, it would be best if it floated away from earth and never returned?)?

A system is deterministic if the same initial conditions result in the same outcome. I.e., if a certain state always results in some other certain future state. This seems reasonable but completely impractical. How can I know that some system is in a state (how can I set the limits of the system)?

To say that an outcome is determined means that I will be surprised if something else happens. The ball rolls down the plane. But (as Wittgenstein pointed out) machines can break. The ball might fall off (and I wouldn't be surprised) or it might roll up hill (and I'd be very surprised). What's the difference?

If a system becomes so complex that I cannot know the state that it is in? Does the system have free will? Is it no longer deterministic? To say that "If I knew the initial conditions, then..." is nonsense if I can never know the conditions (and know them precisely enough (deterministic chaos).

If a child says that "he could jump to the moon if his legs were strong enough", we smile. Is this the same as "if we knew the initial conditions with enough accuracy, we could predict..."?

I especially like the last paragraph.


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