David Darling: Equations of Eternity

Subtitle: "Speculations on Consciousness, Meaning, and the Mathematical Rules that Orchestrate the Cosmos." In my defense for checking it out of the library, the subtitle of Crick's Astonishing Hypothesis is "The Scientific Search for the Soul," and that was the publisher's fault.

It turns out, though, to be just as amusing as the subtitle would suggest. In particular, it contains the first serious exposition of the homunculus fallacy I've ever read:

Not least, the forebrain serves as the brain's "projection room," the place where sensory data is transformed and put on display for internal viewing. In our case, we are (or can be) actually aware of someone sitting in the projection room. But the fish's forebrain is so tiny that it surely possesses no such feeling of inner presence. There is merely the projection room itself, and a most primitive one at that.
This occurs, thankfully, on page 7; and it's a determined reader who's made it through manglings of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and the word "evolve." But if you can stomach any more of this guy I'd bet the rest of the book is hilarious.

On a side note I don't know if the following argument makes any sense:

Say you have a perfect digital model of a finite universe containing conscious beings. Assume anything that appears random in our world (i.e. exact positions of subatomic particles) may be modeled as pseudorandom. So we have an extrinsically explicit representation of the world, but not identity; characteristics of one particle are represented by the states and relationships of many other particles. The way the data is organized, from our point of view as programmers, can't possibly make the difference between whether the simulated creatures are actually conscious or not. Either they are, and perhaps we should consider the ethics of writing murder mysteries, or they are not, and there is something very special about the most efficient form of information storage. Or our universe isn't finite and so we don't have to care.


Arduino and ultrasonic rangefinders

If you've been following new media art blogs at all, you've probably heard of Arduino. Basically, it puts together an AVR microcontroller, supporting electronics, USB or serial for programming, and easy access to digital and analog I/O pins. The programming is very simple, using a language almost identical to C, and no tedious initialization boilerplate (compare to the hundreds of lines of assembly necessary to get anything working in EE 51). This seems like a no-hassle way to play with microcontroller programming and interfacing to real-world devices like sensors, motors, etc.

Another cool thing I found is the awkwardly named PING))) Ultrasonic Rangefinder. It's a device which detects distance to an object up to 3 meters away. A couple of these strategically placed throughout a room, possibly mounted on servos to scan back and forth, could be used for crowd feedback as we've discussed here previously. They're also really easy to interface to.

Update: I thought of a cool project using these components plus an accelerometer, in a flashlight form factor. The accelerometer provides dead-reckoning position; with rangefinding this becomes a coarse-grained 3d scanner, suitable for interpretive capture of large objects such as architectural elements (interpretive, because the path taken by the user sweeping the device over the object becomes part of the input). I may not be conveying what exactly I mean or why this is cool, but this is mostly a note to myself anyway. So there.



Earlier this week, I experienced a religious revelation.

I was reading a truly depressing article about the economy in the NYT and listening to Take a Bow by Muse, and God talked to me. I felt a tingling of strange energy, and I felt a urge to stand up. I stretched out my arms, looking up towards some strange, invisible light. I began to tremble, and as the song hit its climax, I fell into my bed, and received this message.

"We are fucked. We have put our faith in a system which is smoke and mirrors, and it is falling apart. All debts are being called in, and we cannot cover them. You were too clever by half, and nows its going to fuck you up."

"Switch your portfolio to gold and guns."

Fortunately, I am an atheist, and don't have to listen to God.