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God vs. Computing

Has anyone ever noticed that due to incompleteness theorems or complexity limits or lack of particles in the universe, there is some force keeping us from really knowing everything?  Even in the imaginary realm of software, there is a limit to what we can know and achieve.  Some entity keeps knocking down the tower of Babel, and perhaps that entity should be defined as God.

Any thoughts?

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

>Has anyone ever noticed that ...

Noticed? Nope. Read about it. Yes! In books obliquely related to quantum physics, parasychology, or Deepak Chopra stuff, synchrodestiny and quasi-scientific, quasi-spiritual literature you come accross vague contentions of the kind. Never experienced a feeling of being pulled down though.



>or lack of particles in the universe,

????


>Even in the imaginary realm of software, there is a limit to what we can know and achieve.  Some entity keeps knocking down the tower of Babel, and perhaps that entity should be defined as God.

On the contrary, I'd say, given that we are all limited in the amount of information the 2 billion neurons can hold, given the implicit assumption of the improbability of transcendence of the intellect into the realms beyond reasoning, given the fact that information in itself is a function of the mind, given that information is thus unlimited, I STILL see there is a fostering force that pulls us upwards by an act of "inspiration" when the human brain would suddenly meet with the answer to an otherwise improbable situation as in the case of Sir Isac Newton and the apple, or Archimedis running out of the bath tub in a spark of the moment as if ignited by compulsion. There is something that wants you to know more than you thought you could. That something might be explained by agnostics as "inspiration". It occurs when you get the answer in a spur-of-the-moment while there are no coherent thoughts of persuasion to the problem under question right before or after the brain-wave that answers the question.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Blank name, if you think that people here are incapable of talking about this, if it will spark a religious debate (which ironically it is), then we can end this discussion.  I have no interest in the sort of discussion that looks like a troll had been around.

A few things probably led to this post.  I had been studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which included some background on peoples' need for religious fulfillment.  Further, I'd been reading a book on AI, where you see very quickly how a lot of dreams had been dashed or at least frustrated by certain holes in the power of computation.

You know Gnu usually uses words like "good" and "evil" not in their ordinary emotionally loaded meanings, but as labels of discrete ethical states?  I was thinking of God (or G-d) in a similar way.  After coding a while, don't you start noticing these odd things?  Or maybe it's true what they say, that lisp programming turns people strange.  I was just wondering if people perceived this odd hole like I do, and perhaps this could link to peoples' deeper feelings on religion on a technical level.  After all, if programmers don't connect philosophy with their work, they're just too boring to hang around with.  It would then be all about O'Reilly books and syntax issues, nothing upon which to base a lifelong profession.

I am pretty sure Knuth has some words about this...

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Knuth's talks on God and Computing are all online as Mp3s and realvideo here: http://technetcast.ddj.com/tnc_program.html?program_id=50

Matthew Lock
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I suggest some reading of works by Kurt Godel.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

If the universe is infinite, or even if it's huge, it would be exceedingly difficult to know all of it, though we're trying and may be on the cusp of developing a Theory of Everything.

Your discussion of attempts at AI I think don't point at our lack of understanding of the somewhat more limited world of computing, but rather at our lack of understanding of the human mind.

I don't think either points to a God any more than me not being able to drink the entirety of the ocean does.

In other words, I don't think that your statements support your conclusion. If there is no God, no Supreme Being of one sort or another, these challenges would still be difficult.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Incompleteness Theorem

“Within a mathematical (or any) system, there are some propositions that cannot be proven following that system’s axioms.”

The link below is a good start.... scroll to the bottom.
http://www.sm.luth.se/~torkel/eget/godel.html

The interesting thing about this chap is that towards the end of his life, Gödel became convinced that he was being poisoned and, refusing to eat to avoid being poisoned, starved himself to death.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

It is Gödel, or Goedel if you do not have umlauts.


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

If you think about it logically, God is the ultimate programmer, and we are made in his image, therefore it makes no sense for him to hold us back from understanding the more complex.

It's Adam that stuffed it up for all of us in this system, however the bible contains everything we need to know about the reversal of the mess we are in, and we are not being held back from knowing these things.

But let's not get into that religious debate, we'll be here a long time.

Seeker of Truth
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

> But let's not get into that religious debate, we'll be here a long time.

Amen to that! :)

The Acrostic Agnostic
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

it's ok that God Save The Queen, but who Computing saves?

n/a
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"It is Gödel, or Goedel if you do not have umlauts. "

That's strange.  Is that a general rule or is it something that Gödel decided just for his name?

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

It is accepted convention that if you can't for whatever reason use ä, ö, or ü you follow the normal letter with "e", yes. There are some machines even in Germany which do this because they can't manage a couple of dots. You'd think they'd have their shit together a bit more really, eh?!


Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Impaired communication.  Fred Books speaks of it in this book, "Mythical Man Month".  Apparentely the people of Babelon (now Iraq and the surrounding area) were trying to build a tower to God.  Of course God looked down on this with scrutiny and deemed it unsafe for the people and it would draw their attentions to their own works instead of his creation.  So he "confused their speech" or made them speak several different languages (babel)  and then each group went to separate corners of the earth.

It's a problem that will forever plague us.  Wait you say, Let's make English the standard language for business world-wide. How long do you think it'll take for that to catch on (in non industrialized nations).

Make things so complicated
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

> Some entity keeps knocking down the tower of Babel

Uh, sorry, can you give me a source on that? From where I stand, this isn't happening at all. Quite the opposite.

Remember: science is a process of establishing verifiable claims about the universe. So, as science progresses, we learn more and more, and throw out things that no longer meet the criteria.

Unless I'm supposed to "feel" that it's being knocked down, in which case this can never be a debate, can it?

Tim Sullivan
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Of course it's scientific fact that the Tower gets knocked down. Otherwise,. why we need the Babel Fish?

Globetrotter
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

With respect to the Umlaut thing-
Cool.  You learn soemthing new everyday.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Why would God even have to knock down the Tower?  The tallest building built without benefit of a steel frame is the Monadnock building in downtown Chicago.  The limit of that type of construction is 16 stories- well short of reaching the clouds, let alone God.

I know, what about the Great Pyramid?  Yeah, that is taller I suppose, but not a tower and still way too short to reach God.

Name withheld out of cowardice
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Why would you want to know everything?  Wouldn't you be incredibly sad?  Or go mad?

I am guessing that you really want to know *some thing or things*.  Or is there another reason you want to know everything or you want everyone to know everything?

Scot
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I have two problems with Tayssir's suggestion.

1. I don't see any reason why there needs to be any particular *thing* (force, person, principle, whatever) keeping us from knowing everything. Why should we *expect* to be able to know everything? We're finite beings. Our brains are only so big, we only live so long, our senses only give us so much information. The fact that we don't know everything doesn't require any further explanation.

I don't think human finiteness is an "odd hole". It's a nuisance, I suppose, but there's nothing very odd about it.

2. Supposing that there *were* some force keeping us from knowing everything, I don't see the slightest reason to call it "God". It doesn't seem to have any of the properties generally ascribed to God. God, according to the traditions of the various religions that believe in one, is supposed to (a) be (at least!) a person, able to think and act and prefer one thing over another and so on; (b) have created the universe, or at the very least given form to the part of it we live in; (c) be morally good in some useful sense; (d) be benevolent towards us; (e) communicate with us from time to time, in more or less dramatic ways. (Not all religions agree on all of these, of course.) A force stopping us knowing everything could (I suppose) be (a) entirely impersonal, (b) not responsible for anything creative at all, (c) morally neutral or bad, (d) malevolent or indifferent towards us, and (e) entirely uncommunicative. So why call it "God"?

Why would it make any more sense to define "God" as "whatever stops us knowing everything" than to define "God" as "the G key on my keyboard"?

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

I'll take God plus the spread.

What's the over/under?

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

"I don't think human finiteness is an "odd hole"."

It's not just finiteness.  Goedel and Heisenberg say that there are certain things that are just unknowable, no matter what you do.  With Goedel, it deals with the ability to prove things in a system of logic.  With Heisenberg, it deals with the impossibility of measuring things with absolute certainty.

This goes beyond simple human "finiteness", to the very nature of reality itself.  This is what the first post in this thread is referring to.

Jim Rankin
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

No wait, there really is something to this argument.

You know, that there's a God that created the universe and everything in it, and humans, yet didn't have the foresight to realize that we'd discover the true nature of the universe, and is now engaged in a constant battle of wits with Mankind to remain the "wizard behind the curtain."

// end sarcasm

So not only are we so self centered that we think that the universe was created just for us, we now think that God is threatened by us and our ever exanding intellectual capacity and understanding of the world around us.

www.MarkTAW.com
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Mark, it can seem that way if you're cynical. ;)  But I make no real reference to motivation or anthropomorphism of God.  Some religions do fill in these blanks.

Gareth asks whether it makes sense to use the word "God," and since I'm talking about a subject that is by definition mystical (things which seem to actively exist beyond perception and knowledge), it makes sense to me.  It is also useful; people often believe that working in tech requires a very reductionist view of the world.  Unfortunately, this has two costs:
- many people are turned off to tech
- religious figures take spirituality for themselves, often claiming it is unspiritual for people to attempt to learn and create

My argument is that there is no such divide, and people can glimpse God in this line of work.  Continuing with the Israeli-Palestine theme, a common thread is that religious authorities argued against change because it somehow seemed heretical to God, when we now see that God can deal with this insignificant problem and perhaps "enjoys" it.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Wednesday, November 05, 2003

We're talking about Ginesh right?

Guy Incognito
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Jim -- Yes, Tayssir did also talk about incompleteness theorems and the like. I think those offer even *less* evidence either for or against God than empirical observations of our limitations do, because those are part of pure mathematics, which (so it seems to me) not even God can change.

Perhaps if there are fundamental facts of *physics* that prevent us knowing everything, that would be more interesting, though I still don't see how you get from those to God.

Tayssir -- I think you should distinguish between two things. (1) "Here's something funny about the world. Let's call it God." and (2) "Here's something funny about the world. I hypothesize that God causes it." I thought you were proposing #1; maybe I was wrong?

I don't see how the fact that you're talking about something mystical is enough reason to use the word "God". There are lots of mystical notions that (so it seems to me) needn't have anything to do with God. Random examples: fairies, mysterious spoon bending, Sheldrake-style morphic fields, reincarnation.

I completely agree that techies don't have to be hard-line, hard-nosed reductionists, or materialists, or atheists, or for that matter anythingelseists. I'm afraid I think you're being a bit naive if you think you're going to help the public perception of techies much by saying that the fact that we don't know everything indicates God at work.

I've no idea what you mean about religious figures claiming it's unspiritual to try to learn and create. I've not encountered that at all. And, incidentally, wouldn't your argument tend to lead in the same direction? I mean, if God is for ever stopping us knowing things, doesn't that rather suggest that God doesn't want us to learn and create too much? That seems like a more anti-learning, anti-creativity position than any I've encountered from "real" religious figures...

Gareth McCaughan
Thursday, November 06, 2003

---"If you think about it logically, God is the ultimate programmer"-----

And he didn't have the benefit of MS tools, which is why he made such a mess of it.

But he's  not Open Source; you have to pay your tithe to the company to get the binary, and reverse engineering doesn't seem to work that well.

And in nitpicking mode - ultimate means last. So I'd sure hope he doesn't start programming because wit all the brouhaha you're making about a few of your jobs being outsourced to India, which is still on this planet!

Stephen Jones
Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's trivial for God to change the rules of mathematics, at least as far as we can perceive.  For example, assume God has a large amount of computational power.  God can calculate our possible reactions to our percepts, and fashion a reality in which there are only certain useful mappings between mathematics and reality.

I'd like to see a reality where the principle of induction isn't useful.  But then again, induction is artful because it's powerful and yet contains the seeds of the incompleteness theorem.

Tayssir John Gabbour
Thursday, November 06, 2003

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