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Wednesday, July 10, 2013


When I was in elementary school, or maybe middle school, I had a deep philosophical discussion with some of my classmates. Well, as deep as kids our age were wont to go. The topic was belief and our profound conclusion was that it didn't matter what you believed, you could believe in god or not, or most anything at all, and it didn't really make any difference in our lives. What I did not understand at the time was that we didn't have much choice about how we lived our lives, and making choices is where belief comes into play. Your beliefs have a big influence on the choices you make in your life. Some of your choices may seem obvious, or there might appear to be no viable alternative, but many of those may have been decided a long time ago based on some other decision that you did make.
    In the Science Fiction novel Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, one of the main characters (Quaiche) has contracted a virus, an indoctrinal virus that can cause an overwhelming feeling of religious belief. For a long time the virus does not cause Quaiche any serious problems, it is sort of simmering in the background. Eventually Quaiche finds himself in life-or-death risky situation, his defenses are down and virus is able to establish itself as real force in his personality.
    When I first read this I thought it was an interesting concept. With all the advances in biotechnology who knows what kinds of things we will be able to do a thousand years from now. But then I had another thought: could it be that the religious belief found in people today is caused by a virus? It's kind of an odd concept, and it seems unlikely, but given how much we know about how people work (almost nothing), it could be.
    I am not a religious person. Christianity is all right with me for the most part. A great many people in this country claim to be Christians, and most of them are good citizens and good people. I do not understand other people's belief in god. It makes no sense to me. Sometimes I think people become religious in order to help them cope with some misfortune that has befallen them, or perhaps to alleviate some of life's confusion. I am not sure, but I suspect that is not always the case.
    God is a spiritual thing, meaning it has no physical substance. In a like manner thoughts and personalities may be considered spiritual as they likewise have no physical substance. You could say they exist as electrical currents in the brain, but we have no way to separate any individual ideas from the entire collection of electrical impulses that are going on in anyone's brain all the time. The electrical currents in your brain support your thoughts, but they are not the same thing as thought.
    Computers could be viewed the same way. A computer that has crashed, or is caught in an endless loop is indistinguishable from a computer that is hard at work making some vital calculations. So computer programs are essentially spiritual. I mean, they are not very spiritual, being as most computer programs are not even as smart as a single bacteria, but their essence is not related to the hardware or the electricity that drives them.
     Once upon a time I saw a program on TV about a Hindu temple in Southern India. There was a picture of one building, the roof of which was covered with small figures of Hindu gods. Seems there are a zillion of them, perhaps even more than there are people.
     I put this all together and came up with the idea that each one of Hindu gods is like a computer subroutine (procedure/function). In order to have a properly functioning human brain, you might need something like 7 billion subroutines.
    A mental subroutine would not be a set of instructions like in a computer, but could be composed of multiple disparate elements, like neurological connections, hormones, and even location. One neuron might be involved in multiple subroutines. Babies I think are born with an enormous set of built in functions/Hindu gods. Everything they learn is another always increasing set, well, increasing until you get to be my age and your brain fills up and starts overflowing onto the keyboard.
    Through The Wormhole is on TV tonight, talking about how robots might become just like real people. It's not that far off, and it is not going to take some major breakthrough by some genius. Eventually someone will have a very capable machine and will need to write a executive program to control it, and they will write some simple minded loop to keep tabs on everything that is going on, and, presto, it will come alive.

This post started on the topic of belief, but got side-tracked. Now that I've gotten that out of my system perhaps I will be able to get my mind back on the belief track.


Ole Phat Stu said...

"something like 7 billion subroutines." ?

No. Calling NINE billion names is needed ;-) , c.f. Arthur C.Clarke :-)

Charles Pergiel said...

Nine is too many. Do not want the stars to go out.

Stu said...

I could do with 2 less stars....
Justin Bieber and any Kardashian ;-)

Charles Pergiel said...

You've been watching TV again, haven't you? I warned you about that.