Computations with a big ‘C’, vs little ‘c’ computations

In the computing / computable universe worldview, the universe is akin to a giant computation.

This inevitably leads to anthropic questions like, ‘what solution is it trying to compute? / what problem is it trying to solve?‘ and of course ‘who kicked off the computation? Who wrote the program?‘.

The obvious (if trite) answer to this last question would be ‘God’, and there’s an interesting post over here about why the computation otherwise known as this reality isn’t even here to solve any kind of useful problem. The computation might just be there for the Almighty’s entertainment, and nothing more.

You’ve gotta admit this is great fodder for sci-fi storytelling.

But let’s back up a bit to the ‘what’s the computation for?‘ question. There is a presumption in this question – namely, that a computation exists to solve a problem.

‘Solving a problem’  is true of what I like to think of as “little c computations”… the ones that we, humans, and the machines we have built, tend to carry out. I think ‘little c’ computations (hereof LCC) are attempts to gain insights or solve problems or entertain ourselves. Games engines (for example)  express signal processing algorithms that make virtual gameworlds come to life. Other concerns force us to kick off computations to do with weight, speed, cost, safety and likelihoods. LCCs are necessary the moment you have our kinds of problems.

Then there are Big ‘C’ computations – BCCs, hereof. These, I like to think, are responsible for the substrate of reality itself. I think of BCCs as being here long before LCCs came along, and you can imaging that LCCs run on top of BCCs, prolly making a good number of ‘trap calls’ to the latter! As I have always said, there are different ways of being in the universe that have nothing to do with human-like forms of cognition and consciousness. There are systems of being in which BCCs suffice; systems for which (or in which) those pesky li’l new-fangled LCCs just aren’t needed. It would be like having the BIOS on my old PC check for attached drives with… with Adobe FLASH, for God’s sake, instead of the firmware that does the job a bizillion times faster. A boot sequence has no need for forays into frame-by-frame animated visuals in glossy color. A trickle of water needs to know where to flow. A rock needs to keep its shit together in one lump. But you and me buddio… we need to know what the price of corn is going to be a year from now, not to mention how to make the next Tekken fighter’s boobs jiggle when she fights (resisting the urge to spawn a post on wasted computing resources).

So I suspect that when a physicalist says ‘the universe is a computation’, it’s meant more along the lines of ‘the universe is‘, rather than ‘the universe does (something)’ or ‘the universe solves (something)’. To me, this is what the paradigm shift is about. “is-ness”, or “being”, is computation. It’s subtle. It’s like when Einstein (or was it Hawkins?) tried to explain that gravity isn’t just something that “fills space” and then curves/bends it; gravity is the curvature of space-time. Sometimes a discovery is so fundamental that we flail about for less axiomatic descriptions, refusing to accept that there are no more proverbial turtles further down.

Since BCCs are – in my mind at least –  the core computation, it follows that they may be closely related to (give rise to?) what we observe as the laws of physics, and/or the universal constants themselves (can you tell I don’t know enough physics to hold that sentence together?)  :o)

And, you could also argue that it’s all relative: we ape-like things are basically walking LCCs, if you take a long enough view… never mind our machines and actual software programs. But I think it would be more helpful to restrict my made-up term ‘LCC’ to any computation instantiated by sentient/conscious beings like us. And perhaps that should include computations kicked off by our subconscious too: involuntary actions and non-conscious behaviour, etc. i.e. not just artefacts like software programs.

All of which would leave BCCs for computing the stuff that reality is made up of.  And as for “God”, I don’t reckon they wrote any BCC routines. I think they were hired as a Pantheon intern, and instead of typing ‘cat QuantumScaleDisturbance.godfile‘ they forgot the ‘cat’ and ran the frigging thing. Prolly been trying to ‘kill -9’ this bay-atch ever since.

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