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Made You Think

Mar 20, 2023

“Opponents replied that when you modeled a hurricane, nobody got wet. When you modeled a fusion power plant, no energy was produced. When you modeled digestion and metabolism, no nutrients were consumed – no real digestion took place. So, when you modeled the human brain, why should you expect real thought to occur?”

Welcome back to another episode of Made You Think! In this episode, we're talking all things consciousness and simulated reality with Permutation City by Greg Egan. Classified as a hard science fiction novel, the book tells the story of a man who seeks to create immortality by creating "software" copies of the mind.

We cover a wide range of topics including:

  • The complex nature of consciousness
  • Egan's "Dust Theory"
  • What it's like to live in a simulation
  • Ethics surrounding death and dying
  • The possibilities that come with computer intelligence

And much more. Please enjoy, and make sure to follow NatNeil, and Adil on Twitter and share your thoughts on the episode.

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(0:00) If you're a science fiction lover, this week's episode is for you! We’re discussing Permutation City, a 'hard science fiction' book from 1994. This book explores many concepts including The Dust Theory and achieving immortality through copying your consciousness.

(4:24) Intro to Dust Theory. There are infinitely many universes existing at all space and time. As soon as a universe is perceived by a conscious intelligence, that universe comes to exist, and that universe will always continue to exist as long as there is consciousness to observe it.

(8:11) Are we in a simulation? We learn in response to stimuli which is also how LLMs (large language models) learn too.

(13:12) Nat, Neil, and Adil define consciousness, discuss the idea of transporting consciousness, and how we differ from LLMs. We have a private and inner mind that generates its own thoughts and feelings. We can't be certain whether computers have this or not.

(22:01) There's an 'engine' in our heads that is focused on our survival and continuation.

(23:21) Ethics surrounding death. One can argue that life is short, but when you've lived for thousands of years through copying your consciousness, it becomes a question of when it's enough.

(28:39) If we could somehow prevent bodily decay and the death of our loved ones, would we ever be ready to die, and is aging something that we can slow down or affect? 

(33:43) In the book, from the perspective of the humans, the copies are just programs who look intelligent, but they aren’t real. From the perspective of the copies, it’s all very real.

(41:31) Time dilation and running consciousness slower for the copies. The slowdown doesn’t necessarily affect the copy. The time perception is still the same to them, but it may affect how they interact with the real world.

(46:08) There's a baseline risk for being alive. You can try to get all of your life risks to zero, but it is best to accept that there will always be some general risk.

(51:49) Collaboration in publishing. While most books have a single author, it may add some dimension to get expertise from guest authors with knowledge in different fields.

(54:50) What did Greg Egan regret most about Permutation City? 

(1:02:11) That concludes this episode! Stay tuned for our next episode on History of the Peloponnesian War. Also on the horizon is The Three-Body Problem. Make sure to pick up a copy if you'd like to read up before the episode. As mentioned, check out this awesome epilogue created by ChatGPT!

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know by leaving a review on iTunes and tell a friend. As always, let us know if you have any book recommendations! You can say hi to us on Twitter @TheRealNeilS, @adilmajid, @nateliason and share your thoughts on this episode.

You can now support Made You Think using the Value-for-Value feature of Podcasting 2.0. This means you can directly tip the co-hosts in BTC with minimal transaction fees. To get started, simply download a podcast app (like Fountain or Breez) that supports Value-for-Value and send some BTC to your in-app wallet. You can then use that to support shows who have opted-in, including Made You Think! We’ll be going with this direct support model moving forward, rather than ads.

Thanks for listening. See you next time!