Posts from 2021

A Little Closer to Finding What Became of Moses Schönfinkel, Inventor of Combinators

A Little Closer to Finding What Became of Moses Schönfinkel, Inventor of Combinators

For most big ideas in recorded intellectual history one can answer the question: “What became of the person who originated it?” But late last year I tried to answer that for Moses Schönfinkel, who sowed a seed for what’s probably the single biggest idea of the past century: abstract computation and its universality.

I managed to find out quite a lot about Moses Schönfinkel. But I couldn’t figure out what became of him. Still, I kept on digging. And it turns out I was able to find out more. So here’s an update…. Continue reading

What Is Consciousness? Some New Perspectives from Our Physics Project

What Is Consciousness?--Visual Summary—click to enlarge

“What about Consciousness?”

For years I’ve batted it away. I’ll be talking about my discoveries in the computational universe, and computational irreducibility, and my Principle of Computational Equivalence, and people will ask “So what does this mean about consciousness?” And I’ll say “that’s a slippery topic”. And I’ll start talking about the sequence: life, intelligence, consciousness.

I’ll ask “What is the abstract definition of life?” We know about the case of life on Earth, with all its RNA and proteins and other implementation details. But how do we generalize? What is life generally? And I’ll argue that it’s really just computational sophistication, which the Principle of Computational Equivalence says happens all over the place. Then I’ll talk about intelligence. And I’ll argue it’s the same kind of thing. We know the case of human intelligence. But if we generalize, it’s just computational sophistication—and it’s ubiquitous. And so it’s perfectly reasonable to say that “the weather has a mind of its own”; it just happens to be a mind whose details and “purposes” aren’t aligned with our existing human experience. Continue reading

After 100 Years, Can We Finally Crack Post’s Problem of Tag? A Story of Computational Irreducibility, and More

“[Despite] Considerable Effort… [It Proved] Intractable”

In the early years of the twentieth century it looked as if—if only the right approach could be found—all of mathematics might somehow systematically be solved. In 1910 Whitehead and Russell had published their monumental Principia Mathematica showing (rather awkwardly) how all sorts of mathematics could be represented in terms of logic. But Emil Post wanted to go further. In what seems now like a rather modern idea (with certain similarities to the core structure of the Wolfram Language, and very much like the string multiway systems in our Physics Project), he wanted to represent the logic expressions of Principia Mathematica as strings of characters, and then have possible operations correspond to transformations on these strings.

In the summer of 1920 it was all going rather well, and Emil Post as a freshly minted math PhD from Columbia arrived in Princeton to take up a prestigious fellowship. But there was one final problem. Having converted everything to string transformations, Post needed to have a theory of what such transformations could do. Continue reading