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Digitized Brains:

Kenneth's post reminds me of a conversation I once had with Robert Nozick. I was at a week-long conference that Nozick happened to be at. Pete Boettke and I were sitting at lunch with Nozick one day and finally Pete asks, "Have you ever seen 'The Matrix'?" And Nozick says, "No, why?" And Pete proceeds to explain how the Matrix is essentially Nozick's experience machine from Anarchy, State, and Utopia made into a movie. I don't know whether Nozick ever ended up seeing the movie, but he did seem intrigued (I have no idea whether the makers of The Matrix had read Nozick).

As an aside, Nozick struck me as probably the smartest person I ever met. Utterly brilliant.

Daniel Chapman (mail):
I know the writers of the Matrix borrowed heavily from a japanese comic book/cartoon called "Ghost in the Shell." Same concept.
9.15.2009 9:09am
conlaw2 (mail):
I think it was actually borrowed from the Nueromancer novels. From which, Ghost in the Shell also borrowed.
9.15.2009 10:15am
Suzy (mail):
Or maybe Descartes, from whom they all borrowed.
9.15.2009 10:33am
Neo Platonist:

Or maybe Descartes, from whom they all borrowed.


Or maybe Plato, from whom Descartes borrowed.
9.15.2009 10:45am
Felix Sulla:
Socrates?
9.15.2009 11:02am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Yeah, I'm gonna have to go with Plato on that one.
9.15.2009 11:24am
Michael F. Martin (mail) (www):
Isn't there a difference between analog and digital?

Or is there?
9.15.2009 11:36am
lunaslide (mail):
There was another intriguing book called Permutation City by Greg Egan that explored some of this theme. I recommend it.

And yes, they all pretty much borrowed from Plato :)
9.15.2009 12:02pm
Hannibal Lector:
Pohl Anderson also played around with this in the later novels of his Heechee sries. But he wrote these later than Nozick apparently came up with the concept
9.15.2009 12:11pm
jpe (mail):
Descartes has the evil demon thing going on, of course, which is roughly similar, but what was Plato's contribution to that? (if you answer "the cave," you're gonna get the buzzer. That's a real stretch, and not really in the same order as the evil demon and the brain in a vat.)

BTW, what's creepy about the Matrix is the very physical manipulation to produce the non-physical simulation; it's that crossover from the tangible to the non-tangible that gives it that uncanny kick; accordingly, I'd give the honor to Nozick over Descartes.
9.15.2009 12:23pm
Arkady:

Isn't there a difference between analog and digital?

Or is there?


Analog, think screw; digital, think ratchet.

And I think the expression "Ghost in the Shell" was ripped off from Gilbert Ryle's expression "The Ghost in the Machine" (as in The Myth of) -- see Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949).
9.15.2009 1:26pm
pot meet kettle (mail):

As an aside, Nozick struck me as probably the smartest person I ever met. Utterly brilliant.


I agree. Anybody who can go apeshit in misusing rent control to their advantage, while advocating libertarian ideas, must truly be brilliant.
9.15.2009 1:49pm
luagha:
I think quite a bit of it steals from basic Hindu mythology of the world as illusion. What cross-cultural contact Plato had with that I don't know.
9.15.2009 1:58pm
Bonze Saunders (mail):

Hannibal Lector:

Pohl Anderson also played around with this in the later novels of his Heechee sries.



You're thinking of Frederick Pohl here.

As for Nozick, he always struck me as being on the crazy-wing of "libertarian" thinking... I recall that he argued that there could be a market price for a broken leg, ergo, ideally you could break somebody's leg, toss them $500, and say "We're all even!" (Perhaps my recall is imperfect, but I think that's when I gave up reading Nozick.)
9.15.2009 2:03pm
Hannibal Lector:
Bonze Saunders: Thanks for the correction. A lapsus linguae on my part or early stage senile dementia. It was Frederick Pohl.
9.15.2009 2:22pm
Mark N. (www):
I think Nozick's innovation was using an experience machine to attempt to refute hedonism as a tenable ethical position. Even if we don't count Descartes (the "evil demon" isn't really a "machine"), the idea itself's been used in science fiction repeatedly, e.g. in Simulacron-3 (1964).
9.15.2009 3:29pm
John Robinson (mail):
"As for Nozick, he always struck me as being on the crazy-wing of "libertarian" thinking... I recall that he argued that there could be a market price for a broken leg, ergo, ideally you could break somebody's leg, toss them $500, and say "We're all even!" (Perhaps my recall is imperfect, but I think that's when I gave up reading Nozick.)"

"Imperfect" would be generous.
9.15.2009 4:03pm
ChrisTS (mail):
Mark N.:
I think Nozick's innovation was using an experience machine to attempt to refute hedonism as a tenable ethical position.

Right.

If we are going back in western thought to the origins of doubts about reality, we should look to Heraclitus [most of us live as in a dream] or Parmenides [it is a dream].
9.15.2009 6:16pm
Pat Conolly (mail):
Bit of a digression here, but I always wondered why the Matrix didn't use cows rather than humans for its energy collecting purposes. Only saw it once, when it came out, so I may have missed something that indicated why it had to be humans. Other than the fact that without humans there'd be no movie.
9.15.2009 8:40pm
75984_62153:
The entire premise of The Matrix is scientifically laughable. There are many, many more efficient ways of extracting the same (usable) energy produced by human metabolic processes from the required inputs (i.e. food) than simply running them through a human body. The only conceivable reason is the one you mentioned: without this particular plot device, there would be no plot.
9.15.2009 9:22pm
ChrisTS (mail):
75984_62153:

I think we can assume they were going for 1) something that 15 year olds watching a film could get, visually, and 2) the all important 'ick' factor.
9.15.2009 10:11pm
subpatre (mail):
Bonze Saunders imperfectly recalls, ". . . he always struck me as being on the crazy-wing of "libertarian" thinking... I recall that he argued that there could be a market price for a broken leg, ergo, ideally you could break somebody's leg, toss them $500, and say "We're all even!" "

That describes the Armed Forces, with fixed payouts for loss of a thumb, loss of a forefinger, loss of both thumbs, hand, etcetera; ultimately arriving at a matrix (!) of disability or renumeration payments for every conceivable combination of physical injuries. The practice was instituted long before Nozick.

In the process of imposing massive physical injuries, war —one of life's unpleasant realities— makes organizations arrive at simple, straightforward, and reasonably equitable solutions to these problems. Health insurance (including current proposals) uses a similar method to set compensation for medical procedures.

The concept isn't from the "crazy wing" of anything; it's a conventional, standardized, long-entrenched, boringly-establishment practice. I mention this because Bonze Saunders seems shocked at the idea; yet the practice is so common and pervasive his described reaction can only be either sham or vacuous.
9.15.2009 11:59pm
async:
ChrisTS:

As I recall, that's correct. They originally intended for the humans to be processors in an enormous biocomputer that machines used for... something, but they -- I can't remember if "they" was the Wachowski brothers or the studio execs -- didn't think the audience would understand that explanation.
9.16.2009 3:25am
Suzy (mail):
jpe, I think you're exactly right about Plato's Cave. The things the prisoners see aren't false in the sense of being unreal; they're just images that are mistaken for being more than they really are. Derivative light is being mistaken for the true light.

I think the creepy physical aspect credit goes not to Nozick but to whoever first spoke about brains in vats. Is that Putnam? I don't know.
9.17.2009 4:19pm
Marco (mail):

pot meet kettle (mail):


As an aside, Nozick struck me as probably the smartest person I ever met. Utterly brilliant.



I agree. Anybody who can go apeshit in misusing rent control to their advantage, while advocating libertarian ideas, must truly be brilliant.


Absolutely spot-on. That was one brilliant piece of performance art. One anecdote can highlight the absurdity of rent-control to more people than any peer-reviewed journal article can.
9.17.2009 4:28pm
klimmklimm (mail) (www):
Perfect work!
Gluttony kills more men than the sword.
Good health is above wealth

[url=http://buy-xenical-online-klim.blogspot.com/][/url]
9.20.2009 8:24am
petrarka (mail) (www):
Perfect work!
9.24.2009 9:34am
petrarka (mail) (www):
Perfect work!
9.24.2009 9:35am
petrarka (mail) (www):
Perfect work!
9.24.2009 9:35am
petrarka (mail) (www):
Perfect work!
9.24.2009 9:35am

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