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Monday, June 12, 2017

Von Neumann Probes and the Assembly of Remote possibilities

Seven years ago I was thinking about von Neumann probes (click here for background). Here is an excerpt meant as preamble to my recent expedition in hopes of  finding out if this theoretical construct really exists:

VON NEUMANN PROBES: An electric field is a cloud of virtual photons. Energy propagation depends on virtual photons passing between charges --chicken or egg. Photons become real when shaken or stirred. This creates an imbalance, a little violation of energy-conservation law, which is tolerated only briefly if the kick is strong or, if the kick is weak, quite a long time. This is why the energy level of info coming to us from distant sources is always very low. What we learn from it depends on our ability to perceive and reason in new ways.

So I have a problem with von Neumann probes. Despite the wonderful idea of probes that can set up anywhere and reproduce, they still couldn't detect anything outside their original programming. This serves only to compound the unknown of unknown regions. Also, after they take their million years to explore our one little galaxy, it would consume at least that time to complete their reports --and again that long for us to receive them.

Our expansion into distance is unlikely to depend on a big gas-fired gadgets shouting imbecilities from deep space. We need to evolve, to do more with less and weaker, subtler, forms of information. When we see light, we detect massless particles, events that aren't actually things --particles that don't exist in the way we define our own existence. That's got to change before we can explore much beyond our solar system.

Further thoughts 7 years later: Because the probes' survey of even one galaxy would consume at least 1/2 million years of travel and reproduction, they would have to be equipped with debriefing transmitters that exploited some sort of quantum coherence --a process to which the speed of light (and all electromagnetic wavelength) is irrelevant, or they would have to possess sufficient artificial intelligence to process their own data. Consciousness.  Happily, Norma was able to photograph  one such probe, von Neumann's theory is still defensible:

                      (Normaphoto: von Neumann probe --likes trainrides and beer!)

21 comments:

  1. What in seven years brought you to this idea? Are you saying WE are probes from other parts of the universe? -Ibid.

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    1. Short answer is, I have only the speculations of better minds than mine to go on. Long answer is, yes.

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  2. I can see that I'm not going to get too far reading blogs tonight, Geo, because you've sent me all over the place for the past hour, checking out things I don't remember hearing of, but surely must have, from peel towers to partici grids to Von Neumann probes.

    The first thing I thought was if Von Neumann probes are possible where are they? If there is intelligent life out there ~ 0.5 million years is not long in the history of the universe, even 10 million years, surely we should have detected them. Which led to the depressing thought that maybe there wasn't other intelligent life in the galaxy.

    Much easier to think about is peel towers, because I'm sure I had marauding Scots among my ancestors creeping past the towers. Somehow I don't think lighting the fuel in the iron baskets was as exciting as the lighting of the warning beacons of Gondor in the LOTR film "Return of the King." Probably too much dreary mist, fog, and rain.

    And I was stunned to discover there was a sequel to one of my all time favorite sci-fi books "Forge of God" by Greg Bear. More perplexing than partici grids was the thought "Anvil of Stars" got by me.

    Back to the idea that you could be a Von Neumann probe, there are lots of ideas out there about life seeding our galaxy, and 200,000 years is not that long for Homo sapiens ~ still time to move out to the next way post in the galaxy if we don't destroy ourselves first ~ must have been some mistakes in the replication programing. But if you're a Von Neumann probe, then surely our fearless orange-headed leader must be a Berserker. Now I've got to go to Amazon and order "Anvil of Stars" and further my understanding of self-replicating machines.

    Chasing down interesting things is one of the reasons why I fall behind on blogging LOL! Have a good one!

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    1. Dear Louise, thank you for reading my essay. I agree wholeheartedly with your take on peel towers. Maternal ancestors were Scots. Paternal ones were Portuguese, who simply absorbed invaders into their culture of good music and food. As to von Newmann probes, I don't agree with huge mechanical crafts with self replicating factories landing in places they hadn't fuel to reach. More likely they were virus-sized info in nucleobases --some partially soluble in water, some in ethanol, others stable but of selective valence. Thymine has been found in meteors, origin unknown. 20 years ago, Oxford U. demonstrated Cytosine central to quantum information processing. I've had one ear to the stars about this and have a hunch von Neuman probes exist, but were launched on a subatomic level and lead to life and conscious beings. Easier to replicate conscious observers on other star-systems than send heavy machinery there.

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    2. Thanks for your informative reply, Geo. This is definitely something I'd like to learn more about. Time!!! Lack of it is the bane of my existence! LOL Have a good one!

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  3. I got stuck in off ramp between the 2010 post and this most recent. I hope I can apply for a chip to help me with the high plateau science. In the meantime I'm sticking with the Scots, marauding or not....and counting on evolution to somehow include me.

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    1. Time travel will do that, Tom --to all of us--but the main thing is we've developed subconscious mechanisms that help us navigate through time. We assess possibilities with astonishing speed and choose futures that best include us. Good thing too!

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  4. I like trainrides and beer also very much, dear Geo., and I can follow Norma in taking that beautiful picture and you in your remarks about trainrides and beer :-)
    The von-Neumann-probes are more than half-a-million years away from me - honestly: they are so small that they do not disturn my energy field (or do they? Should I wake up and look at my life trying to detect their influence? Or is it too hot and I'm too lazy to do just that? I am undecided, though energy is much needed.
    Think I'll drink a cup of coffee -- and eat some protein, not protons...

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    1. Dear Brigitta, it is past 1 a.m. here and I am enjoying protons in my carbohydrates --if pastries have any protons-- and a cup of espresso. I don't know if it helps me feel like a self-replicating space-probe but I'm glad we're both here. Very glad.

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  5. If it's going to take the probes 3 million years to gather, process and deliver information from the 'outer limit' I guess I don't need to worry too much about the outcome. I have enough trouble trying to find intelligent life in this house. Some days, I can't find any. I sent out a probe once ( a sharp finger tip to be exact) but the target complained and I really didn't find out much that I didn't already know. Maybe we need to worry less about what might be 'out there' and show a little more love and compassion toward what we have \right here'. At least, that's the hubs suggestion.

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    1. Enjoyed this comment very much, Delores, and agree with it. Hubs is right, we need a kinder world.

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    1. My thought exactly when I read some of my stuff --and always when I wake up in the morning.

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  7. It took me two days of reading (admittedly not continuously, but still) to even begin to follow where your mind went with these two posts! It's possibly the longest time I've been silent for years. My husband and three cats thank you.

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    1. I'm trying to follow where my mind went too, Jenny, but with marginal success --it usually finds its own way home.

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  8. You have rendered me probeless, Geo.
    I'm not afraid to admit that I'm in way over my head.
    But my admiration for your knowledge never wanes....

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    1. Kind Jon, I have just returned from the hardware store where I bought the wrong switch for a ceiling fan --not their fault. I displayed an astonishing degree of ignorance picking it out and am now down $5. I forgave myself and decided I could use it elsewhere. We probes, you and I, in our inquiry into existence must learn self-compassion --it's important because, well, I'm always in over my head too!

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  9. It's an interesting intellectual exercise, isn't it. Does it have meaning for us, here now? Only if as Kesey said "Step back, take a step to the side. See? It looks different."
    We have no concept, perhaps except the Chinese, of thinking beyond next year, let alone 10 years ahead. This requires a thought pattern not present yet.
    Like much of Eisenstein's, Tesla, et. al ideas and theories, it's beyond us now. And, it the past election is any indication, it grows further away.
    Enjoyable exercise though, to think about it Geo.
    Best regards,
    Mike

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    1. Thanks, Mike. We've been watching a Towhee's nest --regrettably not a Cuckoo's-- and photographed the first hatchling today. When I see a process like this, I can't help suspecting we are all part of a biological template that was encoded into the ecosystem --perhaps into lipids-- an astonishingly long time ago. To think so far ahead, to plan and implant such a thing is certainly a concert of the subatomic, of the irreducible.

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  10. When thoughts about the universe and possible probes gets too overwhelming, perhaps it's best to cogitate more on the here-and-now, though, that, too, can be overwhelming at times. Although the search for knowledge is a noble (and time-consuming) one, it's endlessly frustrating that the things we want to know are infinite, but our minds are hopelessly finite. Some things I will never know or fully understand; not in this lifetime, anyway. But you, dear Geo? I can believe you're a probe from some more intelligent race. Your posts prove it.

    No electrons were destroyed in the sending of this message, but a large number may have been terribly inconvenienced. Happy Father's Day, dude!

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    1. Dear Susan, Your generous compliment is much appreciated. Still, whenever I get to thinking my mind is expanding it turns out my hairline is just receding. True, we're limited beings in a universe of limitless possibility, but we make progress and with each step find the world is not so baffling after all. It's fun too! Happy Fathers at your house too.

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