Are the robots we create alive?
I guess it depends on whether you think a dog has Buddha-nature...
I'm half kidding - it's a reference to a classic Zen koan: 
To me, the interesting question is that of defining / assessing consciousness or free will. Along the lines of my own viewpoint is the idea that if we have any free will, then even subatomic particles must also exhibit some degree of freedom (er, unpredictability). 
I would say that Robocode bots are not alive in terms of consciousness, but that I'm not entirely convinced we are either, or to what extent. It "seems" we are, but that's circular reasoning.
I consider myself a determinist in the sense that I believe if the universe is everything, there can be no external interference, if there is no external interference, then there can be no true randomness, if there is no true randomness, then things can only happen one way. The article you linked to was interesting, but unpredictability != randomness.
Why there can be no true randomness without external interference? One concept don't invalidate the other.
Think about it. All random number generators in Java are deterministic algorithms, with variable seed values. If you call a random number twice with the same seed values, you would get the same result twice. In order to get a truly random and unpredictable result, you would need a random seed value in the first place. Since you can't get a truly random number in a closed system, you need to get your seed values from some external source which would appear to be completely random and unpredictable to anyone in said closed system. Some people actually do get their seed values from atmospheric data and so forth, which is random from their perspective.
So, in order to have a truly random result, at some point you would have to look outside of the closed system. And, since the universe is a closed system containing everything, there is no external source of true randomness. So, if there is no true randomness in the universe, it is a deterministic system.
I thought about it. A computer system is not a completely closed system. It´s the opposite. The computer system is totally at the mercy of it´s user. That´s why it is "deterministic", because it is fully dependent on the external interference of the user.
But if some part of the system is not dependent on external interference, if it is independent, if it is free, then it is truly random.
Well, as far as we can tell, subatomic particles are truly random in their behaviour. So perhaps the universe is a little more complicated than Java =)
@Skilgannon, I never said or even implied that the universe is a simple system. Or, for that matter, even comprehendible. All I meant was that basic logic would suggest that the universe is a deterministic, albeit extremely complex system.
I'll try rephrasing my argument. I define "true" randomness as having different outputs despite having exactly the same inputs. By "seed values" I mean anything that could possibly affect the result. In an algorithmic example, that would not only be a method parameter, but also system time, or any other variable that could affect the result. They could even be things like the CPU temperature or even the Earth's gravity. So, from the perspective of the program that called the random generator method, the result is truly random because the result could be different even with the same initial method parameter. But, if you widen your perspective to include every "seed value" that could possibly affect the result, it becomes a deterministic system.
If something that appears to be truly random turns out to be deterministic with a wider perspective, couldn't subatomic particles?
I realize this probably sounds like the ramblings of a madman, so I would be glad to clarify if you need me to.
So, by widening your perspective to include all seed values, you essentially support the multi-universe hypothesis? With each universe having its own (enormous) set of seeds, and then behaving entirely deterministicly, although that determinism is completely invisible to those who reside within it?
Basically you are arguing that the universe is deterministic and that a lot of really smart physicists are wrong to a group of computer scientists.
Well to be fair, I don't have the degrees to say one way or another if its possible that the true randomness we see in quantum mechanics is actually just a small part of a much larger (and unseen) deterministic system.
But if I had to throw a wild uneducated guess from left field.... I would have to say, no probably not. In my very humble opinion, reality is just to weird to be deterministic. Just look at what evolved there. Humans.
First of all, I am definitely not a computer scientist, or any type of scientist for that matter. I'm just having a bit of fun with the philosophy of determinism.
I don't believe in Newtonian determinism, i.e. that we could theoretically predict everything about the universe. I just believe that if there is no external interference, that a system can only behave in one way, and, if the universe by definition cannot have any external interference, then it can only behave in one way.
Biological evolution is an excellent example of what I am trying to say. The mutations between generations appear to be random, but they're really just reactions to their environment with millions of variables.
For what it's worth, I'm also on the determinist end of the spectrum, with a strong dose of "don't know" on the side. Our mind is basically designed to trick us into thinking we are freer than we are, while it's strongly predisposed to certain choices based on circumstances.
For instance, when something frightens you, you may remember it as: "I saw a ghost, it was scary, so I screamed and my heart started pounding". But the chronology really was: see ghost, heart starts pounding before your brain even receives the signal, get scared and scream. Your perception of it is starkly different than the reality, and your mind is reacting as much to your own physical reaction as to the external stimulus.
I'm pretty sure that there's no consensus on determinism vs free will vs "we don't / can't know for sure" among scientists, so I don't think Sheldor's claiming they're all wrong and he's right.
Thanks for backing me up. I would like to note that freewill is not the same thing as randomness, freewill is the concept of beings consciously controlling their own fate (which doesn't necessarily contradict determinism), whereas randomness (at least how I am defining it) is the concept of elements in a system giving different outputs despite having exactly the same inputs (which does contradict determinism).
Whoever is watching behaves predictably, but whoever is being watched does not.
But if free will is part of the system and not external, and free will is free and not only a consequence of external inputs, then the system as a whole will exhibit different outputs to the same inputs.
inputs -> system(laws of physics + free will) -> different outputs to the same inputs, but different choices driven by free will
Deterministic systems behave like non-deterministic ones in the presence of free will. You can even strip out the inputs for a contained system, and the system will still give different outputs.
Oh jeeze, now I seem like a jerk now. I didn't really mean it in that way.
I am not particularly good at lengthy philosophical discussions. Since in the end there is really no where for the discussion to eventually go.
So I tend to generalize the discussion to 'come up for air'. As it we're.
"Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills." Or so it was once said.
I can imagine that the world might be entirely deterministic if you could truly know all the laws of the universe and all the states of matter and energy within. But I don't like the idea that people are how they are in a deterministic way rather than there being some non-deterministic quality to our free will. I think most of us would prefer the latter.
I'll end that thought with my cryptic answer to the question of the meaning and purpose of life: To be happy matter.
Presumably, that answer could be rewritten in a way that equals 42.
I generally think that for the most part, as people, we are fairly predictable and deterministic, however the set of variables going into our behaviour essentially makes up the entire description of our body and its surroundings, making it a problem of incalculable dimensions as far as predicting behaviour.
Although subatomic particles may be non-deterministic, once the billions of them are combined into a single cell in a single flake of skin which comprises a microscopic piece of the covering of your baby toe, the amount of redundancy essentially reduces the problem from non-deterministic into mostly deterministic.
Although our lives may already be mostly determined, because of that subatomic non-determinism the future cannot actually be predicted even if we managed to capture the current starting variables perfectly, because eventually the low-probability event of a lot of subatomic particles all acting together will come to pass and the wings of a butterfly will cause an unexpected hurricane.
The problem of non-determinism in quantum mechanics goes beyond the redundancy turning it from non-deterministic into deterministic on average.
The results of the double-slit experiment pointed in the direction that quantum mechanics reacts to observers.
If you assume an electron is a wave and observe it like a wave, it will behave like a wave. If you assume it is a particle and observe it like a particle, it will behave like a particle. You can drastically change the result of the experiment, simply by choosing how you look at it.
You're right. unpredictability != randomness
But if I recall my limited quantum physics. It is not that they are just unpredictable. It is that they are random within a certain set of limitations.
If I recall they had a clever wave test to determine if it was unpredictability or randomness.
But my memory might be mistaken.