Friday, August 10, 2007

What I was doing 20 years ago today

I was writing an article about this new-fangled thing called "Windows" for ProFiles: The Magazine for KayPro Users, and it was a bitch to write. Here's what I said in my work journal for August 10, 1987:
I'm still having problems with Windows article. I have to explain how it integrates and replaces the familiar MS-DOS commands, something Mac users never have to deal with. Trying to explain what pull-down menus, icons, point-and-shoot, bit-mapped displays, tiled windows, overlapping windows, dialog boxes, standard applications (those that weren't designed with Windows in mind), multi-tasking with an 80386, faking multi-tasking with an 8088, is tricky when:

1) the target audience is used to talking to the computer through a single command line following the A> prompt;

2) one topic seems to require an understanding of another: icons, for instance, seem like magic until you've explained what a bit-mapped screen is, pull-down menus don't make sense until you've described what a mouse does, etc. etc.;

3) you don't have any pictures to explain it all with.

Windows and the Mac are intuitively obvious once you try them as a gestalt; looking at their components piecemeal in an article is a difficult thing to make flow. I've got all the material written for the article, I'm just trying to get paragraph A to logically lead to paragraph B, and so on.

The Windows manual itself doesn't try to explain the ins and outs of the user interface. It just gives a series of exercises that let you try it out in hopes that you will grasp the big picture by the time you've finished them. Unfortunately, someone else is writing "A First Session With Windows" for the same issue of the magazine, meaning I can't take that approach.

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At August 13, 2007 2:00 PM , Blogger Jeff Vehige said...

Rob -

Do you still keep a journal while working on your novels?

At August 13, 2007 2:10 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Yes, I do, Jeff, although it's often quite perfunctory (number of words done, which scene I was working on). But it occasionally contains stuff like this:


Thursday, January 29, 2004: Finally, finally, finally, after days of wracking my brain, came up with a coherent theory of consciousness for ACTION POTENTIAL [later retitled MINDSCAN]:

Scanning a brain only records the specific current configuration of the neural net and the specific concentrations of neurotransmitters. Having a record of that information is no more consciousness than having a non-playing recording of music is music.

What causes consciousness to boot up? The special quality of consciousness is, in fact, that it can self-boot, pulling itself up by its bootstraps, and begin playing. It's as if the CD started emanating music without being moved by a third party into a CD player.

Another analogy: the recording of consciousness is like a snapshot. But to become consciousness, that snapshot would have to spontaneously become a motion picture film, creating its own story unfolding into the future.

We can turn OFF consciousness with drugs, such as anesthetics. But we can't turn ON consciousness: there's no drug you can give to a comatose person to boot up their consciousness. Likewise, sleep is caused by the build up of fatigue poisons in the bloodstream; when these reach a critical level, they suppress consciousness. But when they're cleared out of the system, consciousness automatically reboots.

How does Immortex create its living duplicates from static recordings? Answer: the quantum-fog recording is quantally entangled with a living mind, and so is active. But as soon as the duplicate and the original start having different experiences, decoherence ensues, and the two versions are no longer entangled.

Problem: a duplicate can never sleep, or "go unconscious" because without the entanglement with a biological consciousness, it won't reboot. The elimination of sleep is sold as a plus -- an extra eight productive hours in each day -- but in fact the big reveal is that it's necessity, since Immortex doesn't know how to boot consciousness, and their copies can't do it on their own.

Note: once the old original dies, there's no way to make a new copy come alive, because there's nothing to entangle it with.

The implication is that Penrose and Hamerhoff are right, and consciousness is quantum mechanical. Indeed, Hamerhoff is probably right that consciousness comes from cellular automata on the surface of microtubules; cellular automata, of course, generate spontaneous movement, growth, and emergent behavior from a static start.

This means that there IS a meaning to life, in the sense of the underlying rule or rules that are applied to any random arrangement of cellular automata; it could even be "42", in binary:

42 decimal = 2A hex = 52 octal = 00101010 binary; in ASCII, it's " *" (space-star!)

So, maybe Immortex's scanning ONLY scans at the gross level of neural nets and neurotransmitters; it doesn't scan the cellular automata, which are the real consciousness.

Jake Sullivan is the aberration: the first duplicate of him is quantally entangled with all the other copies of him, and the entanglement endures at some level, allowing communication between the duplicates. What causes this? Perhaps it has to do with Jake's disease, Katerinsky's syndrome, which is faithfully copied into all the duplicates, although ironically is eliminated from the biological Jake.

Ironically, this is the opposite of "The Measure of a Man" from Star Trek: The Next Generation, in which Riker tries to prove that Data ISN'T a person, because he can be shut off (with his hidden off switch) and then rebooted.


At August 13, 2007 5:50 PM , Blogger Jeff Vehige said...

Thanks for the example. I've been struggling with writing for a few years, and I've just recently begun to think that maybe if I worked out my stories in a journal/notebook before actually writing them I might write better stories. I think it's time to rethink my writing habits.

At August 13, 2007 8:37 PM , Anonymous Shoshana said...

Are you saying that the mindscans are not really conscious because they cannot spontaniously reboot?

Could consciousness possibly be separated from the vessel that contains it? Could it still exist and be true even if it did not have all the same features it had in it’s original biological medium. If I copy a movie from DVD to VHS, I’ve still copied the movie even if I cannot skip through scenes: everything that I would call pertinent to the film is still there, but the medium containing it restricts the ways that it can be played. We recognize the movie as something more than the way it can be played.

Surely, even though the mindscans are removed from the biological, the fact that they sprang from it and not only act but grow as if their original consciousness was living in the new "skin" would do means something. Immortex has done more than copy the music or the moving pictures because the music and the film go on. It's not just copying then. If I copy series three of Doctor Who to DVD, the disc only contains the information of the story up until the point where I copied it. If my copy started creating new episodes of equal or indistinguishable quality from what came earlier, then I have done more than copy, right?

Karen and Jake's stories do unfold into the future after all. They began as quantumly entangled snapshots, but they continued on. If it's not consciousnes, what is it?

At August 13, 2007 9:38 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Hi, Sho. I totally agree with everything you're saying. What I just posted was not my final thesis on this top -- that would be the actual text of Mindscan -- but rather the notes I made as I was working this out for the very first time: a snapshot of a moment in the intellectual process of creating the book. :)

At August 14, 2007 1:20 AM , Anonymous Shoshana said...

Ah! OK. Cool. For a second there I thought that I had completely missed the point of the novel...

So your theses don't pop out of your mind fully formed, like Athena bursting from Zeus!


Post a Comment

<< Home