The Talos Principle: Acquiring knowledge

The first part of this story can be found as “Talos Principle: Being Human”.

SPOILER ALERT. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on a topic by talking about interactions and story in this game. I recommend that if you like puzzle games, you buy the game, and it’s DLC if you like the standard version, and play through it yourself first.

Context of learning

Knowledge is an interesting thing. We, as humanity, have learned a lot about the universe we live in. We have crafted theories, tested them, refined them, tested them some more and then accepted some theories as truth, and falsified some theories. Then there is knowledge we will, or can acquire in the future.

I think however, that it is too easy to just split knowledge into two categories: Knowledge we have and knowledge we are going to have. We learn within a context, a frame of reference. Within that frame of reference, we make incorrect assumptions and accept that as truth as long as we are in that context, and there will be knowledge we can’t possibly acquire. I believe that to be the third and fourth category.

Observing

Why do I think this third and fourth category exist? I am part of this universe. I can’t possibly know for certain that these exist in our universe, but I can make it more likely by observing a different world, one that is a strict subset of ours.

In the DLC Road to Gehenna the player travels to a place where several androids were trapped by Elohim, so that these AI’s could not complete the final test and, with that, destroy the simulation. These trapped AI’s formed their own mini-civilization, practicing art and sharing knowledge and thoughts with each other through writing. This mini-civilization is a strict subset of ours, in that it only contains knowledge as known to humans, and not all knowledge by humans. It’s also a strict subset in the fact that the population in this universe is much smaller, and the things simulated in this world is much smaller than the things that can occur in our world.

The motorbike story as it appears in-game

The Pocket Motorbike

”Not if we get there before he can take over, Jefferson! Do you still have my motorcycle?”
”Of course, Jinny. I could never give up your motorcycle. You know I have an irrational attachment to material objects based on the interpersonal connections they represent. It is my greatest weakness, but also my greatest strength.”
Jefferson rummaged through his pockets and found the motorcycle. Jinny grinned.
”Get on, Jefferson, and let me show you how to ride.”

To some this might be just a terribly written story. To me it shows much more.

This world only ever had access to all written knowledge. What they see is only what has been modelled in the world, which is barely anything. This causes the androids to know about concepts, to be able to use the concept in the right context, but to improperly model the concept in their mind. In case of this story, they can’t model “riding” and they can’t model the physical properties of a motor bike and/or a pocket.

I would argue that even though they can use “motorcycle” as an object in their story, and even though they know that you can ride a motorcycle, and even though they will learn about the laws of physics, the concept itself has no meaning to the androids. I would even go as far as to say that a motorcycle would never have meaning to the androids until they actually used one.

The other obvious thing in that quote is that the human feeling “emotional attachment” is described in a completely analytical way. That’s not completely alien to humans either. When we observe behaviour of animals we do not do otherwise. Sometimes we try to interpret animal behaviour by human standards, but other than producing a sense of familiarity with behaviour such a comparison does usually not make much sense. The androids might eventually develop a feeling or emotion like that, but emotions between species are, in my opinion, uncomparable by nature.

Unreachable Schools For Poetry

There were many schools of poetry, institutions that taught a specific way of writing poetry. Students sometimes changed allegiance and had to leave the school, which was difficult due to the lack of affordable public transport in many human empires. Important schools of poetry included Hellenism, Lyricism, Pastoralism, Romanticism, Symbolism, Communism, Modernism, Autoeroticism, Postmodernism, and Lolcatism.

In this story the androids have learned about schools being physical buildings, where students go to. In this case, schools refer to trend. Of course, when most of these schools were around, the concept of public transport was not yet introduced. One could possibly charter a ship heading to a different city, or ride on the back of a cart, but that’s about it.

Would an android ever be able to figure out that this interpretation is wrong? I think they would, because this problem is more or less abstract. If the Archive project backed up a dictionary, which would not be unreasonable given the scope of the project, the alternative definition would eventually be found.

Literally getting a different perspective on the world.

Projecting on our universe

There is no reason to believe our frame of reference is comprehensive. I would say that it is likely that our frame of reference is very small, compared to all the knowledge that could possibly be acquired in this universe. Just like the androids are not able to understand the emotional attachment humans can have to objects, we cannot truly understand things that are outside our perceptual abilities. We can possibly describe them, we can do some basic reasoning on them, but we will always picture a model that is not quite exactly like the real thing.

I find it almost scary to think about all the knowledge we will never be able to acquire. It is almost depressing that regardless of what we are going to accomplish in the future, our knowledge of the universe we live in will always be an incomplete and wrong model, based on our limited perceptual abilities rather than some absolute truth.

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