“Our automaton engages in a meta-dialogue about its own structure.”
-Recursive Distinctioning (2016), Joel Isaacson, Louis H. Kauffman
In this introductory post, I will outline my vision for this blog, touch on the main topics and how they are interrelated, and give an outline of who I am and my personal philosophies that will inform what I write.
Hi, my name is Jonathan Paprocki, but you can call me Poprox. The Advancedness Project is a blog whose aim is to explain and synthesize three computing trends that are set to fundamentally change the world in a way that may be just as deep, and perhaps even deeper, as the original digital computing revolution. These computing trends are quantum computing, decentralized/distributed computing, and qualia computing. I will refer to these trends collectively as “QDQ”. While there are many excellent blogs already covering each one of these computing topics individually, I do not yet know of one covering all three in an interrelated manner, and I wish to fill that vacuum. Another computing trend that is every bit as important is machine learning, and I will occasionally write about it, but it won’t be one of the primary focuses (this may change down the line, however). This is mostly because it is far outside of my expertise and I cannot focus on too many ideas at once, though it is certainly very interrelated to the other aforementioned computing trends.
I imagine my typical audience to be scientifically literate but not an amateur or expert in any of the QDQ trends. I aim to write detailed, well-researched posts on these topics with many sources, but nothing so technical that it would be found in a research journal. I will not presume much prior knowledge on any of the topics, and the first few introductory posts will be a bibliography of resources on the basics of these topics.
Now, I’d like to say a bit about myself so you know where I am coming from and what has lead me to this point. At the time of writing I am 28 years old. I have lived in the United States for my entire life, growing up in the Midwest and then moving to Georgia to attend Georgia Tech. I got out in 2011 with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and a B.S. in Physics, and then spent 6 months working as a programmer in the Pattern Formation and Control Lab at Georgia Tech. I had a short stint on the reality show, King of the Nerds, for shits and giggles. Immediately afterward, I started my Ph.D. in mathematics at UCLA, but ended up transferring to Georgia Tech in 2014 for a number of reasons. I am now at a late stage in my math Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, with my focus split equally between quantum computing and quantum topology, an esoteric area of mathematics which has deep connections with topological phases of matter, (topological) quantum computing, protein folding, and potentially to decentralized computing and qualia computing as well. Quantum topology will be another recurring topic, but only as it relates to QDQ, and I certainly will be starting from scratch when discussing this topic, presuming that the reader knows absolutely nothing about it. Many ideas in quantum topology are surprisingly accessible to non-mathematicians/physicists due the fact that it is a highly pictorial field, and I intend to exploit that. My adviser is Thang Lê, an expert in quantum topology. I expect to graduate in 2019 or 2020, and at that point will be seeking employment in the quantum computing sector (recruiters are encouraged to email me!).
I consider myself to be an expert-in-training on quantum computing and quantum topology and you can expect that my views on these topics will be fairly well-informed. In my research I am most focused on a particular type of quantum computer, namely topological quantum computers, but will not focus on topological quantum computers in particular on this blog.
I am an amateur in decentralized computing, first becoming interested in Bitcoin in 2010 and having made my first purchases with Bitcoins in 2011 when the price was around $7 and I was terrified it would plummet to zero at any minute and wanted to spend them as quickly as possible. I read a lot about blockchain technology and became quite fascinated by it. I spent a period of time mining Bitcoins and other cryptocurrency in 2013–2014, but now consider Bitcoin usage and mining to be unethical given the energy consumption. I think in general that blockchain technologies cannot be effectively scaled to be truly global on a long time scale, and all the scaling solutions that I feel I understand at the moment are stop-gap at best. This quote nicely sums up why I think this despite the fact that I don’t have a full understanding of all of the proposed scaling solutions.
“Stop the Nonsensus! (Nonsense Consensus): Systems will never scale if you require global consensus for local actions by independent agents. For example, I should not have to know where every dollar in the economy is when I want to buy something from you. That adds an overhead of ridiculous complexity to something which needs to follow the principle of pushing intelligence and agency to the edges rather than center.”
-Perspectives on Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies, Arthur Brock
This won’t be a cryptocurrency blog. I will be mostly focused on post-blockchain technologies and in particular the organizational principles behind them. I won’t focus on whether I think a given technology will be successful, and instead will only care about new ways of thinking about decentralized and distributed computing. I’ve waxed and waned on my interest in this space over the years, but think it has finally matured to the point where it is on the cusp of mainstream adoption and so there is no better time to start writing about it and getting the most unique ideas into the heads of the widest audience possible. Whenever it is relevant, I will mention whether I hold any stake in a given cryptocurrency, since that of course can color one’s views. At the moment, the post-blockchain technology I find to be the most original in terms of organizing principles is Holochain. I have given money to this project, and plan to write about it regularly (as well as its parent project, a distributed operating system called Ceptr), but will always be open to the idea that there are even better implementations of decentralized/distributed computing.
The area of computing I have the least amount of expertise is in qualia computing, and at this point in time most of what I can do is gesture vaguely in the general direction of the Qualia Computing blog. While I expect most of my readers have at least heard of quantum computing and decentralized computing at this point, I expect very few people to have heard of qualia computing. This is the study of the computational properties of consciousness itself. I had the great pleasure of meeting the author of Qualia Computing and founder of the Qualia Research Institute, Andres Gomez Emilsson, last summer and really think that he is onto something incredibly groundbreaking. This is the topic that I will have the most trouble relating to the others, but I have inklings in that direction and one reason I am making this blog is to develop those inklings into fleshed out ideas.
Again, I ought to mention machine learning though it is not a focus of this blog. I personally experimented for a time with using deep learning techniques to understand quantum topology and quantum compiling (i.e. turning a quantum program into machine-level instructions for a quantum computer) in 2016, but ultimately decided that it was better use of time for me to focus on other things, such as writing open source software to compute quantum invariants on quantum computer (simulators) (a work in progress), and coming up with a topological quantum compiling algorithm that was more satisfying and explanatory than brute-forcing it with deep learning (another work in progress that may someday be the topic of posts). So I do have some personal experience with machine learning techniques, but overall am no more informed on the topic than a typical non-machine-learning-focused software developer I would imagine.
If I had to estimate the proportion of content I plan to write for this blog for the first year, I’d say about 60% quantum computing, 30% decentralized/distributed computing, and 10% qualia computing.
Being a mathematician, this blog will inevitably involve some amount of mathematics. However, I will avoid being too technical and will always endeavor to explain thing in terms that a typical scientifically literate person should be able to follow. When I fail at this, I encourage readers to comment and I will try to elaborate. The only mathematics I expect a reader to already be familiar with will be complex numbers and basic linear algebra. I will direct readers to resources on these topics in my first post (this being number 0).
The foremost point and most controversial and possibly flat-out wrong idea that I wish to espouse on this blog, the idea which was also the revelation that was the tipping point that caused me to decide to begin this project at all is the following. I propose that humans, and most biological organisms in general, are decentralized quantum computers (that also utilize other modes of computation) that experience the universe via qualia and qualia computing. Furthermore, I espouse that the universe itself is a vast decentralized quantum computer (this is essentially true via the operational definition of a quantum computer as a physical system that can efficiently simulate any other physical system). This enormously speculative idea is delicately balanced on a number of difficult propositions, and all of them should be treated with the highest level of skepticism. Each one of these points will eventually be elaborated upon extensively, and I suspect will form the main focuses of the blog for at least the first year.
1) The brain is a quantum computer, or more specifically some essential functionality of the brain is quantum in nature. This general concept is truly a landmind-littered wasteland and I hesitate to express this particular view despite my dedication to fearless speculation. Innumerable frauds have proposed something of this nature with little to no scientific evidence to back it up, and I certainly don’t wish to be the next one in that long list if I can help it. Lauded mathematical physicist Roger Penrose proposed something along these lines with The Emperor’s New Mind in 1989 but most informed scientists have found his line of reasoning to be lacking. What I believe to be a a much more promising avenue to this idea was recently proposed by condensed matter theorist Matthew Fisher. This will be the subject of a future blog post. The short version of it is that there is a candidate for a “neural qubit”, namely the nuclei of phosphorous atoms whose quantum state is protected from the environment by a cage called the Posner molecule.
2) Many phenomena in biology are fundamentally quantum in nature. There is plenty of well-established science on quantum biology. The most prominent examples I am aware of are that photosynthesis is fundamentally quantum in nature, that birds utilize quantum effects to detect the Earth’s magnetic field, and that the sense of smell is fundamentally quantum. Evolution has clearly repeatedly made use of quantum mechanics to solve biological problems, and is an incredibly efficient problem-solver in general over long periods of time. Why then should should we be overly wary of the idea of quantum effects in the brain and elsewhere? I find it difficult to imagine that despite the evidence of quantum effects in several fundamental biological processes that the most complicated and mysterious biological system known to us, the brain, would encompass no relevant quantum phenomena. I absolutely do not wish to express the intellectually lazy idea that mysteriousness=quantum, merely that it is foolish to be overly hostile to the idea of there being relevant quantum effects in the brain despite the naively reasonable supposition that it is too hot for quantum effects to be at play. The degree to which quantum theory plays a role in the brain is certainly up for debate, but I predict that someday there will be indisputable evidence of quantum effects at play in the brain.
3) RNA in particular, and some proteins in general implement (aspects of) universal quantum computation. The short version of this story is as follows. The logic behind how proteins are folded is equivalent to a certain type of topological quantum field theory known as Chern-Simons theory, and in quantum topology there is a cottage industry of study being done on how methods of quantum topology can be used to understand protein folding. The quickest and most accessible introduction to this circle of ideas I can offer is the following 15 minute YouTube video which is an interview with one of the foremost researchers on this topic, Jørgen Andersen, who is the director of the Center for the Quantum Geometry of Moduli Spaces in the Netherlands. Expanding upon this particular idea will be one of the early goals of this blog.
4) Decentralized computing systems based on biomimicry are effective and efficient in a manner that blockchains have failed to achieve. Biomimicry is one of the primary ideas that has informed the development of Holochain, and its more general parent projects Ceptr (a decentralized operating system) and the Metacurrency Project (which I am not yet at the point where I feel comfortable attempting to explain). There does appear to be efficient ways to share information among large decentralized networks, and biological system make use of it. It stands to follow that there are efficient ways of sharing quantum information on a large scale, and the idea that a biological organism is a gigantic quantum computer does not seem so crazy at that point. This is an important point at which to mention the no-cloning theorem, which states that quantum information cannot be copied. So I am not saying that all biological information is quantum, but that an essential component of it is, and will explore how it can be shared within a biological system.
5) As one experiences the universe via qualia and qualia computing, and (we are assuming) quantum computing is fundamental to the functionality of the brain, it stands to reason that there ought to be some direct connection between qualia computing and quantum computing. This is the most mysterious and least well understood QDQ interlink in my opinion. I do not claim to have any particular understanding in this direction yet, but I do have a couple of poorly developed strings I’d like to develop further and write about.
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Politically, I am something of a leftist and socialist, but this blog will not focus on politics, except when it may be related to QDQ. Indeed, I think decentralized computing would be an essential component of an anarcho-socialist society, but am agnostic about whether that would be a good thing. I only mention my political leanings to give readers a more complete view on me. I don’t intend to get into arguments about politics and will most likely ignore politically motivated commentary unless it is directly relevant to the content of the post. I am focused on science. I do encourage people of all political stripes to participate in the comments and do not consider this blog to be a left-wing project in any way. I do not consider myself to be a typical left-winger and occasionally diverge from this school of thought, but overall it is an accurate label for me. I do want to make it clear that I advocate decentralized/distributed computing for socialist reasons, but in the context of this blog I am mostly interested in understanding how it relates to the other two Q’s.
I have a handful of philosophical views which are deeply important to me. In terms of religion, I have always been agnostic, but also consider myself to be a Discordian, a “fake” religion based on “nonsense” which I was sucked into in 2014. I don’t plan to write directly about Discordianism, but it certainly informs many of my views and thought processes. Speaking more generally, I have read a lot of Robert Anton Wilson, the author most famous for the Illuminatus! trilogy, which was the first Discordian fiction. I take a lot of what he wrote seriously, but certainly not as dogma. The most important thing I’ve taken from Discordianism is the idea that your beliefs program how you experience the world, and that by constantly changing your beliefs you experience a wider spectrum of the world than someone with fixed beliefs. So I follow Wilson’s philosophy of “generalized agnosticism” — agnosticism about everything, and any belief system I hold (I’m thinking mostly in philosphical terms) is usually and purposefully temporary. I’ve felt that this way of thinking jives particularly well with mathematics, where one assumes a set of axioms and works from there, and taking no issue with changing those axioms at any time just to see where that leads.
In that vein, I currently consider myself to be a believer in nonduality (see also https://www.scienceandnonduality.com), open individualism, and am not a materialist. I think materialism has reached a dead end in explanatory power when it comes to consciousness, and we need to experiment with other conceptions of ground level reality if we ever really want to understand consciousness, which I do think is understandable with the scientific method. Unlike politics, I do have a direct reason for mentioning these things as I think they will be related to QDQ, but part of the reason I am creating this blog is so that I may understand this connection more deeply. The most directly related QDQ topic is qualia computing, but I am still grasping at how the others are related.
I consider myself to be a transhumanist and all that entails. I believe in total autonomy and control over one’s own body. I look forward to a future where one may alter their own genetic code (via CRISPR or some other method), which may someday be understood as the quantum program underlying one’s biology. It is clear that QDQ computing will contribute greatly to the cause of transhumanism. I think it natural and inevitable for humankind to push the boundaries imposed upon it by biology and eventually transcend them.
While this somehow seems unrelated I feel the need to mention it anyways since it is so integral to my life — I consider myself to be a “burner” and a member of the larger, regionally oriented Burning Man community. The first burn I attended was the Georgia regional burn, Alchemy, in 2009, and I have attended a few burns per year ever since, including Burning Man itself in 2012. I perceive Burning Man and the cultural movement erupting around it as being one of the most important and relevant cultural innovations of our generation, and see themes of QDQ computing gradually emerging from this movement. I find that burns are positivity and creativity generators for the human race, and much of my more radical speculation somehow stems directly from my involvement in the burn community and the art projects I have been involved with in that context.
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A note about the name, “The Advancedness Project”. I am hoping that the corny name gets me a few more clicks-turned-readers, and that the content will then suck people in from there. One of my unusual speech patterns is the tendency to use the word “advanced” to describe anything particularly mind-bending, ridiculous, or novel. I’m not sure where I got this from, my best theory is this 3 second clip from Invader Zim that I remember from my childhood.
I think that QDQ computing is extremely advanced, and I think the fun of “writing about advancedness” will be an effective motivator for me.
I’m looking forward to working hard on this project and to uncover fragments of how QDQ technologies will change our world, and to bring knowledge of these changes to a wider audience. I encourage readers to leave comments, especially if they are corrections. I will strive to be 100% correct on technical details, and will emphasize when I am giving my personal opinion on something rather than something that has scientific consensus. I utilize Wilson’s system of putting the likelihood of any proposition being true on a scale from 0 to 10, and that if I put any idea at a 0 or 10 then I attempt to convince myself in the other direction to push myself towards a 1 or a 9. I am prepared to make wide-reaching speculation on topics that do not yet have much of a scientific basis, and I am prepared to make many wrong speculations for the chance that some of them may be correct. This may occasionally drift into fringe science and I will note when that happens. There is a continuous spectrum in science, going from facts that are nearly universally agreed upon to ideas made by crackpots with no rigorous thinking behind them whatsoever. Most of the the biggest advancements in science are made somewhere at the midpoint, and so I think it is important to take fringe ideas seriously as long as they are made in good faith and with due deference to the scientific method. An example of some fringey ideas I may eventually write about include morphic resonance and the deeper meaning of recursive distinctioning. I will not engage in discourse about ideas that I perceive as being too far at the other end of the spectrum, such as aliens, magic(k), and remote viewing. I try to keep myself informed on these topics to some extent because you never know what will turn out to be real, but also recognize that time and energy spent on these topics is probably mostly a waste and would drive away a portion of readers I’d like to keep. I do think that practices like meditation, yoga, and spirituality have some relevance to the primary topics of this blog, and do practice meditation and occasionally yoga, but consider myself poorly informed on these topics and plan to mostly avoid them in the near future, but that is always subject to change.
Ultimately I want this project to be a fun and pleasurable journey for myself and its readers, and look forward to where it ends up going, even if it is straight to the wastepaper basket of scientific history. At least we will have tried.
“It seems plain and self-evident, yet it needs to be said: the isolated knowledge obtained by a group of specialists in a narrow field has in itself no value whatsoever, but only in its synthesis with all the rest of knowledge and only inasmuch as it really contributes in this synthesis toward answering the demand, ‘Who are we?’”
- “Science and Humanism” (1951), Erwin Schrödinger