An essay I wrote for the class "Philosophy of Computation"

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An essay I wrote for the class "Philosophy of Computation"

© All Rights Reserved

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Society

Manan Khattar

December 6, 2017

accurately understand the rationale behind the normative characterization of,

different aspects of existence. Whether it’s one culture over another, moral-

ity over immorality, one automaton vs another kind of automaton, there has

been some defining characteristic whose presence has allowed us to argue the

value of one of these values over the other. In 1968, Charles H. Bennett ar-

gued that metric to be “logical depth,” or computational content. In this sense,

the more complex/self-referential/uncomputable/time-intensive a schema/algo-

rithm is, the more normative it is from both a social and evolutionary perspec-

tive, and thus survives to be built on and improved by future generations. We’ve

related the difference in complexity between a set and its power set, and solving

P-complete vs NP-complete problems, to reducing the complexity of a person

or treating them as uncomputable. As such we’ve thoroughly explored the rela-

tionship between logical complexity, computer science, and social ethics, but in

doing so we’ve neglected to mention the other kinds of complexity prevalent in

the Universe; specifically, the Kolmogorov complexity that relates so excellently

with entropy in both the informational and physical sense. We now look at some

interesting conclusions that can be drawn by studying the latter; in particular,

Leonard Susskind’s argument in his book The Black Hole War that the Universe

ultimately prefers less complexity and more entropy, and all the 3-dimensional

information in black holes and possibly the Universe can be ultimately reduced

to a 2-dimensional hologram of that information. We then develop a discussion

of complexity theory linking the two fundamentally distinct concepts of quan-

tum mechanics and general relativity. We conclude with a somewhat whimsical

discussion of the treatment of complexity in today’s society, both Western and

Eastern, and how in that could lie a tie between algorithmic complexity and

logical complexity.

In their essay entitled “Organized Complexity: Is Big History a Big Compu-

tation?,” Jean-Paul Delahaye and Clément Vidal downplay the importance of

complexity in a physical and informational sense, “random complexity” as they

call it. They deem it unable to account for the distinctive information found in

an organized entity; they argue, for example, that the Kolmogorov complexity

of a random string can be mimicked with a completely different string with the

1

same randomness, so it doesn’t enclose organized information. I disagree with

this premise—first of all, it assumes that something that is truly random still

encloses some sort of information. By definition, informational complexity is the

lack of entropy, so if something is truly random, lacking any kind of complexity

or pattern, there is no useful information that logical depth could encapsulate

that algorithmic entropy could not. This in fact raises the question: why do

humans, no less Drs. Delahaye and Vidal, or more generally organized life, value

a different kind of complexity than seemingly the rest of the Universe? Why is

this idea of organizational complexity so important to life as we know it, how

does this relate to the theoretical computer science principles we’ve covered?

I would argue that just as there are differing levels of complexity within one

subfield, such as the number of objects and the number of relations between

objects, there are differing levels of complexity itself. This self-referential na-

ture of complexity, this strange loop found in the very subject itself, seems to

suggest that complexity as a study is not computable in some sense, and is thus

very characteristic of what it means to be human.

Disorganized complexity seems to study particles or entities as a whole and

study them with statistical/mathematical/computer science methods; indeed,

this principle is the basis for Boltzmann’s H-theorem, and much of statisti-

cal thermodynamics. An ideal example for this would be a collection of gas

molecules in a chamber; the millions of molecules themselves have interactions

between themselves, ranging from gravity to electromagnetism to even strong

weak and strong nuclear forces on scales infinitesimally small. However, in

studying them we ignore the impact of these forces and instead use statistical

mechanics methods to argue that the entropy of the system never decreases over

time; alternatively, the physical complexity of the system never increases with

time. As a physical formulation this law, the second law of thermodynamics,

is unique—not only is it not a hard and fast law, subject to being violated

with some non-zero probability like most statistical events, it is also the only

major law that is not reversible with time on a macroscopic scale. This funda-

mentally limits the complexity of the system in a sense, and perhaps give rise

to the existence of organizational complexity as a sort of pushback against the

seemingly inevitable march towards the heat death of the Universe. If this time

inevitability were reversible, perhaps there would be no need for organizational

complexity at all, as the Universe would naturally tend towards organization,

at least part of the time.

Interestingly enough, quantum mechanics and the informational theory of

black holes can be used to study the issue of complexity, and reveal conclusions

that while not directly applicable to human experience can nevertheless provoke

some reflection about the development of the Universe and our role in it. In

the quantum world the second law of thermodynamics does not necessarily ap-

ply—researchers at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory

investigated the behavior of quantum particles with respect to the H-theorem

and found instances of local negative entropy, meaning the complexity of the

system spontaneously increased. Perhaps even more interestingly, researchers

at the Beijing National Laboratory for Condensed Matter Physics studied the

2

second law of thermodynamics as it relates to “quantum memory,” and while I

do not completely understand the phenomenon, it is hard to miss the seeming

connection between the quantum world and many of the traits that character-

ize organizational complexity. General relativity, and its crowning achievement

the black hole, are stubbornly difficult to describe in a quantum mechanical

framework; indeed, the theory of quantum gravity is one of the biggest unsolved

problems in modern physics. I hypothesize, without scientific proof, that a pos-

sible reason for this difficulty is the inherently different mechanisms these two

systems have with respect to complexity theory. While we have argued that

quantum states tend to introduce the complexity of a system, Leonard Susskind

argues in The Black Hole War that black holes are much the opposite; to re-

solve Hawking’s information paradox, it is necessary that black holes store their

information on their 2-dimensional event horizon, much like a hologram. (For

a more detailed treatment of the subject, read Susskind’s book, it’s excellent.)

In doing so, they reduce the amount of information in the system from three

degrees of freedom to two, also reducing complexity. Perhaps if these two con-

tradicting complexity theories can be resolved, than an approach to quantum

gravity can be found? It’s an interesting problem to chew on assuming one has

much more theoretical background than I.

In conclusion, I want to address the final variety of complexity—the kind

that we humans use in our everyday conversations, the kind that has a negative

connotation and that we generally try to avoid. This course has argued that

greater complexity is good—assuming that humans are intractable and uncom-

putable has been shown to be the normative course of action. Why, then, do

we like to take shortcuts, compute people to a few fundamental characteristics,

prefer lesser complexity? The answer perhaps lies in the less energy expendi-

ture, from a neurobiological perspective, required to do so. Here we can find a

relation, however tenuous, between organizational and informational complex-

ity—depending on schemas, being in a state of logical disequilibrium, expends

less energy, thus keeping the amount of physical complexity higher. I suppose

this could suggest that the “normative” aspects of life are equivalent in a sense

to reducing the amount of physical complexity in the world by increasing the

amount of organizational complexity, and vice versa. Whatever the case may

be, the topic of complexity is an immensely interesting and far-reaching one,

and learning more about its implications through this course has been a great

time.

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