Monday, 5 November 2012

Blip : Philosophy through Minecraft - Chaos theory

I’m rather happy with Pop’s Minecraft-based post explaining subjectivity of reality so I thought I’d try out the style for myself. Science and logic both heavily suggest that you cannot predict the future from information based in the past. Determinists will say that there is a given order to things and that certain events (if not all events) are destined or even pre-ordained and it’s logical, then, to assume from this that if one could get hold of these plans in one form or another, you could predict the future. Or at least you could know the future but do nothing about it and it would violate the idea anyway because it wouldn’t be based on the past.

What I’m talking about is predictability based on common occurrence. A ball is dropped a thousand times and acts the same way each time, we presume it will act the same way the 1001th time and every subsequent time providing all the conditions are the same. Chaos theory, however, debunks this and tells us that there are more factors than it is possible to take into account and as such nothing is ever truly predictable. 

Consider Minecraft-Blip:

He’s wandering around his blocky world as normal, he pushes he way through some trees and comes to an open clearing.

In the centre of the clearing he sees a line of pressure pads. He’s not seen these before and doesn’t know what they do. They’re utterly new to him so he goes over and investigates. 

They’re wooden. They’re evenly spaced across the ground and they seem to give no hint as to their function until, when examining one up close, Minecraft-Blip suddenly starts when he sees a sign by one of the strange pads.

Minecraft-Blip blinks and the sign has changed.

And again, the sign seems to change, although Minecraft-Blip can’t remember it ever being any different.

And like that!

The sign is gone and Minecraft-Blip is left alone, pondering the meaning of such an oddity. He’s very brave and somewhat dim so he steps right up and stands on the first pad.

And there was cake! The sign wasn’t lying! Excited by the prospect of more cake he runs down the line pushing each pad and receiving each cake until, just before the last one he comes across a sudden obstacle. 

It’s Minecraft-Pop telling him to stop. She berates him for being so gullible and trusting the sign but Minecraft-Blip defends his actions stating: “But it gave me cake, and the other four did too. Surely then this final one will dispense that iced goodness as well, anyway I’ve no time to talk, cake awaits!”

Alas, Minecraft-Blip was wrong.

And now it’s dark and his cake is out of reach!

So, what happened? Why did the effect not repeat indefinitely? Well that’s quite simple: Each pad is connected to redstone wiring under the ground, which Blip was not able to see. He had no idea what each one was wired up to and yet because he’d seen an effect once and then thought he perceived an identical circumstance, he guessed at an identical outcome. The differences between the pads were underground; this means that from Blip’s perception, they looked the same but there were factors that were unobservable that affected the outcome.

The same goes for the real world. There is no way you can ever have so strong a grip on reality and on every single factor in a given circumstance, that you can be certain as to the outcome of that situation. When you push a button, you expect an identical outcome forever and we can live our lives based on that idea, we presume that our cereal won’t randomly become poisonous and that the keys on our keyboards won’t start releasing toxic gasses at a moment’s notice and that seems to work. But the fact is, we cannot accurately predict effects without full knowledge of causes and in an open system (such as the world we live in) it is impossible to obtain that level of knowledge of the causes.

To put it simply, there is no way to know whether or not the mysterious sign is lying. All we can do is hope for cake. 


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