eBook Permutation CityAuthor Greg Egan – 91videos.co

Permutation City Bursting with ideas about artificial life, virtual realities, digital consciousness, etc Originally posted at Fantasy LiteraturePermutation City 1994 won the John W Campbell Award and is probably Greg Egan s best known book It is a very dense, in depth examination of digital vs.physical consciousness, computer simulations of complex biological systems, virtual reality constructs, and multi dimensional quantum universes Yeah, pretty intimidating stuff In fact, it was so over my head the first time I gave up in defeat Then it started to bother me such mind boggling ideas were worth another attempt So I listened to the book again and I think I got some of it The final third of the book is still beyond my comprehension, but the first two thirds present two carefully described ideas that are worth examining Dust Theory and the TVC universe Piqued your interest If so, read on.Permutation City details attempts in the mid 21st century to create an artificial universe based in the Autoverse, a computer generated environment where digital copies of wealthy people can enjoy a limited form of immortality in virtual reality Most books would be content to go with that, but Egan is just getting started Mysterious entrepreneur Paul Durham is pitching to aging millionaires a far superior and secure version of the Autoverse, and also hires solo programmer Maria to create a digital simulation of the early conditions on Earth that gave rise to life He is stingy with the details, but Maria needs the money to help her ailing mother, so she signs on.The only way for Paul to test the quality of the digital copies of his clients consciousnesses is to try it on himself But each time he makes a copy, they choose to terminate themselves almost immediately After numerous tries, he decides to remove their bailout option, forcing a copy of himself to remain alive and cooperate with him to further the project This bears a superficial resemblance to Robert J Sawyer s The Terminal Experiment, but that book took the cheap Michael Crichton techno thriller route, whereas Permutation City is exponentially intelligent and ambitious During his experiments with his digital copy, he discovers that even if he rearranges the chronological order of distinct slices of the copies consciousness, his copy still experiences events in an internally consistent way that defies expectation There s no was for me to explain it, other than to quote the text Now he was dust To an outside observer, these ten seconds had been ground up into ten thousand uncorrelated moments and scattered throughout real time and in model time, the outside world had suffered an equivalent fate Yet the pattern of his awareness remained perfectly intact somehow he found himself, assembled himself from these scrambled fragments He d been taken apart like a jigsaw puzzle but his dissection and shuffling were transparent to him Somehow on their own terms the pieces remained connected.Imagine a universe entirely without structure, without shape, without connections A cloud of microscopic events, like fragments of space time except that there is no space or time What characterizes one point in space, for one instant Just the values of the fundamental particle fields, just a handful of numbers Now, take away all notions of position, arrangement, order, and what s left A cloud of random numbers.But if the pattern that is me could pick itself out from all the other events taking place on this planet, why shouldn t the pattern we think of as the universe assemble itself, find itself, in exactly the same way If I can piece together my own coherent space and time from data scattered so widely that it might as well be part of some giant cloud of random numbers, then what makes you think that you re not doing the very same thing Is your mind completely blown at this point I had to read this through these passages several times, attempting to process them Only by transcribing this was I able to grasp the idea It may be completely outlandish, but I give Egan kudos for sheer daring It is a variant of quantum mechanics, but goes a full step beyond that by postulating that the universe can and does take shape from pure randomness each and every moment of our subjective existence What was he taking when he came up with that I m pretty sure I haven t seen that in hard SF of the time, as this was written back in 1994.He labels this bizarre concept Dust Theory, and this forms the foundations for an even dazzling idea, that of the Turing von Neumann Chiang TVC universe Again, this is subject matter enough for another book itself The only way to explain this is to quote Egan again at length There s a cellular automaton called TVC After Turing, von Neumann and Chiang Chiang s version was N dimensional That leaves plenty of room for data within easy reach In two dimensions, the original von Neumann machine had to reach further and further and wait longer and longer for each successive bit of data In a six dimensional TVC automaton, you can have a three dimensional grid of computers, which keeps on growing indefinitely each with its own three dimensional memory, which can also grow without bound.And when the simulated TVC universe being run on the physical computer is suddenly shut down, the best explanation for what I ve witnessed will be a continuation of that universe an extension made out of dust Maria could almost see it a vast lattice of computers, a seed of order in a sea of random noise, extending itself from moment to moment by sheer force of internal logic, accreting the necessary building blocks from the chaos of non space time by the very act of defining space and time.By this point Egan had either excited computer science and quantum physics geeks into paroxysms of pure ecstasy, or driven liberal arts majors running screaming in the other direction Initially I just couldn t get it, but after transcribing it, I find it makes some sense if you accept the initial assumptions a big if, of course But believe it or not, this is still the halfway point of Permutation City, and things get EVEN MORE MIND BOGGLING as it proceeds The question arises of whether the TVC universe is infinite or will collapse from entropy as most theorists expect of our own universe Paul Durham s answer is The TVC universe will never collapse Never A hundred billion years, a hundred trillion it makes no difference, it will always be expanding Entropy is not a problem Actually, expanding is the wrong word the TVC universe grows like a crystal, it doesn t stretch like a balloon Think about it Stretching ordinary space increases entropy everything becomes spread out, disordered Building of a TVC cellular automaton just gives you room for data, computing power, order Ordinary matter would eventually decay, but these computers aren t made out of matter There s nothing in the cellular automaton s rules to prevent them from lasting forever.Durham s universe being made of the same dust as the real one, merely rearranged itself The rearrangement was in time as well as space Durham s universe could take a point of space time from just before the Big Crunch, and follow it with another from ten million years BC And even if there was only a limited amount of dust to work with, there was no reason why it couldn t be reused in different combinations, again and again The fate of the TVC automaton would only have to make internal sense and the thing would have no reason, ever, to come to an end.In Part Two, the story jumps forward in time, to after the TVC universe, now commonly known as Elysium, has been created and six thousand years have passed internally Moreover, the artificial life that Maria set the initial conditions of, called Autobacterium Lamberti, has gone through billions of years of virtual evolution using the unlimited computing power of the TVC universe, resulting in an entirely new intelligent species They are insect like, group minded, and increasingly inquisitive about their world However, they are unaware of the creators, humanity, or that their world was created by artificially As they start to investigate the founding principles of their world, Paul Durham and Maria become concerned that their experiments will threaten the fundamental principals of the TVC universe, due to a very byzantine thought process that suggests, to the best of my understanding, that it is the understanding of a given universe and its physical laws and properties that determine those laws and properties So as the Lambertians begin to examine their world closely, they are undermining the laws set in the Garden of Eden configuration Here are some excerpts I think the TVC rules are being undermined or subsumed into something larger Do you know why I chose the Autoverse in the first place instead of real world physics Less computation Easier to seed with life No nuclear processes No explanation for the origin of the elements I thought in the unlikely event that the planet yielded intelligent life, they d still only be able to make sense of themselves on our terms It never occurred to me that they might miss the laws that we know are laws, and circumvent the whole problem They haven t settled on any kind of theory, yet They might still come up with a cellular automaton model complete with the need for a creator.We can t shut them down I think that proves that they re already affecting Elysium If they successfully explain their origins in a way which contradicts the Autoverse rules, then that may distort the TVC rules Perhaps only in the region where the Autoverse is run or perhaps everywhere And if the TVC rules are pulled out from under us What a fascinating question what happens when the artificial life you ve created starts to investigate its own origins Will it guess correctly Or make up its own explanations, religious or otherwise Flipping the perspective from the created to the creator is just one of the many mind expanding ideas that Egan seems to have in endless supply.The end of the book involves Paul and Maria s efforts to make contact with the Lambertians and convince them that they are indeed creations of humans, and that they should believe in our universe s laws in order to maintain them It was pretty difficult to follow this part, even after two listens, but if you could understand Dust Theory and the TVC universe, then perhaps this will make sense to you as well My mind was somewhat overwhelmed by this point, but I can t say for sure if it s the fault the writer so much as my own ability to understand While many books may have entertaining characters or plots, Permutation City is one of the most ambitious explorations of digital consciousness, artificial life, and the fundamental assumptions behind our quantum universe that I have ever encountered It s not an easy read, but it will expand your mind.Notes on the Audible version Just as he was for Quarantine, narrator Adam Epstein really is hopeless, especially his atrocious Australian, German, Italian, Russian, and Chinese accents It would be one thing to do all those accents in the most stereotyped and insulting way possible, but he somehow manages to switch accents for the SAME CHARACTER mid dialogue It s like a painful sketch on Saturday Night Live Sometimes I was reduced to tears of laughter hearing how awful they were It makes me wonder if he modeled his accents on the bad guys in action movies He also regularly mispronounced words Of the many cringe worthy mistakes he made in this book, I laughed the most at his misreading of causal structure as casual structure However, it s not surprising that his audiobooks are just 1.99 each, but it s really a disfavor to Greg Egan s work In the end, I would probably appreciate Permutation City much if I had read the Kindle version which is only 2.99 I still might not fully understand it, but at least I can do better accents. This was my first introduction to Greg Egan and it blew my mind Permutation City was the first book I ever read that made me say, Wow, that s a really interesting argument Other books made me think, huh, maybe we will have jet blaster space rays in the future but this one presents a serious and troubling philosophical argument Permutation City isn t as fast paced or as idea dense as some of his other works but the ideas are much bigger and provocative Egan is often criticized for lacking literary virtues like character development and deep complex psychological interaction I don t deny that this isn t high literature but I think the criticism is misplaced Egan doesn t write about emotional soap operas, if that s what I wanted I would just go out and talk to real people, but he writes about ideas I think his charachters are quite believeable but they just aren t the focus of the show.In Permutation City Egan draws out some of the consequences of strong AI, in particular the hypothesis that any system which implements the same computation as the human brain would have the same experiences Egan argues that the notion of a computation is sufficently broad undefined that if we take this idea seriously we have to accept that almost any situation we can imagine experiencing is being experienced by someone One might view this as a fiction analog of Chalmer s view that a computational theory of the mind will entail pan psychism or less.If you like philosophy and can handle abstract arguments that make mincemeet of common sense but aren t absurd you will like this book If you want an emotional soap opera or you stop listening as soon as people talk about abstract things like math or philosophy don t even bother reading the blurb on the back. The Story Of A Man With A Vision Immortality For Those Who Can Afford It Is Found In Cyberspace Permutation City Is The Tale Of A Man With A Vision How To Create Immortality And How That Vision Becomes Something Way Beyond His Control Encompassing The Lives And Struggles Of An Artificial Life Junkie Desperate To Save Her Dying Mother, A Billionaire Banker Scarred By A Terrible Crime, The Lovers For Whom, In Their Timeless Virtual World, Love Is Not Enough And Much Permutation City Is Filled With The Sense Of Wonder The Book of Greg1 And the LORD said, lo, for now seest thou through a glass, darkly but then face to face now knowest thou in part but then shalt thou know even as also I am known.2 And Greg said, come on God Stop tantalising me with all this mystical bullshit and givest Thou me the straight dope Please view spoiler 3 And the LORD said, okay Greg, since thou askest so nicely thy world is but a cellular automaton, here, let me give unto thee these stone tablets, on which I have graven all the rules Good stuff isn t it 4 And Greg said, that s very interesting God, but I can tell there s to it Like, what be the meta universe in which thou hast implemented the cellular automaton Cause I know it s there.5 And the LORD said, verily art thou a smart cookie Greg, I can hide nothing from thee Okay, I admit it Thy cellular automaton is embedded in this abstract machine which extends a design originated by my servant John von Neumann, here s how it works, and it will function for all eternity, glory be to My name, amen Now wilt thou stop asking annoying questions 6 And Greg said, not so fast God Where did Thy von Neumann machine come from, eh I strongly suspect that Thou art no than a hacky, poorly implemented simulated person Who cobbled all this together, am I right And as for the idea that it is going to persist for all eternity, makest Thou not me to laugh, alleluia.7 And the LORD was covered in confusion, and mumbled, I am what I am, for fuck s sake stop prying into My background, we should never have got started on this Go on, writest thou a science fiction novel about it if thou likest, see if I care.8 And Greg said, okay God, I might just do that.9 Here endeth the Book of Greg, but misseth thou not the sequel hide spoiler Is reality computable, and the Church Turing Thesis applicable only to formal models of computation, or to physical reality too As the human mind is a sophisticated information processing piece of biological machinery, what would happen if we managed to create a software copy of our minds bearing in mind the limitations imposed by the no cloning theorem would it still be us Would it suffice for the generation of subjective experiences that the computational processes of a human brain can be structurally replicated in suitably fine grained detail Is the sense of self an illusion, and haecceity just a philosophical construct with no real correspondence to the reality of the individual mind What is the relationship between memory and individuality Is there anything to reality than the patterns that inform it Is reality just information structured according to complex patterns Would we be able to tell if we live in a computer simulation To what extent could you change or remove some of your memories for example, some of your bad experiences while still being you Is immortality a bliss or an eternal punishment, and what would be the meaning of life in such extreme circumstances Many such philosophical questions are asked in this visionary, brilliant, hallucinatory universe, developed by the author in a crescendo of mind blowing conceptual creations, embedded in a nested Matryoshka dolls structure It is not recursion gone mad, but it occasionally gets quite close to it This is The Matrix and Blade Runner with steroids.Sometimes asking too much suspension of disbelief, but overall a uniquely brilliant piece of hard science fiction, this is a strange and riveting book, delivering some moments of pure, highly ingenious creativity Not for the faint hearted, but still highly recommended just do not forget to wear your seat belts we are dealing here with the Roger Penrose of Science Fiction 4 stars. I should probably have read Egan s bio before buying this Greg Egan specialises in hard science fiction stories with mathematical and quantum ontology I rarely read SF and soon realised I might be out of my depth with this novel It s incredibly cerebral, consisting of science than story as if Egan was concerned in establishing the credibility of his vision of a world where humans clone themselves electronically and live in virtual worlds to computer programmers and quantum theory boffins than make any kind of appeal to people like me who simply want a good story Often dialogue consisted of one character taking on the role of the author explaining to a less well informed character the reader how the science or technology worked and I found this method very wooden Often the very long winded technical details of what was going on went completely over my head There was also a lack of human warmth or even interest in the novel At times it read like a manual than a novel The story only really begins in the last fifty pages and finally, when I was hooked, the novel ended Against that was the undoubted brilliance and breadth of Egan s ideas which certainly provided much food for thought I d suggest though that this is only likely to appeal to hardcore SF buffs who demand any vision of the future be scientifically and technologically justified in painstaking detail. What starts and ends as a basic search for immortality as data, as in uploading perfect copies of yourself to cheat death indefinitely, makes this 1994 novel a rather focused utopian novel Not that things are all rosy, of course, but that it s the search for utopia, or heaven on earth, that drives the characters here.Distinctions get very hazy between real and real When the universe is math and math is the universe, a perfect copy as data will have no real difference with everything we have Change some basic laws, add new elements, ramp up your perceptions or slow them way down It doesn t really matter Create a universe that is self evolving, have it compete with itself and all the parts within it, run a simulation of Life, and turn Darwinism and Game Theory upon data elements.It s smart It s evolution in data And when you can live thousands of years working out all the kinks in your programming in a few eyeblinks in that boring other reality, why not go all the way and live forever for real, speeding up and slowing down within the actual universe, give yourself robot waldos, meet new neighbors or aliens and generally play god We re already the running software platform in our own universe, after all Matter doesn t really exist anyway We re running on an encoded holographic universe This novel just flips the concept in a mirror and spells out what we might need to do to survive.Sure, we ve seen this concept done many times now, but look at the date here It s ALSO been done before, but few have gone as far or all out as Greg Egan The denizens of Permutation City seem to be doing it right.Yes, there s a good story and good characters, too, but in its heart, this is definitely a utopian novel I really miss those. This is a tough book to evaluate The characters are two dimensional exposition machines, the prose is largely utilitarian, and even the plot is pretty flimsy Further, the conceit at the heart of the novel and the fulcrum for all of the action is a theory the so called dust theory that is ridiculous balderdash and, if taken seriously, basically an excuse for moral heinousness However, the book is also an amazingly thoughtful rumination on the philosophical and psychological issues that would arise with translating our consciousness onto a computer substrate Egan evaluates the challenges that would arise if you were able to copy yourself, personality, memories, and all, into a virtual world in a computer, and how that copy would interact with your original meat version, how the copy would adapt to the limits of its new environment, and what the legal and moral obligations would be in interacting with such copies It s like a really interesting essay on the Singularity with a fine lace of silly plot frippery around the edges Further, Egan was incredibly prescient on a number of points writing in the early to mid 90s among other ideas, cloud computing, markets for computing cycles, etc , and the book has aged pretty well This is probably not my first choice for books about mind uploading, but it s a pretty interesting take and worth the read for anyone interested in the subject Also, it totally affected my dreams the whole time I was reading it, which is always a good sign. I don t read a lot of hard sf because my understanding of science is rudimentary at best, but I do tend to enjoy it when I read one that do not go too far over my head I feel I only need to understand the basic plot and the characters motivation, the whys if not the hows of it If those conditions are met then my patchy understanding of the scientific details is not too much of an impediment and the bits that get through to me tend to be quite fascinating.So it is with Permutation City which had me hooked from Chapter One which takes place inside a computer no, not the plastic casing and is told from the point of view of a simulated personality, a software version of the protagonist The opening scene where this simulated man wakes up and feel an unbearable disconnection from reality is like nothing I have ever read before The story of this book is based on the author s dust theory which posits thatThere is no difference, even in principle, between physics and mathematics, and that all mathematically possible structures exist, among them our physics and therefore our spacetimeWikipedia If I understand this theory correctly it means that there is no difference between a simulated person called a Copy in this book constructed from mathematics and the original flesh and blood person To experiment on or delete such a person would be cruel and unethical, not to mention absolutely beastly Virtual Reality as portrayed in this book is actually a layer of reality where actions tend to have consequences which are just as real to the people in this environment Without going into the synopsis this book is essentially about what constitute reality, an examination of the nature of the consciousness, and the implication and psychological impact of digitization of personalities for the original people and the Copies.This cover nicely depicts the virtual city.The sf trope of digitizing or simulating personalities utilized so well in Richard K Morgan s Altered Carbon is done even better here For me the sticking point of this trope is that I do not believe that the digital version of myself would really be me regardless of the accuracy of the backup, if I am dead and gone the digital replacement would bring me back to life There is no right answer to this question, it depends on your personal belief However, the issue is very well explored hereTo me, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for the chance to be imitated by a computer after my death is just farcical I m not an eccentric millionaire, I don t want to spend my money or yours building some kind of talking monument to my ego I still have a sense of proportion I do believe that Copies are intelligent I just wouldn t say that they are or they aren t the same person as the person they were based on There s no right or wrong answer to that it s a question of semantics, not a question of truth Being scanned wouldn t make me feel any better about dying Whatever a Copy of me might think, if one was ever runand much later on in bookCopies, like funerals, were for the benefit of the survivorsPoor bloke is being digitized or something There are also many brilliant other concepts in this book How time can be slowed down in the virtual world the word cyberspace suddenly seems a bit quaint so that the time in reality just whizzes by There are slow clubs and slums for Copies of less well to do people who can not afford the expense of running their virtual counterparts in or near real time Also the launching of an entirely new virtual universe.What ultimately makes this book worthwhile for me though is that it is about people and the effects of technology on the human condition This may be the first sf book that seriously consider the philosophical implications of what the author calls conscious software I am always fascinated by the theme of how technology can change what it means to be human, and in order to explore this theme properly the characters need to be well developed and believable If they were just flat devices to service the plot it would render the theme completely ineffective Egan did a very good job with characterization here, few of the characters are actually likable but they have their own virtues and flaws As usual much of the science is beyond me and the book is completely devoid of humor not a necessity but always a bonus in serious novels but the book has given me plenty to ponder in the wee hours which is a great alternative to getting up to get ready for work Definitely a worthwhile and fascinating read.4.5 stars Related interview with author.Excellent Jo Walton s review of this book.Cool French cover The only other Greg Egan book I read is Diaspora, I can recommend it but with some reservations Please refer to my Diaspora review for details. If you re into stuff like this, you can read the full review I was six years old when my parents told me that there was a small, dark jewel inside my skull, learning to be me With this starts off one of the most astonishing short stories I ve ever read If you haven t read it, I urge you to do so Egan questions what it really means to be human in a way that it s quite unsurpassed in my mind.