My contention with the whole concept is that creating an exact replica of a person’s consciousness is not equivalent to allowing someone to live forever, neatly illustrated by a variety of metaphors about creating exact copies of things… so much so that maybe I’ll just refer to this as the “Copy/Paste problem” from now on. It goes like this: A clone of your body is not you, a clone of your consciousness is not you, a clone of you is not you. Instead they are entities distinct from yourself, existing in a new place at a new time.
It’s weird to grapple with, so over the next few posts I will endeavor to explain myself further and outline for you some of the farther reaching consequences of this particular line of thought.
1. Non-referential universe, or “the real world doesn’t have pointers”
In C we have the concept of pointers. Think of your computer as the public library. Now imagine that on some of the shelves there are books that kinda look like the other books, but only contain the Dewey Decimal number of a book somewhere else in the library. In this way a book can be in multiple sections (e.g. music, history) of the library without anyone having to buy a bunch of copies of the book. Instead, we can just leave a placeholder that tells us where to look. You can do all sorts of interesting things with pointers, and we also find this same referential pattern implemented in many places throughout programmingdom but we’ll leave that to some other discussion. (Aside: Excel cell references are a good example of the referential nature of things that I’m trying to describe, as well. Particularly useful is the notion that changing data in a single cell can propagate to the entire spreadsheet.) The point (pun) is that data in one place can be accessed from another without creating a copy.
So, “the real world doesn’t have pointers.” This is important.
This means that all matter is self contained and that there is no place from which quantum particles or anything built of them permanently dereference(look up) information.
This means that our consciousness resides entirely inside of our body, and that we are not just a reference to information somewhere else. This is in line with most empiric world-views, since we may assume that our consciousness is the result of measurable brain activity, which is in turn the result of trillions of chemical reactions each second.
This means that no copy of us can be created that shares our consciousness.
Since our consciousness can not be in two places at once[?](being moored to our physical body), no other physical body can contain a reference to our physical body, and neither can two entities overlap to use the same consciousness, so it stands to reason that our consciousness is unique to us.
It also stands to reason that since matter is integral to consciousness we cannot simply “transfer” the consciousness into something else, and as I mentioned before, consciousness can’t grow wings and flap over to a new body…
To recap: You cannot contain a reference to any entity’s information, no entity can contain a reference to your information, you are unique.
So right now it looks like our only choice is to copy you. This is the Copy/Paste problem.
Stay tuned for pt. 2-2 where I tell you why winged consciousness is interesting.
I guess, I’ve always believed that nothing is withheld from us what we have conceived to do. Most people think the opposite – that all things are withheld from them which they have conceived to do and they end up doing nothing.
Take 20 minutes and watch this. Good business is about creating value, not capturing it.
After the team was assembled it fell upon us to think of something to do. We were nerds, never content to have done what someone else has done before; we needed to do something cool. Something innovative. We still embraced the giddy-science-nerdy goal of taking pictures from the edge of space, but no way would we stop there. Perhaps if we had set our eyes a little closer to the ground we would have actually accomplished all of our goals. As it stands, almost 2 years later, our team has finally accomplished what we intended to do in 3 months. We’ll need some divine intervention to accomplish what we had our sights on for 6 months. Oh lordy.
So maybe a more apt title for this blog would have been “Lofty Goals, Humbling Experience” as our group quickly discovered the limit of productivity for people working outside of their comfort zone and on an incredibly limiting timeline.
The brainstorming process was convoluted, but from the beginning we agreed on a couple things that would help us break the mold.
- Stabilization. We weren’t exactly sure how it was useful besides maybe enabling us to take prettier pictures, but we did know that we were going spin some motors crazy fast and stabilize the sh*t out our package. Or so we hoped.
- Sensors sensors sensors. How were we supposed to know if the package was stable without sensoring everything!?
- Safe payload recovery. Everybody was doing it. It was necessary to get our pictures back. Duh.
It was with these ideas firmly in mind that we began making small purchases towards our project. Hilariously huge military surplus weather balloons. Check. Styrofoam minnow bucket. Check. Crazy fast motors. Check. The receipts were starting to pile up when Mark and I had a serious epiphany:
Since we were doing something experimental we could apply for a Creative Work and Research Committee grant from Valpo! We could make our side project—our scheme-hatchery—into undergraduate research. We’d bump up the scientific rigor, write a nice abstract and badabing, badaboom! we’d have a nice resume line item, and part of the cost of the project would be defrayed. Much better than the $100 to $150 dollar price tag each that we had planned on. Mark even had attended a lecture by a Valpo professor about his work with high altitude balloons…
Enter Professor Gary Morris. Fulbright Scholar. Dean of Physics. Leader of more national projects than you can shake a stick at. He was the man that Mark had heard a presentation from, and when we told him that we wanted to work with high altitude balloons, and that we wanted him to be the advisor for our group, he was ecstatic. He was so into us, it was scary awesome. And it was to our benefit, of course.
He helped submit our proposal to the CWRC and was excited and involved without being controlling. He let us do our own thing. And for a long while we were damn proud of it. I suppose I still am. No one told us to do the things that we did. We made the decisions we needed to, purchased what we needed to, and pulled long hours to try to make everything work. We were an entirely self-guided group, at the risk of, well, exactly what happened happening.
It’s true. It was ultimately the self-guidedness that we were so proud of that led to our largest snafus. We had many ideas. And none of them worked. At least not really. I’ll cover the actual build processes in Part 3, but here are a few of our ideas that ultimately failed in one way or another.
First, our device for midair stabilization. The idea was simple. Two spinning discs, each spinning in a different direction to create the greatest amount of stabilization via gyrostat possible, and lock the payload vertical. Problem is, the design went something like this:
Which, merp, anyone who really understands physics and is paying attention would have divined the implausibility of such a device… two completely opposite inertia in a closed system will cancel. There will be no stabilization. Only heartbreak. We later reworked the design in an equally heartbreaking way, though that time through no foreseeable fault of our own. You’ll hear about it in Part 3.
Second, we spent a significant amount of time documenting the use of a service called instamapper to track balloon packages with cell phones. This proved to be particularly fruitless, because A) if your flight takes any significant amount of time (>3hrs) the phone will die of loneliness/constantly searching for service and B) as it turns out, using your cell phone in an air vehicle is illegal. Oops. Our bad. It might not seem like a big deal, since the chances of the law enforcement hearing about such a mistake are slim to none… but for the research institutions that are sending up thousands of dollars of equipment, obeying the law is paramount. Out of necessity an alternative was born, but not until much later.
Third, we tried to reinvent the wheel when it came to a sensor package. We purchased a PIC18f4550 microprocessor and 4 sensor chips, none of which had C libraries available. Only 1/4 of the sensors worked when I was done with them, despite over 72 hours of testing, wiring, rewiring, testing, facedesking and yelling. I can only imagine that it was my amateurish testing methods that made the debugging difficult by frying the sensitive ICs like twinkies at the state fair. Science man, it’s messy.
Even with Murphy breathing down our neck, we learned a lot. Mark went to Houston for 5 days and apprenticed with some serious weather balloon launchers, I learned more than I ever could have desired to have learned about microprocessors— things that are benefiting our research more than a year later! And we all learned a little bit about the real side of science, and had a fantastic time building things. It brought us together. Literally. We started 500 miles apart and it reunited us for a portion of the summer.
Eventually, we managed to actually get a balloon off the ground.
That and more in Part 3 (Build Season Odyssey)