April 9, 2005
Has this idea of computational irreducibility changed the way you view your existence? Is this idea as menacing to historical faith traditions as Darwin’s theory of evolution?
I do think that the history of the universe—and everything in it—is completely determined. But the point about computational irreducibility is that it shows that that doesn’t mean it has to be dull. Even though it’s determined, it can still be unpredictable and surprising. And it’s irreducible—so we actually have to live it in order to see what happens. I find that a bit ennobling: to know that our history can’t just be compressed—that we can’t predict its outcome without living it.
NKS brings science into quite a few issues that have only been addressable by philosophy—or theology—before. And one of the things that at first seems troubling is that it makes humans seem less special than we thought. But that’s often the way science advances. The Copernican revolution showed us that we don’t live at a special point in the physical universe. NKS is now telling us that we don’t represent a special point in the computational universe either. Still, it tells us something ennobling too: it tells us that we are just as computationally sophisticated as the physical universe.