Devil in the history of science

Science is hailed as the most rational, most systematic, and most discoverable field in history, but there are also many fictional creatures used to describe invisible things such as powerful computers, the process of human evolution, and the market forces that drive the global economy. .

In fact, scientists have been designing thought experiments about demons, monsters, and elves.

Could it be said that the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe did not make people give up supernatural phenomena? After reading the following introduction, you will find that the devil in the history of science is not a scientist’s delusion or simple fiction, but a midwife who helps scientists transfer knowledge. The concept of demons in the history of science should be regarded as mature philosophical concepts or tools. These strange beasts are not the product of superstition and pseudoscience. They are useful ideas and play an important role in the development of science. They deserve further attention from academia. .

Today, the world may no longer be surrounded by ghosts as before, but the demons in the scientific imagination are still alive and well alive. They continue to play the most important role in the efforts of scientists to explore the unknown and make the impossible become reality. Important role. Let us now focus on the demons in the history of science for hundreds of years and follow their influence…

Descartes’ Demon
The 17th-century French philosopher Descartes thought of a disturbing possibility: there is a very powerful and very cunning demon, using all its power to deceive him. He even constructed a dream world that was completely real to Descartes’s brain—sky, atmosphere, earth, colors, images, and sounds. In this dream, the devil had forged a complete “body” for Descartes. ——Arms, eyes, flesh, blood, and even senses, none of them are not “real”.

Descartes asked us to think, if there is such a demon, how can we be sure that I am being deceived by this demon? If we are inevitably deceived by the devil and cannot tell whether reality is an illusion created by the devil or the real one, is there anything that can be determined to be real?

The answer given by Descartes is that even if everything is false, when I send it out, I definitely exist. In other words, a person who does not exist cannot doubt himself. When “I doubt, I think, and I exist” simplified, it is the famous summary of Descartes’ thought-“I think, therefore I in”. Descartes believed that a rational man defeated this deceptive demon.

Demon of Laplace
The science of the early 19th century was based on Isaac Newton’s physics. Scientists learned about nature on this basis, so that they could accurately calculate the motion of atoms and planets or the power of steam engines. The French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace (Pierre-Simon Laplace) came to a conclusion based on this: if a “wise man” knew the exact position and momentum of each atom in the universe, he would be able to use Newton’s laws To show the entire process of cosmic events, the past and the future. The “wise man” mentioned by Laplace here is the so-called “Laplace demon” or “Laplace demon”.

The scientific hypothesis of Laplace’s demon was put forward in 1814, and it sparked a debate that lasted for more than 180 years.

Hiller’s Demon

American philosopher John Hiller (University of California, Berkeley, who deprived Hiller of his retirement status in 2019 after discovering that he was sexually harassed) designed a thought experiment in 1980: a person who only speaks English In a room, this room is closed except for a small window on the door. He carried a book with Chinese translation procedures. There is enough manuscript paper, pencils and cabinets in the room. The paper with Chinese written on it was sent into the room through a small window. The person in the room can use his book to translate these words and reply in Chinese. Although the people in the room can’t speak Chinese at all, through this process, he can make the people outside the room think that he can speak fluent Chinese.

Hiller believes that similarly, the central processing unit of a computer does not understand any symbols of its operation during translation. Therefore, powerful artificial intelligence will not appear.

John Haugeland, a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago, proposed that if a powerful nano-level demon could control which neurons in the human brain are stimulated and which are not stimulated, the basic operation of the brain becomes the same as a computer program. . If such demons are possible, then one can imagine that artificial intelligence is almost indistinguishable from human intelligence. This powerful nano-level demon is called Hiller’s Demon.

Maxwell Demon
In 1867, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell summoned a more powerful demon-Maxwell’s hypothesis: there is such a monster in the universe, he spied every move of every molecule. Suppose there is a box that is completely isolated from the outside world, separated by a completely insulated board in the middle, and a small door comes out, and the Maxwell demon is standing in front of the small door. He stood in front of the door and stared at each molecule. If it is a molecule that moves fast (high potential energy, that is hotter), he will not let this molecule pass, if it is a molecule that moves slowly (low potential energy, that is relatively cold) He just let it go. Over time, the original temperature-balanced box became half hot and half cold. Through the control of the devil, all the high-energy particles will finally gather in one of the areas, which is equivalent to the devil raising the temperature of one of the areas. The extra heat or pressure can supply energy to the turbine or push the piston. This creates energy out of thin air. The devil reduces the entropy in the system without doing any work! This is contrary to the second law of thermodynamics.