BQP Aarlines

The Onion has a new piece—United Airlines Exploring Viability of Stacking Them Like Cordwood—that, as usual, is grossly unrealistic.  If my own experience is any guide, the real United would never waste money on a grated floor for waste disposal, or people to shovel peanuts into a trough.

But The Onion‘s exploration of the geometry of passenger-packing does raise some genuinely interesting questions.  For years, I’ve had this idea to start an airline where, instead of seats, passengers would get personal cubbyholes that were stacked on top of each other like bunk beds.  (I’d make sure the marketing materials didn’t describe them as “coffin-shaped,” though that’s what they would be.)

You could sleep in your cubbyhole—much more easily than in a seat, of course—but you could also read, watch a movie, work on your laptop, or eat (all activities that I don’t mind doing while lying down, and the first two of which I prefer to do lying down).

Besides passenger comfort, my arrangement would have at least two advantages over the standard one:

First, depending on the exact size of the cubbyholes, you could very likely fit more passengers this way, thereby lowering ticket costs.

Second, assuming the cubbyholes were ventilated, you could put little doors on them, thereby giving passengers far more privacy than in a conventional airline.  No more being immiserated by screaming babies or inane conversations, or the B.O. of the person next to you, or reading lights while you’re trying to sleep.  And, as many of you will have noticed, BQP Aarlines could provide amorous couples with a far more comfortable alternative than the bathroom.

So, readers: do you know if any airline has tried something like this?  If not, why not?  Are there strong arguments against it that I haven’t thought of, besides the obvious cultural/psychological ones?  Should I keep my day job?

69 Responses to “BQP Aarlines”

  1. Dave Says:

    Ah yes, the cubbyhole airliner. I had an idea like this in 1982. Unfortunately, it never took off. ;-p

  2. jeremyx Says:

    Does more passengers == lower ticket prices? I thought fuel costs had more control over pricing.

    More passengers == more weight == more fuel, correct?

    I do like the idea and would pay more for a ticket if I could travel in this way. Great idea.

  3. LiamOC Says:

    Thinking that this would be bad for claustrophobic people, even slightly claustrophobic people.

    Then again, in Japan they have motels like this, so you might be able to make the idea fly there

  4. roland Says:

    That sounds like a back into the womb fantasy.

  5. Dog of Justice Says:

    I would pay substantially more for this on any flight longer than ~2 hours. I am *terrible* at sleeping on planes.

  6. Scott Says:

    jeremyx: Yes, fuel is a large part of an airline’s expense, and it does increase with weight, and the actual passengers (and their luggage) are a significant part of the weight. But clearly there are also costs that increase only sublinearly with the number of passengers! If there weren’t, then why wouldn’t the airlines just put each passenger on his or her own personal flight? 🙂

  7. Nathan Williams Says:

    Escape time would be an issue.

  8. Chris E Says:

    The problem is mainly around the subject of liability and economics I suspect.

    It would be very hard to guarantee that as people were moving in and out of their cubicles to go the toilet that they wouldn’t be likely to bump themselves somewhere. Similiar evacuation would be a whole lot trickier.

    Then there is the aspect of cleaning the plane at end of journey – which is going to be a lot harder as you add confined spaces.

    Still, there are more than one way of packing people. One of the Arabian airlines were investigating using planes with a converted freight section containing more seats to move pilgrims to and from the Haaj destinations.

  9. dave glasser Says:

    So basically like a train sleeping car? Sounds great.

  10. Dave Says:

    Scott – Jeremyx’s point is not so bad. If the fuel-used-to-weight ratio is not linear, maybe planes are just designed so they hit the breakeven point for fuel (or other marginal) cost per incremental weight.

  11. rrtucci Says:

    I think it’s a terrible idea. Humans are social animals. This is just one more way to isolate ourselves from our neighbors. If anything, we should be moving in the opposite direction. If you hate human contact so much, why do air travel at all. Why not lock yourself in your room and communicate via the internet with Domino Pizza

  12. seth Says:

    Here’s a couple thoughts.

    In terms of weight, you probably need to consider whether a stack of three bunks weighs more or less than a row of three seats. I think bunks would have to be a bit sturdier than seats and the amount of cushioning would probably have to be greater. While you could fit more people in by stacking bunks, if you’re adding a disproportionate amount of weight it might not be a good idea.

    With regard to liability, I wonder if seatbelts are a necessity. On a train you don’t generally worry about seatbelts. On a plane you might have to worry about passengers smacking their heads on the cubby’s ceiling during some turbulence. Seatbelts aren’t a big deal when seated, but you may need more than a waist strap if you’re lying down. If you have to constrain movement to the degree that you can’t hit your head on the ceiling, it may not end up as comfortable as sitting.

    Finally, while I agree that some extra privacy would great, I’m sure that that’s the last thing the TSA wants to deal with.

  13. Scott Says:

    I think it’s a terrible idea. Humans are social animals. This is just one more way to isolate ourselves from our neighbors.

    OK, so I just had an idea that addresses both rrtucci’s concern and the weight issue. Instead of packing in more passengers, use the extra space freed up by the cubbyhole arrangement to create an “interaction room,” say in the back of the plane, where people can stand and talk if they want.

    What do you say?

  14. jeremyx Says:

    @Scott — Yes, I understand that fuel is not everything, but your post seemed to make the lower ticket price a main point & I thought that may not be true.

    I think you could charge *higher* ticket prices for these types of seats for passengers who want them.

  15. Dave Says:

    Why don’t we just have their surrogates interact?

  16. Cody Says:

    Seems at least worth a shot considering the many planes and (relatively) low cost of the experiment. I’d at least try it once (though I fly infrequently).

    Someone ought to try presenting this idea to an airline (or many).

  17. how about this? Says:

  18. Scott Says:

    How about this?: Thanks for the link! The idea is sufficiently obvious and natural that I should’ve assumed someone would’ve beaten me to it. Guess I’ll stick to quantum complexity theory. 🙂

  19. Warren Says:

    Airlines have considered standing people up:

    Also alternating forwards and backwards facing seats:

    To reduce space used by aisles I suggest having the long axis of the bed _perpendicular_ to the long axis of the aircraft. Passengers would enter the head or foot of their bunk.

    One potential show-stopper is restraining the passengers against movement along the head-to-toe axis during collisions. Hitting one’s head would be especially dangerous.

  20. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Should I keep my day job?

    Incredibly, Scott, the answer is not necessarily. If you simply shift your idea from airlines to hotels, then everything that you describe is for real.

  21. Aarfarer Says:

    Interesting, I had an idea very similar to the one described in the above article on Lufthansa (does anyone know if that went anywhere?), after discovering Indian trains. Someone managed to convince me that for some reason it wouldn’t be feasible (I don’t remember why anymore, but I was convinced), so I came up with the following idea, which I think really is a good compromise:

    Arrange the seats so that within a row all seats are on the same level, but as you move forward, introduce a gentle zig-zag. More precisely, arrange the rows like a gently rising staircase as you move forward in the plane, with a correcting downward realignment say every three or four rows or so. The front-most row in every rising set of rows perhaps might need to be a bit like an exit-row — more space before the next row, and trays that fold into the armrest. Now, as the seat positions elevate, the floor elevation can lag behind a bit, so that there is *considerably* more leg-room underneath the seat in front of you to stretch your legs out at a comfortable angle. At the same time, you can recline much further back without inconveniencing the person sitting behind you.

    As I see it, this will mean packing roughly the same number of people into roughly the same amount of space with roughly the same setup as before, however with a lot more comfort for all the passengers. I realize that by publicizing this brilliant idea anonymously without a patent, I’ve given up my chance at untold riches. If anyone decides to implement this idea and becomes unimaginably wealthy, I would appreciate it if he/she would contact Scott for my e-mail, and send me a box of chocolates or something. Preferably the ones with the cherries inside, I really like those.

  22. Andy D Says:

    Good idea, but it should be taken further. Often getting to and thru the airport is at least as bothersome and uncomfortable as the flight itself. For this reason, I propose *door-to-door* coffin service: a big truck loads you in your capsule outside your house, with luggage in tow and ID presented in the capsule window; your capsule is deposited in the airport, where it goes thru security on a conveyor belt, and is then loaded onto the plane after an optional stretch- and-cocktail hour in the waiting area. Finally, a similar process unfolds at the other end, bringing you smoothly to your destination.

    (Some, after trying this service, will naturally want to extend its application beyond air travel…)

  23. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Another variation of the idea that actually exists: triple bunk sleeper train cars that are common in India and China, and can still be found in Europe. However, even though Indian Railways does care about saving space, it doesn’t look like these beds are truly more space efficient than the airline seat arrangement. So you can forget privacy, and the plan would only make sense for long, overnight flights.

    It is true that I don’t sleep well at all on planes. When I have to take an intercontinental flight, I expect it to be a horrible night with epsilon sleep. If bunk flights to Europe existed, I’d probably try them. On the other hand:

    BQP Aarlines could provide amorous couples with a far more comfortable alternative than the bathroom.

    No thank you. I don’t need to fly in superposition.

  24. Sim Says:

    If nobody died by suffocation, you’re not packing your passenger enough.

  25. onymous Says:

    rrtucci wrote:

    This is just one more way to isolate ourselves from our neighbors. If anything, we should be moving in the opposite direction. If you hate human contact so much, why do air travel at all.

    Oh wow, you’re one of those. Please don’t ever sit next to me on a flight.

    (I’m happy to interact with people once I reach my destination. But when I’m packed into a tiny, uncomfortable space for four or more hours, I really just want to be left alone.)

  26. Scott Says:

    onymous: By contrast, I often enjoy getting into random conversations with the person next to me; I see that as one of the main advantages of the current system. The problem is that you can only conveniently talk with the two people next to you, whereas it only takes one or two loud/ill-behaved people in the entire cabin to ruin the flight.

    (Incidentally, if the people who fly on planes are anything like a useful sample, then there’s really, really a market for better popularizations of quantum mechanics. Though I’ll admit I’m not always thrilled for the conversation to devolve into QM101.)

  27. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    Incidentally, if the people who fly on planes are anything like a useful sample, then there’s really, really a market for better popularizations of quantum mechanics.

    Yeah, and there’s really, really a market for better tax advice. However, what’s really missing in both cases is not the explanations, but the training to listen to them.

  28. rrtucci Says:

    I see now how difficult a problem this is, given the space limitations. If only cruise ships could fly. Hmm. I see it now. The Aaronson Sterling Blimp Company—Private bedrooms, library, cafe, sauna, recreation room, dance room, telescopes, …

  29. Joe Fitzsimons Says:

    It sounds a great idea, and I’ve certainly thought about similar arrangements myself (particularly while flying from Tokyo to Toronto the wrong way round the world).

    Unfortunately, I have experienced something very similar to this on a 14 hour bus journey in China. The bus had essentially three columns of very narrow bunk beds down the its length. This sounds great, but given that I am about 6 inches taller than the average Chinese person (according to wikipedia) I didn’t quite fit in the bed. Coupled with the fact that I needed to keep my bag somewhere on the bed as well, as there was no room for carry on luggage, it amounted to one of the most uncomfortable trips of my entire life.

    While your idea sounds very appealing, I suspect that even a slightly ill thought out implementation might be incredibly uncomfortable.

  30. Punya Says:

    This sounds a lot like the cubbyholes in “The Fifth Element” movie (including the part about the amorous couples). So if you don’t start BQP Aarlines yourself, I’m afraid there’s no patent money in it for you.

  31. Daniel Says:

    I don’t think that this arrangement would save much space, in fact, it might require more than the usual seating. When you sit, there is not much empty space above you, so the space used by you and your seat is roughly a 1x1x1.5 cube (in meters). A closed “coffin” should be at least a 1x1x2 cube, otherwise you just go mad in few hours. Does anyone have a better estimate of these numbers?

  32. Scott Says:

    When you sit, there is not much empty space above you

    Only if you’re extremely tall! Indeed, looking at all that empty space above the passengers (yet no space for me to sleep) is exactly what led me to contemplate this arrangement in the first place.

    Suppose we get rid of the carry-on luggage bins—asking passengers to take the stuff they really need into the coffin with them and check the rest. Then we should certainly be able to stack the coffins 3 high. And I think that would give, at least, the same density as the standard seating arrangement. In a big plane, maybe we could even stack 4 high…

  33. MattF Says:

    Well, as noted, you’d need more fuel just because of greater mass– you’d also need a considerably stronger ventilation system and more aerodynamic lift– which means bigger wings and lower altitude (going faster isn’t an option), all this means that engine power requirements increase non-linearly. Probably need more stiffness in the fusilage structure because greater mass density pushes the vibration spectrum towards lower frequencies– which is the wrong direction. All this sounds expensive.

  34. Michael Luvaul Says:

    MattF raises some good points. However, I think the largest problem is not cost or engineering. The biggest hurdle you would need to clear is that of the status quo. I think that unless prices were (at least initially) much lower than standard airfare that this type of airline would never work out. Most people like things the way they are even with all the flaws and inefficiencies.

  35. Greg Kuperberg Says:

    And I think that would give, at least, the same density as the standard seating arrangement.

    You don’t have to conjecture, because these density questions are already taken seriously on trains. (In India, in particular.) It looks like the density is not actually higher with a sleeping arrangement, even if you give up on privacy and just have open bunks. However, you can get a night’s sleep.

    Even in India, they do not resort to quadruple bunk beds, even though train cars have higher ceilings than planes.

    Well, as noted, you’d need more fuel just because of greater mass– you’d also need a considerably stronger ventilation system and more aerodynamic lift

    This is all true. However, I think that the economics of plane travel generally keep pushing you to higher densities. I’m sure you’re right that there is an unrealistic density, e.g., if you wanted to transport lead bars somewhere. I suspect that it is very difficult to reach the maximum profitable density with people.

    Again, there is one key piece of experimental evidence, which is that an airline in China asked for standing room only on its planes. That is even higher density than bunk beds, and yes, requires more ventilation. But apparently it would be profitable.

  36. Scott Says:

    According to Wikipedia, the record for the most people crammed into a plane is held by El Al, when they covertly airlifted 1,122 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in a 747:

    (1,087 passengers were registered, but dozens of children hid in their mothers’ robes). “Planners expected to fill the aircraft with 760 passengers. Because the passengers were so slight, many more were squeezed in. Two babies were born during the flight.”

  37. James Says:

    That Onion issue was pretty good. I haven’t laughed that much at one in years.

  38. Bram Cohen Says:

    It might be hard to evacuate a plane set up this way. It also may be that the amount of space per person wouldn’t be all that substantially less, because you’d mostly be making the coffin-shaped area horizontal rather than the usual vertical. And also, any flight which isn’t already full with current scheduling – which is a horrifying fraction of them – wouldn’t derive any benefit with more seating capacity.

  39. RM Says:

    Evacuation might be easier with this setup, if you set up each cubby as an escape pod (parachute, floats, rescue beacon…) and install an automated ejection system (either out the front/back or out the bottom/sides to harness the power of parallelism). And if the evacuation system doesn’t work quite as well as planned… well, the coffin shape is handy for that case as well. 😉

  40. Job Says:

    The current airplanes aren’t easily evacuated either, lets face it, there’s not much point in safely evacuating into the sea.

  41. Job Says:

    I imagine the compartments as cylindrically shaped containers, futuristic looking – white and chrome with some fluorescent lighting inside, made by Apple Inc. – and offering the capabilities RM described. You could board your container vertically, and it would be loaded onto the airplane, which could be any military or cargo plane really.

  42. Job Says:

    It could be an upgraded version of the iPod. It’s like i’m seeing into the future.

  43. wolfgang Says:


    there is a big problem with your design. How would the cabin crew sell their duty free crap ?

  44. James Says:


    Do you have a good suggestion for an introductory book to discrete math? I’m an undergrad CS student and the book we’re using is absolutely horrible. Any suggestions would be helpful.

  45. John Armstrong Says:

    Made by Apple? I’m in! 😀

  46. asdf Says:

    I think you are describing a flying version of a capsule hotel.

  47. Raoul Ohio Says:

    James, here is my two cents worth on discrete math books (BTW, I own a dozen and teach the class).

    One DM book stands head and shoulders above the rest: “Concrete Mathematics” by Graham, Knuth, and Patashnik. This book is introductory but covers much more material than usual, and is an excellent reference. If you are new to CS, you might not be aware that Knuth is the best writer on CS topics and the godfather of the entire profession. There are two easy ways to give an appearance of “knowing what you are doing” in CS: (1) use “++i” rather than “i++” in your for loops, and (2) have Knuth’s books in a prominent place on your shelf.

    If you (also) want a more introductory book, I think “DM and its Applications” by Kenneth Rosen is better than most.

  48. Genuine Indian Says:

    Once as an undergrad, I was travelling on a train in Bombay India at 6p.

    The train was so packed, that I did not have to use any muscles to stay standing.

    3/4 of the way to my destination, I remember the guy next to me falling asleep when standing.

    4/5 of the way to my destination, I remember sweat from his elbow falling onto my upper lip.

    I don’t know why I bring this up here, but a little voice said I needed to tell this horrifying story, here, now, if I were ever to live a happy future.

  49. Genuine Indian Says:

    Wolfgang: It would be delivered via an intricate plumbing system. All you need is push the button and the wine starts flowing directly into your nose.

  50. Genuine Chinoise Says:

    I say we just have an open space one each of 3-4 floors of the plane and let people find a cozy spot to stretch out on. I think people would find their own spots and things would sort themselves out. People don’t need privacy on an airplane first—they need comfort first.

  51. Job Says:

    I need privacy to be comfortable. If i’m feeling social i just go look at my email.

  52. Yatima Says:

    (0) “Concrete Mathematics” by Graham, Knuth, and Patashnik.

    YES. I got into Discrete Math successfully with “Discrete Mathematics” by Norman L. Biggs, but that book is way too pricey. Captive Audience, Oxford University Press?

    (1) use “++i” rather than “i++” in your for loops

    NO. It’s 2010. Today you run into architecture problems, not loop optimization problems.

    (2) have Knuth’s books in a prominent place on your shelf.


  53. Raoul Ohio Says:


    (1) “NO. It’s 2010. Today you run into architecture problems, not loop optimization problems.”

    It is still 2009 here in Ohio, but the reasoning is the same in any year. Consider what happens when you implement the pre and post ++ operator, say on a big integer class, where lots of memory is used to store each object. The only difference is the value returned (which is not used in a for loop). The post ++ must return the value that existed before the increment, which can only be done by creating an extra copy, which uses lots of memory allocation and copying: SLOW!

    The pre ++ only needs to return a reference to itself: FAST!

    In summary, in a language with a primitive int type, post ++ on an int is the same or slightly slower than pre ++, but it is much slower on other types. There is never a situation where post ++ is faster than pre ++.

    Obviously if you are using the return value, you need to use the appropriate one.

    (2) It may be the case that Knuth’s books are not state of the art in 2009, but they are still the most enjoyable to read. Check out the subtle jokes, wisecracks, and funny names used on almost every page; the level of scholarship. I always think about how much work it would take to bring anything I write up the the level of everything Knuth writes.

  54. Job Says:

    I think Yatima’s point is that nowadays (with cloud and distributed systems emerging) the focus is at a higher level.

    The philosophy is “good design and faith in the compiler”.
    I’m a fan.

  55. James Says:

    Thanks for the advice Raoul.

  56. Kaleberg Says:

    Does this actually get more people on board? With a 30″ pitch, you’d need to replace three rows of seats per horizontal passenger. Assume they stack three high, and they are still three across. (We’ll ignore the crawling over someone else to get in and out problem.) That implies you would replace three rows of three seats with three levels of three pods across, so nine people in pods would take just as much room as nine people in seats.

    Note that if the pods are stacked three high, you probably wouldn’t be able to sit up in them. That would rule this out for me. I suppose the airlines might cut the pod length to 78″ and get some additional packing that way, but this still does not address the access problem.

    The closest thing to this I have seen was at the Seattle Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. They have the old Air Force 1 Boeing 707 that Eisenhower and Kennedy used. It was a real 1960s period piece, complete with a telex machine, but they also had pull down cots that opened from the overhead bin. You lost the seating below, but it was probably worth it. The Boeing 747 based Air Force 1 has a proper bedroom with a proper bed.

    (BTW, Does anyone know if the Mile High Club qualifies a statute or nautical mile? Pilots tend to work in nm – not nanometers, but ….)

  57. Knocked Out Says:

    It might be nice if the airlines gave the passenger the option to be sedated. That would make the “coffin” experience a little more enjoyable.

    Open question: has anyone flown on a freight airplane as a passenger? I would totally be willing to deal with the discomfort for a cheaper price.

  58. EdM Says:

    Sounds great but I doubt it would pass FAA regulations.


  59. rrtucci Says:

    Witten on J Street

  60. asdf Says:

    So I happened to look at

    which is PhP, the class of problems tractable on physically realizeable computers. It says that BPP is in PhP but that it’s debatable whether BQP is in PhP.

    But, why is anyone so sure that BPP is in PhP? That seems to make a rather strong assumption that we are able to generate true random numbers with physical processes. There is really no way to test this. If X is a random-looking bit string, then the proposition “X is Kolmogorov-random” is, in general, logically undecidable.

  61. Amir Sani Says:

    Emirates started something similar a couple years ago. A bit of an upgrade, but it suits my taste:

  62. Hopefully Anonymous Says:

    Normally I’d say update your blog, but you’re probably doing something more beneficial/productive offline, so good luck with it.

  63. anonymous Says:

    I will say it: please update more! I’ve been reading this blog for years, and it is by far my favorite blog. I don’t know when it was, but the first post I read was that one about the mafia guy who got busted for using a bad code, and I’ve read every post since then. It seems like you must be busier since relocating from Waterloo. Anyway, if you have the time to write more, please do!

  64. Chris Drost Says:

    I’m not immediately clear that it would be more efficient to pack. Remember: inside of a normal plane, passengers are generally packed shoulder-to-shoulder: so, pretty densely in the y-direction. They also generally don’t have much leg space, which packs them pretty densely in the x-direction. They aren’t packed at all in the z-direction, but it’s worth considering what it would mean to do so — you would need to arrange a full padded chair above you, and you would still have to have space yourself for tray tables et cetera — technically, with modern airline shapes, humans *are* packed pretty tightly in the z-direction; they’ve just got a meter or less of space in case they want/need to stand up. So, the current inefficiency is, I dunno, less than a cubic meter? It just doesn’t sound like you’ve got much to work with in the first place.

    Anyway, to get to why I’m here: I was reading Democritus lecture 4 again, as one does, and I was puzzled when you said that AI skeptic arguments can be converted to arguments involving brains as well.

    I think if we recontextualize Searle, then this problem disappears, at least in his case. (I haven’t read much Penrose.)

    Searle doesn’t think of consciousness as something you *do* — I mean: of course at the lowest level the brain does consciousness, according to Searle — but rather, consciousness is something which you *have*, which you can take for granted. So, you pinch me, and I don’t just *behave* in a certain way, like recoil and say ‘ouch’, but I also *feel* a certain way: some *pain* shoots through my subjective impression of myself.

    Far from being some side-fact to our consciousness, it occurs to you that this is the meat-and-potatoes of our own personal conscious experience. It’s not the *reaction* to the stimulus that makes us know we’re conscious; if we had been drugged so that our bodies wouldn’t move in response (something like what our bodies do every night as we sleep) we would still think of ourselves as having a conscious episode.

    Well, if consciousness is something we really have, then we have Searle at his most fundamental: you really do feel that pain, and there is some subjective first-person experience there, and you wonder “okay, what the heck is the brain doing to create these darn touchy-feely experiences that are our consciousness?”

    The Turing test leaves us utterly hanging on this question, because it focuses on your reaction to the pain: it doesn’t even try to analyse the underlying feeling of pain that you’ve got. This is what Searle tried to express in his Chinese-room argument, although most people who disagree with him take the Chinese-room argument rather facetiously. (Which, for the record, I think is a problem with the argument.)

    If it helps, Searle provides the following argument parallel to his Chinese-room argument in other sources; it goes as follows: we know people can *act* like they’re pained even when they don’t have the touchy-feely pain experience; so we know that pain-behaviour is not actually sufficient for pain-feeling. But we know that you can also suppress a pain and not show outward signs of it, even though you feel it: especially for militants from SPARTAAA! and the like. So it also isn’t sufficient to

    You are correct to highlight the problem of other minds: we know other people are conscious, but its not like we ever feel what *they* feel; we aren’t telepathic, so we can’t immediately feel someone else’s conscious states. To Searle, this was a huge problem to dualisms, and it’s one big reason why he’s not one. Searle wants to say: “listen, when a brain is normally functioning, it has these touchy-feely impressions; that’s just part of what the brain does. How? I don’t know — but we each know in our own case that it does it. It is through knowing *how brains react to pain*, at least in our own case, that we immediately step back and infer that you feel a pain when I pinch you. It’s through understanding something about the causal structure of the brain that we say, ‘look, you have the same causal structure! I bet these material effects cause a pain in you!’ and so forth.” (not a direct quote, naturally.)

    When silicon does something like compute the remainder of 10^30 modulo 233,

  65. Chris Drost Says:

    Sorry, the above got submitted prematurely. The sentence fragment ending “isn’t sufficient to” should be rewritten: “So pain-feeling also isn’t sufficient for pain-reactions.”

    The last line continues: “it does something very different from what I try to do. I try to reason out some sort of pathway to a solution that looks elegant, perhaps by noticing that 999,999 is divisible by 231, hence 10^30 = (10^6)^5 is equal to 1 modulo 231, and perhaps I can figure out the remainder from there, given that 231 and 233 are only two apart. There is a contest and struggle and ideas are flowing and the like. Computers have a set algorithm burned into their silicon chips for doing these moduluses.

    We might both arrive at the same conclusion, and you could even teach me to do this modulus operation myself, I’m sure. But at the lowest level, I don’t think of that modulus operation as a *conscious* problem-solving technique; I just view it as some sort of symbol-shuffling of ones and zeroes through logic gates. But, says Searle, *all* computation is *defined* as symbol-shuffling.

    I mean, obviously, conscious things can do symbol shuffling — we can presumably just do 30-digit long division with 10^30 and 233 to get the remainder we seek. But it’s not something to mistake with our actual conscious experience. When presented with a Turing-test-passing computer and asked, “is it conscious?”, to Searle, the proper response is “I don’t know — I don’t know what exactly makes biological systems conscious. I mean, I know that I *am*, and I can reason about biological systems like mine — cats and dogs and humans and so forth — but I can’t extend that to silicon at all. Could you show me the internals of the silicon, so that I could see whether it’s doing something novel and touchy-feely? Possibly, could you show me the internals of myself, so that I could see how my brain creates these touchy-feely states in the first place?”

  66. LAN3 Says:

    I like the idea in principle, but mainly when I picture myself on the top or middle bunk. The bottom bunk has me at or below the aisle-deck-level, and suddenly I feel as though I’m on the floor.

    Second, what sort of materials in these things could help the perception of cleanliness in these? Current airlines have firm deodorized cushions with, often, slightly protected headrests, and people are generally fully dressed on flights, so basically hair-funk from a previous passenger is themost likely thing one would have to deal with, and it is mostly dealt with before you get there.

    But how would it feel to be the third person that day to enter a horizontal capsule where someone’s face was? Where their infant was crawling all over, or where a diaper was changed?

    Also, how does the snack service work? Do you have room to sit up to eat your meal?

  67. Itai Says:

    Chris Drost: So you’re willing to give the benefit of the doubt on consciousness to other humans or even other species, but refuse to apply it to computers, without any good explanation why? Obviously it’s anti-silicon racism.

  68. J Says:

    I think people who are prone to becoming airsick might be more comfortable sitting up than lying down, though personally I think modern passenger jets don’t particularly lurch enough for this to be an issue. No doubt in the future the rides will be even smoother–to the point where this objection would be completely empty.

    Maybe the trend will take the long way around, finding its way back to Terran air travel from the space tourism industry.

  69. Chris Drost Says:

    Itai: I don’t know whether you’re being facetious or not with the comment. In any case, I *did* give a good reason why.

    I guess my concern is this: why are so many people so obsessed with the idea that their touchy-feely experiences aren’t caused by some interesting biophysics? What’s with the dogmatic insistence that it’s all algorithmic? Why is it so critically important that we suddenly ignore the distinction between how you *act* and how you *feel*, when that distinction is paramount in our day-to-day lives? Why only ask the questions that you’re already prepared to answer, and shrug off all of the other deep questions?