The Digital Analogy

May 16, 2022Philosophy/Ethics, Tech0 comments

Computers are only prostheses, they no more do calculations than clocks tell the time.
Clocks help us to tell the time, but they don’t do it by themselves..

Tallis 2008

Julia and Sam are talking about the following article:
Analog and digital, continuous and discrete

In this post the dialogue is realised by an interaction of virtual characters, for more information please check the page “Virtual characters

Julia

I’m not sure I understand why the 🌍 digital/analog distinction is relevant here …

Today 17:08

Julia

Someone once tried to convince me the distinction doesn’t even make sense!

Today 17:08

Sam

Ha, well, 😁 computationally it does, but perhaps it is better to speak of 🌍 discrete and continuous

Today 17:09   

Julia

Ok, now I’m even more confused …

Today 17:09

Sam

Well, think of a analog and digital watches: both tell the same time, but in a different format

Today 17:10

Julia

Sure, so you mean there is no difference?

Today 17:11

Sam

I didn’t say that, but perhaps that they simply measure time in different ways, it is not time which is analog or digital, but the watch

Today 17:11   

Julia

Ah, ok. So in the case of information processing, it is not the brain or the computer that is analog or digital, but how we measure and describe it?

Today 17:12

Sam

That’s exactly what I mean! We can describe a neuron in different ways and then compare it to a circuit or a flipflop.

Today 17:12   

Julia

So there is a similarity in the description, but not necessarily in the thing you are describing? 🤔                                                                       

Today 17:13

Sam

That starts to sound very philosophical and abstract, but, yes, indeed. We can describe them in the same way.

Today 17:14   

Julia

So what did you mean with discrete and continuous?                                                                                               

Today 17:15

Sam

Both brains and computers work with electricity, but in a computer the voltages are tightly controlled and used in a digital way: ones and zeroes

Today 17:16   

Sam

In a brain the voltage can vary continuously, but sometimes triggers a neuron to “fire”, and up to a point we can treat that as a “one” too

Today 17:16   

Sam

So continuous means that we measure what is happening as close as possible, discrete that we just count the neurons that fire

Today 17:17   

Julia

Aha, so by treating them as discrete units, we can then treat them as digital in our computational model 😊                                                                                        

Today 17:18

Sam

Precisely! We’re not trying to copy the brain at all, only what we think is informationally relevant.

Today 17:19   

Sam

But Cho will tell you we are also ignoring a lot of stuff that happens in the brain to make that possible

Today 17:19  

Julia

And that we don’t really know which bits and pieces are relevant for the brain as a whole

Today 17:20

Sam

Yep, I can tell you exactly how information flows through a computer or even a network, but we can’t trace it in the brain

Today 17:21

Julia

Because in the brain medium and message, 🌍 vehicle and content aren’t clearly distinguishable.

Today 17:22

Julia

So we can’t point at the brain and say “this process right here is this or that law of thought”. I think I get it!

Today 17:22

Sam

Happy to have been of assistance!

Today 17:23

Julia

Thank you so much! I’ll report back to John now

Today 17:23

… Continue reading our conversations that are posted every Saturday …

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (4 votes, average: 4.25 out of 5)

Loading...

Related post

Fire All Neurons!

Fire All Neurons!

Mechanical analog computers had their origins in Naval Gunnery in World War I […] mechanical analog computers remained of considerable military importance certainly until well into the 1960s and have only been superseded by digital computing systems in the 1970s.

read more
The ends justify the rules

The ends justify the rules

Complicated mental processes are entirely reducible to such simple activities as the attentive observation of statements previously accepted as true, the perception of structural, purely external, connections among these statements, and the execution of mechanical transformations as prescribed by the rules of inference

read more
Share This