Analog/Digital - Culture/Death

Mark Crosby (
Sun, 8 Mar 1998 16:12:39 -0800 (PST)

Tue, 3 Mar 1998 16:48:33 -0500 Reilly Jones
< Ah, the beauty of the analog! How I weary of this
digital age, where half of reality is sampled out of
existence, and with algorithms and compression
techniques, more than half. What a paucity! How
threadbare! >

and James Rogers wrote 3/3/98 (and Mr. Kamphuis
chimed in on the same point):
<What 50% are digital systems missing? Digital
systems have the same resolution/perception
capability as analog systems within the limits of the
noise floor (which affects analog systems as well).
There is nothing analog that can not be represented
digitally within the limits of the analog system.
There are well known methods for reading and storing
arbitrary precision analog values with digital
devices as primitive as a 1-bit signal converters.>

Subsequently, this thread pretty much turned into a
discussion of electronics (with the exception of John
K Clark claiming that all implementations can be
boiled down to digital codes or signals; perhaps, but
I don't think that means their execution or
interpretation would necessarily be 'digital' ).

I happened to stumble onto a post from 970514 in the
Psyche-D archives by biophysicist Peter Cariani that,
I think, is more in line with what Reilly had in mind
in positing analog vs digital

Cariani discusses "what characterizes a measurement
and what characterizes a computation", responding to
Neil Rickert's claims that "computation is the
process of transforming one representation into
another ... But analog to digital conversion is
measurement". Cariani responds that "it's much more
difficult and problematic than it first seems" and
launches into a discussion of Robert Rosen's "formal
framework for talking about models and their relation
to the material world".

Cariani lists four types of transformation: symbolic
computation, symbolic measurement, nonsymbolic
effecting, and nonsymbolic transduction; and adds:
"It's a semiotic framework that very well describes
the structure of scientific models ... The prediction
derived from the first measurement should match the
observed outcome of the second measurement, or as
Hertz put it, 'the image of the consequent'
corresponds to the 'consequent of the image'

Cariani sites a passage from John von Neumann (1948,
titled "The Role of the Digital Procedure in Reducing
the Noise Level") to assert that "analog and digital
systems have different strengths and weaknesses" and
points out that "calling it all 'computation' ...
runs roughshod over the analog-digital distinction".
Cariani explains: "Digital systems are useful for
high degrees of reliability and combinatoric
multiplication of states; analog systems are useful
for retaining the richness of perceptual inputs, in
keeping around all those aspects of the sensed world
that might not be readily relevant, but which could
become so".

Cariani concludes his discussion by warning that "the
whole notion of 'computation' becomes meaningless
when everything becomes a computation" because: "Once
you conflate the analog and the digital ... there is
then no distinction left between a formal procedure,
a sensing operation, an effecting operation, and some
noninformational process, like digestion".

I conclude that a cognitive science for intelligent
technologies needs such a biosemiotic framework if it
is to keep from wandering in hermeneutical circles!

I also want to conlude this blurb by tying it back to
Reilly Jones' recent Extropians prophecies about "The
Culture Of Death". Make no mistake, the way Reilly
presents it, this is an organized conspiracy of
compost-modernist philosophers and a parasitical
political-entertainment class that wants, as a
radical group from the 70s (The Last Poets) once put
it, to implement a Global-Brain regulatory regime
where "automatic, push-button, remote-control,
synthetic genetics commands your soul", a
deterministic hedonism that erases the distinction
between life & death...

Well, in a pluralistic universe there are always
going to be conflicting forces making contrary
predictions about the results of some
less-than-perfect epistemological approach. It seems,
to me, simplistic and even dualistic, to see the
current situation as some eschatological Armageddon
between supposedly 'organized' forces of Good and
Evil. I see, not an abstract population being drawn
and quartered by polarities but, instead, a
*natural-historic* host of individuals enacting this
drama under some 'global laws', but mostly 'local
rules', autopoietically self-maintaining the
potentialities in an unpredictable but robust and
ongoing, middle-out way (also known as the Tao).

Mark Crosby

Get your free address at