Subject: Re: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Tue, 06 Nov 2001 14:55:22 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Alain Picard <>
| Clearly, literature and software share a property with each other that
| they do not share with loaves of bread: the ability to be reproduced (or
| transferred to a new owner) at little or no cost, without depriving the
| original owner of the possession of the object.  (Think memorizing poems
| in an oral tradition, for example.)

  This is because _somebody_ is willing to supply the electricity and the
  hardware that does the copying.  Suppose I supplied all the ingredients
  of a loaf of bread and the energy and hardware required to mix them and
  bake the result, then it would essentially be free to copy a loaf of
  bread, right?  Suppose we had lots of people who had vast stores of
  ingredients and an enormous surplus of energy and unlimited access to
  hardware, what would materially differ between a loaf of bread and a
  piece of software as we see it today?  Hinging the issue on _cost_ is no
  more than a means of relating it to the surplus of the ingredients in the
  economy.  Then again, an incredibly large fraction of science fiction can
  be summarized in the very simple idea "what if energy were free?".

| Indeed, the assignment of monetary value to something _so_ intangible is
| one of the turning points of modern economies, IMO.

  It is no less intangible than anything else we assign monetary values to.
  It is just that we have decided at some particular time, not to think
  about certain real, physical things as "tangible", even though they are.

| I do not understand the physical nature of software (nor of literature).
| Could you elaborate/clarify?

  Perhaps we should dispell with the equivocation first.  There exists a
  notion of "meaning" that is that which is obtained when a human being is
  exposed to something and experiences something, and this "meaning" is
  often considered to be the _real_ purpose of something, the medium
  somehow being discounted as being irrelevant.  This is just like the idea
  that in computer programming languages, syntax is irrelevant, because
  some make the confusion between "no _particular_ syntax is reqeuired",
  and "_no_ syntax is required", because, clearly, _some_ syntax _is_
  required.  The same is true of software and literature -- without medium,
  it ceases to exist.  Also, clearly, the medium is not the software or the
  literature, but this is the same argument as software for a different
  machine or literature in a different language or script.  If it has no
  meaning, what _is_ it, when only its meaning is valuable?  When the last
  person to read a language dies, does all the literature of that language
  become non-existent?

  Simply put, an interaction between two physical things is also physical,
  even though it ceases to exist if you remove some of the physical things,
  so you cannot take something apart to "find" it.  Gravitation is real.
  Magnetism is real.  Software is real.  It took physicists several hundred
  years from discovery of the consequences of the interaction to figure out
  how these interactions had a nature of their own.  Culturally, we are
  still looking at software like the kind of "magic" that people who do not
  understand the nature of magnetism and gravitation would think they are.

  Norway is now run by a priest from the fundamentalist Christian People's
  Party, the fifth largest party representing one eighth of the electorate.
  Carrying a Swiss Army pocket knife in Oslo, Norway, is a criminal offense.