Subject: Re: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Encyclopedia
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: Tue, 06 Nov 2001 21:31:39 GMT
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Erann Gat
| But *bits* aren't "real" in the sense that computers, electricity, cars,
| ink, and paper are real.  Electrons and silicon atoms are *things*.  They
| have mass.  They obey conservation laws.  Bit's are not things.

  What is a bit?  Can you explain what it is?

| They do not have mass.

  Well, is a thought real?  Or is it mystical?  Is it ideal?  Is my idea
  that bits are real real?  Is the expression of that idea real?  Which of
  these have mass?

| Put another way (this point has been made before by another poster, but
| it bears repeating) there is a fundamental distinction between energy and
| information.

  Nonsense.  I politely asked the poster if he could explain the purposes
  for which this distinction is useful, but you go ahead and say there is a
  fundamental distinction, and that is simply _wrong_, unphilosophical, and
  begs the question, which I think you do not realize, but would if you
  thought about this instead of defending an unsupportable notion.

| Energy (or mass) is the stuff that things are made of.  Information is
| the configuration or the state of the stuff.

  Does magnetism have mass?  Is it "energy"?  How about gravitation?  Does
  _distances_ exist?  Do distancaes have mass?

| People value things.  And while I don't have any hard data, I'll wager
| long odds that most people assign most of the value of most books to
| their information content and not to their physical embodiments.

  Philosophy meets democracy.  What a wonderful way to think!

| If you had a choice between having all your books changed to a different
| physical format, or retaining the same physical format but translated
| into some language you didn't understand, which would you choose?

  If you had a cube and you could choose between retaining all the edges or
  all the sides, which would you choose?

| What makes computers special is precisely the amount of work (energy)
| required to add information content.  That amount is vastly less -- many,
| many orders of magnitude less -- than for non-computer artifacts, even if
| they are fabricated by robots.

  So again, we have an economy-based ontological ordering.  I am amused,
  frankly.  It is so ridiculously obvious that this must be wrong, simply
  by looking at where _values_ are in the order of things.  How can you at
  all _believe_ in economy as an ontological primary?  Even rabid marxists
  do not actually believe in that, if _they_ still exist.

  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.