Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Meaning of Information Technology « Magic Scaling Sprinkles:

There is an old logical puzzle called the Sorites Paradox, first articulated by the Megarian logician Eubulides of Miletus. It predates the stored program computer by 2,000 years but it similarly concerns the production of pastries:

Would you describe a single grain of wheat as a heap? No. Would you describe two grains of wheat as a heap? No…. You must admit the presence of a heap sooner or later, so where do you draw the line?

This problem was of keen interest to the philosophical community for thousands of years, principally because the Greek recipe for tea cakes called for two heaping tablespoons of sugar. Some philosophers went so far as to vow to grow a beard and engage in pederasty until a solution to the problem was found. But all efforts were in vain; the problem remains unsolved to this day.

Unfortunately, the problem has only become ever more acute in the modern era. In fact, far from only destabilizing the fabrication of pastries, it has further undermined every area of society. Consider the process of voting. If no one voted, one vote would affect the outcome. But if millions of people vote, one vote makes little difference.

In fact, the defining characteristic of the modern era is that every aspect of society is heaping. To understand how this came to be, we must revisit ancient history.