The History and Philosophical Significance of the Analog/Digital Distinction
Zed Adams (The New School)

March 26, 2019, 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

1117 Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh
United States

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Abstract: The analog/digital distinction pervades contemporary discourse. According to the received view of this distinction, analog representations are continuous, whereas digital representations are discrete. The received view originates in mid-twentieth century computing (Von Neumann 1958; Small 2001; Kline 2015), but finds its clearest articulation and development in a series of influential philosophical accounts (Goodman 1968; Haugeland 1981; Dretske 1982). The received view is not without its critics, however: some have argued that it miscategorizes paradigmatic examples of analog representations as digital and vice versa. According to the contrarian view of this distinction, analog representations systematically covary with what they represent, whereas digital representations represent integers via a positional notation (Lewis 1971; Fodor and Block 1972; Maley 2011). In this paper, I argue that close attention to the historical context in which the distinction first emerged, as well as how it was subsequently invoked in contexts as diverse as biology, psychology, and metaphysics, helps to resolve the debate between the received and contrarian views, as well as helping us to appreciate what is philosophically at stake in such debates more generally.

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