by Michael Theroux
While the debate over whether analog or digital technology is superior has been mostly rooted in the domain of audio recording and playback (see “Meanings, Messages & Signals – Comprehending the Differences Between Analog and Digital Recording Media,” by Franklin Ellsworth Clarke), there are many factors at work in each technological environment that warrant further study with respect to how humans experience them. Digital technology has taken over where once the artistry and ingenuity of the analog instrument of measure previously held court. Today, numerical representations of once experiential quantitative measurements gives us a sterile ceremonial indication of activity unrelated to our organic perception. This argument between qualitative and quantitative experience hearkens back to to the philosophical Renaissance battle between just intonation and equal temperament in musical composition – the justly intoned scale is derived from natural pitch – the equally tempered scale was invented by falsely adjusting it so that the human ear is tricked into accepting modulation across key signatures (a necessity for J. S. Bach’s modulation-happy fugues).
Let us elaborate on this old battle for a moment: The proper definition of “just intonation” is… “any musical tuning in which the frequencies of notes are related by ratios of small whole numbers, and that two notes in any just interval are members of the same harmonic series.” Justly tuned intervals are either represented as ratios, with a colon (for example, 3:2), or as fractions, with a solidus (3 ⁄ 2), colons indicating that division is not being done – a comparison instead of an operation. With twelve-tone equal temperament, the frequency ratio of the interval between two adjacent notes, is the twelfth root of two – every pair of adjacent notes has an identical frequency ratio. This quote from David B. Doty of The Just Intonation Network best describes the situation:
“The virtues of Just Intonation and the shortcomings of equal temperament are not limited to the affective properties of their respective intervals and chords. An equally serious problem with twelve-tone equal temperament is that it supplies composers with an artificially simplified, one-dimensional model of musical relationships. By substituting twelve equally spaced, fixed tones for a potentially unlimited number of tones, interconnected by a web of subtle and complex musical relationships, equal temperament not only impoverished the sonic palette of Western music, but also deprived composers and theorists of the means for thinking clearly about tonal relationships, causing them to confuse close relationships with remote ones and consonances with dissonances.”
This loss of the subtle information between data relationships is found throughout all analog to digital conversions. We can also see this data loss in the great philosophical difference between the geometric relationship of incommensurable proportions and their so-called decimal equivalents, where an irrational such as “phi” is represented as the decimal equivalent, 1.61803398875…etc. instead of, (sqrt(5) + 1) / 2. Because it is irrational, it is not really a number in any finite sense of what a number is, it leaves us without much relevant data as it is only an approximation of the original algorithm.
In order for our organic organism to actually experience digital information (binary data), it has to be translated back into analog data. The problem therein lies in the conversions and translation steps where the loss of pertinent organic data needed by our organism occurs.
The fact that the binary data needs translation lies specifically within the realm of the development of neuronal geometry and interneuronal connectivity in the organic human organism. Our physiological reception of analog versus digital data is based entirely on our development of nerve connections and the dendritic geometry thereof. According to Computational Neuroscientist, Paul King,
“Unlike a digital computer, the brain does not use binary logic or binary addressable memory, and it does not perform binary arithmetic. Information in the brain is represented in terms of statistical approximations and estimations rather than exact values. The brain is also non-deterministic and cannot replay instruction sequences with error-free precision. So in all these ways, the brain is definitely not ‘digital’.”
He goes on to say that the brain is neither analog nor digital, but that much of the processing is purely analog. This relationship between the organic and dendritic development of neuronal geometry in the human organism can be reprogrammed for digital data, and has to great extent in some cases, but not without the attendant loss of much information processing capability. Remember, the dendritic form represents the irrationality of the Golden Mean in its geometric branching patterns and therefore is itself non-deterministic – a probable necessity in our decision making process. That this continuous irrationality appears as an infinite error in an otherwise perfect organic structure is the key to understanding analog creation – and reveals the Divine in its genesis. The potential for error is built-in to the system for the same reason the laws of probability do not work. In the game of chess, computers can still be defeated by humans.
KNOBS vs. BUTTONS
Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote a brilliant article recently entitled, “Bring Back Our Knobs: Analog vs. Digital” in which he elaborated on the experiential differences between turning knobs versus pushing buttons in the cars we drive today. Reynolds concluded that there was a neurological feedback mechanism that prefers the tactile feedback of turning knobs to the discrete digital steps of pushing digital buttons. It makes perfect sense – without even looking at an LCD readout of how loud I’m turning up the radio or heat, I can feel the difference while turning the knob. It’s purely tactile and intuitive. He does cite the popularity of Apple’s iPod as it possesses “a quasi-analog dial that offers tactile feedback as you navigate through sensibly organized menus.”
Many of today’s digital controls that have usurped the old standard of knobs have you looking at some readout to let you know where you are. In a vehicle, this is not good. The days of the old knobs and sliders gave one a feel for exactly where you were at with them – and you never had to take your eyes off the road. The answer from the auto industry was to put the volume up and down buttons on the steering wheel. Each push of the button up or down incrementally adjusts the volume – but there is little linearity like there is in a potentiometer – the increments are quite large and offer no tactile sensation. I happen to have both in my car – a knob on the dashboard, and buttons on the steering wheel. I always use the knob.
Digital tuning in radio circuits considered far more precise than their analog counterparts suffer from the same issues. These tuners use varactor diodes as the actual tuning elements, but the voltages which change their capacitance are obtained from a digital to analog converter driven by a microprocessor. While this allows for very precise tuning and locking-in on weak signals, it removes the fine increment tuning of the analog circuit. One can also see how this relates to digital representations of radionic circuits – the lack of analog potentiometers in digital radionic instruments defeats the tactile/sensory diagnostic relationship in the operation of the instrument, and again, much of the data is lost in the translation.
A BRIEF HOROLOGICAL EXPERIMENT IN ANALOG vs. DIGITAL
Even something as rudimentary as time – a simple experiment will prove out: When we look at the face of an analog clock or wear an analog watch, we interpret the time it reads in a purely geometric relationship – that relationship being an instant representation of divisions of the day. Remember, one can even use an analog watch as a compass (see diagram). A digital watch, on the other hand, displays only the numbers representative of what time it is right now, and requires the brain to actually recalculate that information into a perceptional relationship of the current time. And, there is no way to use the digital readout as a compass. Try it for yourself – wear an analog watch for two weeks and then switch to a digital readout watch – you’ll see how much longer it actually takes you to interpret the time with the digital watch (probably in milliseconds – but still proof that there requires translation or conversion), and that the loss of geometry impedes ability to make any relationship between now and the future. And, an analog watch doesn’t even need numbers – the brain can interpret the geometric relationship of the hands and instantly “know” what time of day or night it is. Also, the digital readout does not have an entire watchface from which to observe any relationship between the past or the future. When looking at the analog clock, one can see the relationship into the near future and the near past within a 12 hour palette of time. The bomber sqaudron broadcasts “fighters at two-o’clock.” That can’t be represented on any digital timepiece, and makes no sense in the digital world.
E-BOOKS vs. PAPER BOOKS
Nothing fuels the analog vs. digital debate more than the debate between paper books and e-readers. Again, it is the loss of specific information with e-readers when compared to paper books that is significant here. Rachel Grate, in her article, “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books,” states that,
“Our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted and created new circuits to understand letters and texts. The brain reads by constructing a mental representation of the text based on the placement of the page in the book and the word on the page.”
E-readers are limited to one virtual page at a time, while paper books offer us other information such as our relative position in the book (a geometric proportion), tactile sensory information held within the mechanical turning of the pages, and even the smell of the paper and ink of which we know the olfactory sense to be the most aware regarding memory of all of the senses.
Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded in her research paper, “Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension,” that,
“…the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”
Again, the loss of analog information, while not directly connected to the data presented, can actually hinder comprehension of the subject matter.
Information and communication since the switch from analog delineation to digital imitation has lost much of the pertinent sensory data the human organism thrives upon and effectively necessitates. Specific technologies and communication in general have nearly been completely compromised, and have been so distorted by those who would profit from it. That analog technologies have not become extinct is a testament to the human organism’s requirement for them. Another reason for analog’s continued existence is its greater resistance to extermination. Vacuum tubes are not only considered “warmer” in fidelity than the on/off situations presented by their digital representations, they are also resistant to natural catastrophic events such as EMPs (electromagnetic pulses) – as are mechanical analog clocks and wristwatches. A book also knows not from this kind of hazard, but your Nook, Kindle, and laptop will be reduced to handful of smoking semiconductors in the event of an EMP.
Ones and zeroes are simply not representative of nature – and they are not found there. The death of analog, if it should come to pass, will spawn the death of the organic organism. Machines, with their ones and zeroes, will simply fulfill the prophecy of the Matrix. And, while this could be something to be feared, our living requirement for the analog will not allow it. Resistance to the analog is futile….consider your earth.
The Wood Effect by Clark Johnsen – see, http://www.positive-feedback.
“Analog Vs. Digital – Meanings, Messages & Signals – Comprehending the Differences Between Analog and Digital Recording Media,” by Franklin Ellsworth Clarke (Gerry Vassilatos): http://borderlandresearch.com/
“Record Store Day: Vinyl is making a comeback,” by Jim Harrington http://www.mercurynews.com/
music/ci_25578631/record- store-day-vinyl-is-making- comeback
Program or be Programmed, by Douglas Rushkoff – chapter 3, CHOICE: You May Always Choose “None of the Above”- http://boingboing.net/2010/09/
“Bring Back Our Knobs: Analog vs. Digital” by Glenn Harlan Reynolds – http://www.popularmechanics.
“Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books,” by Rachel Grate, http://mic.com/articles/99408/
“Chaos, Order, or Nature?” by Michael Theroux, http://explorationscience.org/
“Is the Human Brain Analog or Digital?” by Paul King, http://www.quora.com/Is-the-
Wikipedia, Nuclear electromagnetic pulse: Vacuum tube versus solid state electronics, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Nuclear_electromagnetic_pulse# Vacuum_tube_versus_solid_ state_electronics
“Reading linear texts on paper versus computer screen: Effects on reading comprehension,” by Anne Mangen, International Journal of Educational Research 01/2013; 58:61-68.