Are we analog or digital?

I’ve been wondering about this for many years now, and every time an infinity thread comes up, I think about it again.

Is the natural world analog or digital? Continuous or discrete?

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I vote for analog, since our brains do not process things digitally. All of our senses involve analog input. If the natural world were digital, then we would be able to discern a stream of binary without the intervention of a computer.

The rest of your body is analog, but the nerves may not be.They either fire or don’t fire.

My fingers and toes are definitely digital.

Sunbear, I believe scientific thought on that is changing. I don’t have any hard references handy, but recent studies have shown there are degrees of synaptic intercourse, it’s not just an on/off thing.

I’m pretty sure it not ony involves the level of neurotransmitters sent, but the combination of other chemicals used as modifiers / catalysts as well.

My vote is for anaolog as well, most any of our senses can be measured in degrees. Also you will notice other invoulentary factors, capliary action, vasoconstriction, pupil dilation etc, are all done in degrees, not in a simple open, close pattern.

To deal with men by force is as impractical as to deal with nature by persuasion.

I would say analog. We really don’t deal in discreet packets or on/off states.

>>while contemplating the navel of the universe, I wondered, is it an innie or outie?<<

—The dragon observes

This is kind of a tough question. At first thought, the answer is obviously analog. Problem is, though, is that if the quanta are small enough, it would be impossible to discern them individually. That’s kinda meaningless by itself, since we already know that on a subatomic level everything pretty much consists of discrete quanta. But then think about something like how our sense of sight works. It would appear to be analog, but the fact that we percieve 10 still images per second as fluid motion indicates otherwise.
I’m gonna have to put myself on the boat with Beeruser here, I just don’t know.

sunbear/Nickrz - Nick is right - nerves fire at different pulse/time unit rates to indicate level of sensation. This is not very new information. I learned this in college 15 years ago. Interesting note: baseline rate is not zero but at some level above zero. Zero will be interpreted as a different sensation than no sensation - thus allowing us to feel pain from areas where nerves are destroyed (and also “phantom” feelings from amputated limbs).

The nerve pulses are processed by many different filters at different levels before they reach our level of conscious awareness. For instance, just what I remember on visual impulses: a vertical, horizontal, and diagonal filter(for movement, IIRC), binocular adjustment & a cross-wiring just after the receptor where each receptor adds about 10% of it’s output to it’s neighbors output. (This creates a phenomenon known as Mach Bands - example: and was proposed by my sensory psych professor as the explanation for “auras”)

For my two cents worth on the original question: At the lowest levels the world is discrete: atoms & DNA for example. The world quickly becomes continuous once you get past this level.

When I think about it, this is a really dumb question. Who cares? Man, I should find better things to do…

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Wow. That was productive.
Maybe you could inform us of your disinterest ahead of time so we could find better things to do, too.

Sorry, Nick, didn’t mean to come off that way. (I was trying to be funny :)) My mind was so far from science at that moment that the question just seemed so ridiculous.

I believe this question is an important one, though. I think it is central to grand unification theories. We need a theory that takes us from micro to macro. A theory of everything. A theory to solve all questions. This is hardly anything trivial.

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I still maintain that parts of the nervous system are digital. The eyes and ears for instance. There are only so many cells in the retina to record an image, and they can only send so many images in a given time.

Beer - I was kinda stunned 'cause I thought it was a great question!

It IS a great question. I work on signal transduction in cells, and I’m constantly struck by how digital everything is. There are great complexities and combinations that make for many seeming degrees of response, blending into an apparent continuum, but on the cell level, the “switches” are either thrown or not; there’s very little about them that is analog.
It may be argued that our conclusions are shaped by our experimental techniques and biases, that things seem digital because we measure everything against controls: results are either “the same” as the controls or “different”. That’s a valid point, but I don’t think it’s at the heart of the matter.

I think our cells process information in a discrete way because an analog system would generally allow for too much noise. There’s a lot of background activity in a living system, and fluctuations in all sorts of things. Signals have to respond to cutoffs, threshholds, and on/off events, or there just wouldn’t be enough fidelity to the message - it would be sent or recieved too often at inappropriate times.

If we are truly digital, then someday it will be quite possible that we build a form of AI that replicates our natural world. And by following this argument, it implies that we, too, can be a part of some great computer program.

We can see this happening. Computers, which are truly digital, come closer everyday to mimicking real life. Just look at digital recording. The resolution is so fine that there is practically no way from telling the recording from the live.

My $.02

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