Mar 02
ANALOG OR DIGITAL PARADIGMS: A REJOINDER by webmaster  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Thu, Mar 2, 2006

(Reacting to my article recounting our debate on the above subject, my good friend Andy Bernal sent me this well-researched rejoinder which I am submitting in full—Vince M. Ragay).



So – are we analog or digital? Is the world analog or digital? Is the universe analog or digital? Is this an issue of semantics?

Let us first define the words. I use the Wordsworth Dictionary of Science and Technology, W&R Chambers Ltd and Cambridge University Press, 1988, and the Microsoft Bookshelf Basics – Dictionary.

Analogue (chemistry) A compound which may be considered derived from another by the substitution of derived aliphatic groups for hydrogen, e.g. ethanol is an analogue of methanol

Analog(ue) (meteorology) A previous weather map similar to the current map. The developments following the analogue aid forecasting.

Analogue (telecommunications) Any form of transmission of information where the transmitted signal’s information-bearing characteristic (usually amplitude and frequency) is varied in direct proportion to the intensity of sound, or brightness of pictures, etc, which it is desired to communicate.

Analogue computer. Computer which uses continuous physical variables such as voltage or pressure to represent and manipulate the measurements it handles. Now usually a special purpose computer.

Analogue watch, clock (horology) The traditional clock or watch with rotating hands.

Digital (computing) Representation of a numerical quantity by a number of discrete signals or by the presence or absence of signals in particular positions.

Digital (telecommunications) Communications circuits in which the information is transmitted in the form of trains and pulses; speech and vision need to be converted into code before such transmission, whereas most data is already in suitable form. Advantages include immunity to noise and the possibility of electronic exchange switching.

digit (noun) a finger or toe; a finger’s breadth as a unit of measurement (1.9 cm or 3/4 inch); a figure, especially one used in arithmetic to represent a number; any one of the Arabic numerals from 0 to 9; the twelfth part of the diameter of the sun or moon ( astronomy). © & 1987-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.The Chambers Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994 by Larousse plc.

dig’ital (adjective) pertaining to the fingers, or to arithmetical digits; showing numerical information by a set of digits to be read off, instead of by a pointer on a dial, etc (as in digital clock, digital thermometer); (of electronic circuits) responding to and producing signals which at any given time are at any one of a number of possible discrete levels, generally either one of two levels; (of continuous data, e.g. sound signals) separated into discrete units to facilitate transmission, processing, etc, or of the transmission, etc, of sound, etc, in this form
digital transmission (computing) the sending of computer data from one location to another by using a modem to convert the data into electronic impulses which can be sent along telecommunications lines to a distant point, where a modem converts the impulses back to the original form of the data). © & 1987-1996 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.The Chambers Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994 by Larousse plc.

What’s the point? Well, before any discussion it is best to make sure that the terms that will be used will be used in the same manner. If I say dog, then it is most likely barks, walks on four legs and is canine. And if I say cat, it must certainly meow most of the time and have retractable claws.

As seen above, the word analogue has been defined differently by different disciplines. But for related disciplines, its definition becomes similar. But considering how voltage was used to model arithmetic functions (by some method) in the early analogue computers, we can see that the word analogue was used to describe the process in which something was compared to something else (hence – analogy). And thus we see that the word analogue was used for the same reasons by the chemists, the meteorologists, the communications people and the computer people – that one thing is compared to another.

Digital by itself was derived from digit– the fingers. Thus we counted digitally: 1 2 3 … We never counted 1, 1-1/4, 1-1/2, 1-3/4 because although the next finger may indeed be short (by nature or amputated) it is a discreet step from the last finger. The Romans didn’t have fractions. For a long time the fractions man used was 1/3, 1/2 and further divisions therein. That’s why the dozen was very convenient. A dozen objects can be divided easily among two people, three people or four people. Ancient man dreaded the number which was not a multiple of 2 or 3 and started the superstition for some numbers.

The only reason that the word analogue clashed with the word digital was because of the rise of the digital computer.

Interestingly the words analogue and digital are also being used to describe user machine-interface. I wear a Timex watch with an analogue face (meaning a dial) but is driven by a digital circuit, as evinced by the jerky motion of the hand counting off the seconds. This jerky motion, however, cannot be observed on the hour hand because it moves in very fine discrete steps that for all intents and purposes is smooth motion. And I also once had a clock radio that displayed time digitally, but was run on an analogue circuit.

Is there any argument coming? None that I see.

Does saying that the universe is analogue mean that I eschew technological advances such as digital this and that? Hardly.

I embrace digital technology but accept that it is an approximation of the real world. And as technology advances, I look forward to devices that make better approximations of the real world.

Like the personal computer display monitor which started off having two colors (black and white or black and green), that was developed to show 16 colors, that had me jumping up and down when it could handle 256 colors, that for a while had High Color in 16 bits and now True Color in 32 bits and maybe soon 64 bit color.

Is film better than tape? My answer will depend on my mood at the time I was asked.

In the end, what I want is to look at pictures. To record scenes. To preserve them – suspended in time.

And, I suppose that’s where it all ends for me.

All the best!



After I told Andy that I had transcended the issue beyond the simple choice between analog and digital in my article, he smiled with relief and we laid the matter to rest. I thank him for going the extra mile to share his thoughts and to enlighten me.