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Deep thoughts (alphabetical)

If Hollywood put up a big “Marilyn Monroe” sign, it would make sense for you to say that you snuck up there last night and switched the “M’s.”

If you type the name “Marilyn Monroe” and then copy and drag the M’s to transpose them, we would agree that you switched the M’s … but when you save the file and reopen it, are the M’s are still switched?

30 Responses to “Deep thoughts (alphabetical)”

  1. The M’s are still switched.

    The fact that the representations are identical and that it isn’t possible upon subsequent forensic analysis to determine that they have been switched is irrelevant.

    Similarity does not cause information to collapse into singularity.

    Unfortunately, many people think that indistinguishably similar digital representations of an intellectual work are the SAME work. They are not. They remain distinct copies (albeit indistinguishably similar).

    It is the privilege of copyright that gives people the notion that they can continue to supernaturally possess their intellectual work, wherever it exists in the universe, simply on the basis of similarity.

  2. The M’s aren’t the same M’s from before, so no, the new M’s are not the old ones switched.

    The M’s in play are just ephemeral representations of letters and their encoding in digital storage bears no resemblance to their visual form. Saving and restoring undergoes two one-way transformations and the reconstitution of the result is more like projection than teleportation.

    An analog would be that if you construct the name Marilyn Monroe on a flat surface with small pebbles, move the M’s, then take a photo of it, store it on an SSD card, and later reconstruct the image from the saved representation from the same pile of pebbles, there is nothing in the saved information to guarantee the letters would be constructed the same as the first time.

  3. Framed another way, if one typed “Marilyn Monroe,” on a computer saved the file, and then reopened it, are the reopened Ms the same as the originally typed Ms?

    I would say no, because of the nature of representation of computer-based information. Since all represented information is ephemeral (one of the properties of digitality), the representation has a time component among its characteristics. Thus the reopened Ms (as well as the other letters) are not the same in an existential sense as the ones of the originally typed file. Hence, in the example cited (which attempts to force an analogue between a tangible, concrete sign with an ephemeral production), the switched Ms are not the same Ms, and the retrieved file are certainly not the same Ms.

  4. P.S. You cannot step twice into the same river.

  5. Sheesh.

    Look, let us pretend that it was Micky Nouse. Swap the initial letters around to get Nicky Mouse, save the file, reload it, the letters remain swapped.

    Why do folk suddenly start invoking all sorts of supernatural and metaphysical nonsense simply because the initial letters are indistinguishable?

    What matters here is the provenance of information, the path of its communication. The fact that the end states are indistinguishable is irrelevant. Sure, a computer might say “Hang on. The new filename is equal to the existing one, therefore I won’t bother changing it”, but that is an optimisation – one I assume we are discounting for the sake of this thought experiment.

    I call it copy blindness. See A Cure for Copy-Blindness.

  6. Oh my god, I’ll never copy and paste again…

  7. I would say the M’s are in the eye of the beholder

  8. Crosbie, in your Micky Nouse example, it is true that the reloaded file has *an M* and *an N* transposed. They, are not, however, *the M* and *the N* from before. If you are going to get all literal on us and dismiss our arguments as supernatural and metaphysical nonsense, it’s incongruous then to deny a purely literal interpretation of the question.

  9. Just to overextend the thought experiment, if I were to tell you that I may or may not have switched the M’s and that the probability of my having done so is exactly 0.5, would you feel compelled by the ghost of Schrödinger to declare that the M’s are simultaneously switched and not switched?

  10. Brent,

    All you have to do is start off with the interchange of A & B, then A & A*, then A & A’, and finally A & A.

    Why on earth should things suddenly change simply because you are interchanging symbols that have the same representation?

    No magic occurs simply because A is equal to A, whereas A is not equal to A’. The laws of information are unconcerned with equality. If you swap A with A the same thing happens as with the exchange of A with A’,

    As far as Schrödinger is concerned, I will concede to you if you are talking of quantum computers. I am assuming Von Neuman architectures.

  11. It amuses me that you would express incredulity (why on earth, no magic, et al) that I see things from a perspective you do not share, while later in the same message conceding that starting from different assumptions leads to different reading of the same data.

    I do understand how you come to your conclusion, I simply choose to interpret the question differently than you do. Whether there is an interchange of A & B or A & A or chalk & cheese, you are dealing with the information as a concept, and I am choosing in the context of the question to deal with the same information as a physical representation, which renders any discord between the two perspectives moot.

    What makes David’s original query such a fascinating discussion catalyst is that simultaneous valid interpretations of the question can lead to multiple divergent arguments each of which speak their own truth.

  12. Brent, is this the 5 minute argument or the full half-hour?


  13. Heh heh, touché!

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