What are 1s and 0s?
January 25, 2008 3:29 AM Subscribe
What are the 1s and 0s of computers? I.e., in what sense is it true (and in what sense is it false) to say that there are 1s and 0s in computers?
posted by Eiwalker to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Computer science is not fundamental physics, it's a macro science; otherwise 1s and 0s would (absurdly) be taken as fundamental physical entities (imagine that there are quarks, fermions, 1s, 0s, etc. at the base level). Rather, computer scientists talk about things like neurons, nodes, tape, each of which is composed of smaller parts, and, similarly, processes such as writing and erasing, each requiring many parts. But in the case of, say, a neuron, we can look at it in a microscope, dissect it, figure out what it's made out of. Whereas I'd like to know whether such is possible with regards to 1s and 0s; if not, why not?
I distinguish between numerals and numbers. In my terminology, numerals are physical but arbitrary, whereas numbers are non-physical but don't ultimately exist. Presumably, the sense in which there are 1s and 0s in computers is a sense in which there are numerals--though I suppose they don't really look like 2D "1"s or "0"s; I suspect their geometries are different. What are their geometries really like?