February 06, 2003

Program vs. data as wave vs. particle, dualities

Let me try this from another direction. In physics, for light, there's a phenomena called "wave-particle duality". That is, in some ways a photon of light acts if it's a tiny billiard ball (a particle) and in other ways it acts if it's a ripple in material (a wave).

So asking "Is something program or data?" is a bit like asking "Is light a particle or wave?". As an intrinsic property, it's always both, But this doesn't mean everything stops there. Depending on extrinsic considerations, in different circumstances, one or the other aspect is the way it is taken in a particular situation.

In a legal analogy, I mentioned the same action being accident or murder depending on the state of mind. What I was attempting to express there, was less the specific idea that the distinction between accident and murder can be based on intent, and more the general idea that it's based on certain extrinsic rules on how to place the very same action. Did the person intend to do harm? How much did they intend? Even if they did intend, is that intent excusable? ("justifiable homicide"). However, the target is just as dead, regardless of the outcome of this rule-based determination procedure of what legal category should apply to the action.

I do think what might be called "program-data" (or "speech-code") duality has profound implications. But I also think discussion of those implications often gets derailed into an uninteresting side-path where people ask

"How can treating dual-thing as aspect-1 in situation-1, be reconciled with the fact that dual-thing is treated as aspect-2 in situation-2? Is dual-thing actually aspect-1 or aspect-2? Surely, since dual-thing can be both aspect-1 and aspect-2, then it must be treated also as aspect-2 in situation-1, and aspect-1 in situation-2. Ha-ha-gotcha!"

As a purely philosophical objection, I don't think this works. Legally, line-drawing is done all the time. The deep problem, as I see it, is if the objection works as a practical issue. As in the following part of the DeCSS decision:

FN275. During the trial, Professor Touretzky of Carnegie Mellon University, as noted above, convincingly demonstrated that computer source and object code convey the same ideas as various other modes of expression, including spoken language descriptions of the algorithm embodied in the code. Tr. (Touretzky) at 1068-69; Ex. BBE, CCO, CCP, CCQ. He drew from this the conclusion that the preliminary injunction irrationally distinguished between the code, which was enjoined, and other modes of expression that convey the same idea, which were not, id., although of course he had no reason to be aware that the injunction drew that line only because that was the limit of the relief plaintiffs sought. With commendable candor, he readily admitted that the implication of his view that the spoken language and computer code versions were substantially similar was not necessarily that the preliminary injunction was too broad; rather, the logic of his position was that it was either too broad or too narrow. Id. at 1070-71. Once again, the question of a substantially broader injunction need not be addressed here, as plaintiffs have not sought broader relief.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in infothought | on February 06, 2003 12:57 PM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

Subscribe with Bloglines      Subscribe in NewsGator Online  Google Reader or Homepage