The Third Culture

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Edge 79

By George Dyson

I count nine bits of chad on the carpet after all the ballots are run. The chad may just have fallen innocently out of the innards of the machine, it may have fallen out of any number of punch positions which had nothing to do with the city council race, or one or more bits might have fallen out of the Zimmerman-Goldsmith positions. Who knows? The seconds tick by, and I am acutely conscious at this instant that language and reality sometimes coincide: in the punched card universe a "bit" really is a bit, and Gregory Bateson's definition of information as "any difference that makes a difference" is true indeed, as we await the count of how many bits of difference between card and not-card have just passed through the Cardamation machine.

Introduction by Freeman Dyson

For your entertainment, here is a piece by George Dyson. It shows the way to deal equitably with the situation in Florida. It was written three years ago and it is being published this week in the Bellingham Herald and in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung. You might consider it an addendum to Danny Hillis's piece in the news-letter about "How Democracy Works". It describes a real case verifying Hillis's theory of democracy. Implications for biology, engineering, and physics are enormous.

, a historian among futurists, has been excavating the history and prehistory of the digital revolution going back 300 years. His most recent book is Darwin Among the Machines.

See George Dyson's Edge Bio Page

By George Dyson

In the digital universe, every bit makes a difference. In a democracy, every vote counts. Punched card ballots are where these two universes coincide. On November 4, 1997, in Ferndale, Washington, the difference between two candidates for city council came down to one bit of difference on one card.