The Pattern On The Stone by W. Daniel Hillis

A fascinating book about how computers work, The Pattern on the Stone looks at language, technology and human behaviour, and discusses a lot of common topics of inquiry along the way.

Here are some quotes I enjoyed.

The Pattern On The Stone by W. Daniel Hills“[In a hydraulic valve circuit] the control pipe can affect the output but the output pipe cannot affect the control pipe. This restriction establishes a forward flow of information through the switch; in a sense, it establishes a direction in time.”

“I am always fascinated by how a pattern can create reality.”

“In principle, [the] process of nesting phrases inside of one another can go on forever, producing absurd sentences like “Dogs that dogs that dogs that dogs annoy ate bit bite.” Recognising such a sentence as grammatically correct is impossible for a finite-state machine, and for exactly the same reason it’s difficult for a person: you need a lot of memory to keep track of all those dogs. The fact that human beings seem to have trouble with the same kinds of sentences that stump finite-state machines has caused some people to speculate that we may have someone like a finite-state machine inside our head for understanding language.”

“Whether or not people can successfully make intuitive leaps that cannot be made by computers, Godel’s incompleteness theorem provides no reason to believe that there are mathematical statements that can be proved by a mathematician but can’t be proved by a computer. Humans cannot compute noncomputable problems any more than computers can.”

“The word “quantum” conveys essentially the same notion as the word “digital”.”

“Our commonsense notions tell us that one thing cannot be in two places at the same time. In the quantum mechanical world this is not exactly true, because in quantum mechanics nothing can be exactly in any place at all. A single subatomic particle exists everywhere at once, and we are just more likely to observe such a particle at one place than at another. For most purposes, we can think of a particle as being where we observe it to be, but to explain all observed effects we have to acknowledge that the particle is in more than one place.”

“Philosophers have written a great deal of nonsense about “the limitations of computers” when what they are really talking about are the limitations of algorithms.”

You can find The Pattern On The Stone: The Simple Ideas That Make Computers Work on Amazon.

This is an affiliate link, which means that if you buy the book after clicking on it, I will receive a percentage of the sale price. The book will be the same price whether you buy it through my link or by searching on Amazon. I did not receive a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own. 

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