true/false assumption behind 0s and 1s were false, THEN
what?: beyond binary
Computers work by applying self-referencing formulas,
definitions and meanings (like colors, shapes, letters) to
a digital stream of 0s and 1s. Phrases like IF-THEN
generate versitile renderings of human thought organized
around a single key concept:
1 = true and 0 = false.
But what of the truth of 1 and "O"?
You have undoubtedly, at some point, needed to enter a
complex password with an oval shaped character embedded in
it. You stop short, unclear whether the shape intended is
a zero or capital "oowh."
A trivial bit of a pain, some may say, for software
customers and technicians. I say, useful metaphor.
1 = true, and an oval shape = false OR perhaps the letter
"oowh" pointing to possible subjects like Octopus, Olive
Binary-ness need not be uncomplicated by Truth for it to
still function reliably in exacting systems (like
computers) designed to read it in a strict fashion. Thus
even underneath a binary can lurk a "fractal," layered,
complex picture, and yet the balance of nature need not be
upset in any way by it.
The tiny, brilliant book Flatland: A romance in many
dimensions (1884) does a bang-up job at a similar
Some modern physicists are beginning to suggest space is
bit-like. One way to do that is to establish Planck length
uncertainty, as a sort of irreducible state of space that
suggests anything larger than its fuzziness boundary be
designated a "bit" of space. The question remains, Why
must we describe space as having discrete (true or false)
bit-ness at all? The definition is arbitrarily limited,
and more importantly, leaves no room for cosmic
Did you notice the two slights-of-hand in the title of
this piece? One is a reference to Godel's Incompleteness
Theorem. Rendering the subject of the IF statement
(true/false logic) false makes the THEN part meaningless.
Logical systems cannot always be both consistent and
complete. The other slight-of-hand was the use of a
conditional verb form. This alludes to a real state of
some subjects of IF-THEN statements as existing in a state
of possibility rather than a rationally contrained state
of true or false.
Binary-ness is a useful tool, but beyond it is much to
celebrate if we open to the possibility.