[Humanist] 31.343 different from the sum of its parts

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Oct 7 10:48:43 CEST 2017

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 31, No. 343.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Fri, 6 Oct 2017 08:45:21 +0100
        From: Gabriel Egan <mail at gabrielegan.com>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 31.339 different from the sum of its parts
        In-Reply-To: <20171006061631.0287D79AE at s16382816.onlinehome-server.info>

Tim Smithers makes the intriguing remark that:

 > In machines, such as computers, the proper
 > working of a machine (at some level) depends
 > upon the proper working of the machines that
 > compose it, but the working of these component
 > machines do not depend upon the proper working
 > of the machine they compose.

I used to work in mainframe computer operations for
local government in the 1980s and I distinctly
recall the day our IBM 4381 processer was upgraded
and the installation engineer asked where to find
the telephone socket we had assigned to it. What
did the computer want with a telephone socket? The
answer was that the computer would now self-diagnose
certain kinds of internal fault, would call IBM's
UK service centre, order the necessary replacement
parts, and book a service visit to install them. This
amazed us all. The modern equivalent would be the
way that personal computer software 'patches' itself
without human intervention.

Is this self-improvement not an example, contra Smithers,
of the working of the component machines (the faulty parts
or units of code) depending on the proper working of the
machine they compose (the whole processor or the whole
software package)? Specifically, if Windows Update stops
working on a PC, as has happened to me, the component
parts of the operating system cease to operate properly
because the whole operating system has cease to do its
job of applying patches to those local parts.


Gabriel Egan

Professor Gabriel Egan, De Montfort University. www.gabrielegan.com
Director of the Centre for Textual Studies http://cts.dmu.ac.uk
National Teaching Fellow http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ntfs
Gen. Ed. New Oxford Shakespeare http://www.oxfordpresents.com/ms/nos

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