Software as thought

NOTE HXA7241 2012-01-08T12:48Z

Chaitin's little quote about software is interesting but somehow seems not quite on target. So here is a new version, modified and expanded.

“software is frozen thought”

‘Meta Math: The Quest For Omega’, ch2, p37, para5; Chaitin; 2006.

‘Frozen’ has the pleasing echo of Goethe (“. . . where I call architecture frozen/petrified music . . .”) but it uncomfortably conflicts with software's essential fluidity.

This seems like it can be captured better. Software is not frozen, but externalised thought.

One might not usually think of thought as possible to be external. But thought is manipulation, an operation – a way of behaving. (hint: ‘Nothing is hidden’ – Wittgenstein) It is a complex form of behaviour, with various external interactions, but a behviour.

The philophical paper to start with is: ‘The Extended Mind’; Clark, Chalmers; 1998. :

“the human organism is linked with an external entity in a two-way interaction, creating a coupled system that can be seen as a cognitive system in its own right. All the components in the system play an active causal role, and they jointly govern behavior in the same sort of way that cognition usually does. If we remove the external component the system's behavioral competence will drop, just as it would if we removed part of its brain. Our thesis is that this sort of coupled process counts equally well as a cognitive process, whether or not it is wholly in the head.”

“By embracing an active externalism, we allow a more natural explanation of all sorts of actions. One can explain my choice of words in Scrabble, for example, as the outcome of an extended cognitive process involving the rearrangement of tiles on my tray. . . . In a very real sense, the re-arrangement of tiles on the tray is not part of action; it is part of thought.”

Software suits this because it is the most complex form of artifact we have. Software can embody thought better than anything else: more fluidly, more intricately. And if thought is behaviour, and external, it is actually shared. And software too is obviously not confined to the individual.

So the motto is:

Software is externalised thought, and open-source software is the thoughts of the global mind.