Machine philosophy rudiments

NOTE HXA7241 2011-05-08T09:13Z

What is a machine? It is not a sort of complex mechanism. It is not a physical object. Or rather, it is not just those, or essentially those.

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The question could be answered with Wittgenstein's Tractatus's idea of a proposition as translated to software – the ‘propositional model’ of software. A proposition says: this is how things stand. A machine asserts: this is what is wanted.

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So machines are about conformance to intention.

A machine is defined by the role it plays rather than the features it has. A machine can go wrong. (Can a piece of stone go wrong? Or a cloud? No.) A particular machine is defined by what it does, but machines in general are defined by doing what is wanted. A machine is just a complex tool. Its complexity is not the key, its purposive use is.

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A machine is an elaborated intent, expressed in an objective form – a reified intent.

Maybe it is not as interesting that software is a machine, as to look at it the other way around: that machines are ‘software’ – that is, software is the purest, most detailed, example we have of what the concept ‘machine’ means. If we want to understand what ‘machine’ means we should look to software.

All machines are assemblies of abstractions. For physical machines those abstractions fit onto the regularities of materials and their behaviours (abstraction is the magic glue that joins intent to material). With software it must face the abstractions squarely, because there is nothing else.

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Software, like any machine, is not just a product of its design, it is its design. It does not just appear into being after and separate from its design, it embodies and reflects the process that made it.

To understand the structure of a machine/software, you need to understand the structure of its production: the engineering design process. And the principal feature of that is hierarchical composition . . .