Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > The Poverty of the Instructed Organism > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

Are the yak and orangutan computable?

COMPUTERS CAN BE BUILT from virtually any material — just as their essential logic has been contrived from radio tubes, magnetic cores, silicon wafers, optical disks, and so on. You can read in the artificial intelligence literature how to build a computer with a roll of toilet paper as a central functioning part.

It would be nonsensical to think of translating a yak or orangutan into an alternative set of materials in this way. And the reason is instructive: our goal in building computers was to abstract as far as possible away from qualitative, material reality. The primary aim was calculation and manipulation of abstract information rather than appreciation of the qualities and forms of things. Unfortunately — Star Trek fantasies aside — the yak and orangutan, with their highly distinctive ways of being, are not so easily abstracted from their material existence.

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