The Space Between

Yesterday, I posted a portrait of myself as I was traveling to Mike‘s plane of existence. Even though I can’t share any details of our visit (believe me I would love to if I could), I was able to capture the essence of our visit. However before you see it, I need to provide you with some background.

We exist in an analog and digital world

Evidence of analog and digital worlds are before from our earliest experience. Who is the baby that doesn’t drool (an analog act)? Baby’s fuzzy unarticulated world is an extension itself. Its world is an integrated, smooth continuum, from the soothing voices to the satisfaction of release (after the analog process of digestion). Soon however, the baby comes face to face with the digital world: the dreaded states of ‘yes’ and ‘no’. In the case of some families, there is a third stable state: the conditional ‘maybe’.

What do we mean by analog and digital?

Analog means smooth

An analog computer takes a smoothly-varying wave as its input and changes it to a smoothly varying output. It is made up of circuit components, resistors, capacitors and inductors, which modify an input signal according to their physical traits. Some components multiply, others divide or integrate and some differentiate. The signal put into the circuit represents the input to the problem and the output gives the answer. The analog computer between the input and output can be considered the mathematical equation. However, there are many inaccuracies. Tolerance on individual components could add up to be quite significant. Furthermore, these systems do not work well with all inputs: some worked well at low frequencies, others at high frequencies.

Digital means one level or another – nothing in between

Numerical analysis provided the theory that allowed mathematicians to sample a waveform at regular intervals and reconstruct the original from the samples. They reconstructed it by drawing straight lines between the levels to reproduce the original waveform. Essentially, a continuous wave could be replaced by a connect-the-dot waveform. One of the disadvantages of performing this operation is that the resulting wave is not exactly the same as the analog waveform. It is jagged instead of smoothly varying. However, one can choose the accuracy of the digital waveform by increasing the number of samples per second; we get more dots, and the digital waveform is a closer approximation to the original.

What’s the difference?

The difference between analog and digital is the tiny difference between the straight lines connecting the dots and the smooth curve of the signal between the same two dots. This difference is called the ‘error’. The closer the dots are to each other, the higher the ‘sampling rate’ and the lower the ‘error’.

Digital waves can very closely resemble analog waves. For example, an analog sound can be sampled at such a rate that the human ear cannot distinguish the digital sound wave from the analog sound wave. This high sampling rate is used to record the digital music of today.

How is it then, that some audiophiles claim that they can hear a difference between an analog and digital audio signal? Either they can detect the almost infinitesimal error rate or they must, with some other biological process, detect other differences between analog and digital.

Finally: how this relates to Michael

The space in between

The space in between analog and digital seems to be where my brother resides. He is autistic and profoundly retarded. He doesn’t talk. “He’s in his own world,” was the explanation I often got as a child. Where is that world? Is it made up of connections in his brain? Is he conscious like other people? Just like the rest of us, my brother feels pain, goes to the bathroom and eats. That is what we have in common. We have my parents in common also. So why is there that huge gulf of being, between us? Maybe he’s off a gene or two; a mistake in the digital realm. Maybe the analog chemical environment in his brain did not allow him to develop as I did. Still, after many years of seeking commonality with him, I have concluded that yes, there is some. Where does it reside? I don’t know. Maybe my mind has imposed its own order on the facts and observations I have made.

Mike and I met in the space between analog and digital, as you can see below.

Double exposure of evaporating self portrait and graphic to 'catching up' post

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