[SIGCIS-Members] Analogue vs. Digital

Aristotle Tympas tympas at phs.uoa.gr
Wed May 19 01:46:38 PDT 2010

Hi Pierre,

A welcomed addition to the history of the analog-digital relationship is
that by Charles Care, who defended his dissertation at the University of
Warwick in 2008. Care integrates this history into the history of
modeling. You may also want to check relevant articles in Care's webpage
at the University of Warwick.

David Mindell's 'Between Human and Machine' is, in my opinion, a must for
those who want to study this relationship. But it is focused on an earlier
period than the one that your student is interested in and it is more
focused on on-line computing (computing as integrated into
control-regulation). The dissertation by James Small (part of which made
it to articles in the 'Annals of the History of Computing' and 'History
and Technology', one in each) is more relevant in regards to period. For a
suggestive study on the social meaning of analog technology from a context
other than computers, I would recommend the book 'Analog Days: the
invention and impact of the moon synthesizer' (by Trevor Pinch and Frank
Trocco, 2002).

A wonderful but extremely demanding theoretically book on the
analog-digital relationship from the early 1970s (1972) was written by
Antony Wilden (System and Structure: Essays on Communication). I thought
of it upon reading your email because it follows this relationship in
contexts of  some relevance to what we now call neurobiology.

Because of your student's chronological focus, I would also suggest
looking at the understudied history of hybrid analog-digital computer
structures. For my own try at briefly introducing this history in the
context of an encyclopedic entry, see Aristotle Tympas, ‘Computers:
Hybrid’, in Encyclopedia of 20th –Century Technology, Colin Hempstead
(editor), Routledge, London, Great Britain, 2005, 202-204. Also, for a
survey of some preceding works on the history of analog computing, you may
see the references in Aristotle Tympas, ‘Computers: Analog’, in
Encyclopedia of 20th-Century Technology, Colin Hempstead (editor),
Routledge, London, Great Britain, 2005, 195-199.

I hope this helps,


> Hello,
> One of our students is studying the early use of electronic computers
> in neurophysiology, and has hit upon a 1967 controversy between
> Experimental/ Analogue and Digital approaches, when DEC LINCs were
> installed. What reading would you recommend on this topic ?
> (I remember James Small addressed this controversy in his
> dissertation, some 20 years ago - and so did, more recently, Paul
> Edwards in "The Closed World")
> Thanks !
> Pierre Mounier-Kuhn
> CNRS & Université Paris-Sorbonne
> 28 rue Serpente, 75006 Paris
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Αριστοτέλης Τύμπας / Aristotle Tympas

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