Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Creative Coding

The Digital Revolution has the imprint of codes wherever we look. Codes are languages and are evidence that an intelligent agent had substantial input into the digital coding process. Not often when we use a digital device do we consider the significance of the coding phenomenon. The phenomenon today is rather like breathing air. Our air breathing example, however, is remarkable in itself. All of its processes are a source of wonder. We must insure that our sense of wonder includes giving glory to God for sustaining mundane events.

As we research the phenomena of the Digital Revolution, we discover we must dig more deeply into examples of how intelligent agency makes digital technology possible. Examples may be readily explainable on a technical level, but we may be left wondering how digital technology is intelligently contrived.

In our past posts we have discussed how computers, CDs, smart phones, and a host of other devices utilize digital coding. Instead of the smooth modulations of frequency and amplitude by which our eyes and ears perceive sound and light energy, digital technology enables our devices to receive familiar sound and light signals as multiple digits of discrete binary signals represented by “ons” or “offs.” The simplest binary scheme represents the energy stimuli as 0s or 1s. An 8-digit binary code may appear as 01010011. In pre-Digital Revolution days, we may have wondered, “Could it be this simple?”

In a digital electronic series of bytes, eight consecutive ons or offs, or even bytes of sixteen or thirty-two ons or offs, the signals must be converted to the equivalent of analog—smooth modulations of frequency and amplitude for sound, and smooth modulations of color and brightness for vision in order to be meaningful for human senses. Our ears hear in analog, not digital; our eyes see in analog, not digital; our ability to read words occurs in analog, not digital.

Physical sound, changes of pitch and variations of intensity, are encoded as simple streams of binary digits. A 440, the tuning standard for musical pitch, represents 440 high pressure regions passing a given point per second. The digital readout represents these regions. In Media Essentials, A Brief Introduction, we read, “In digital audio recording, digital audio is directly recorded to a storage device as a stream of discrete numbers, representing the changes in air pressure for audio and chroma and luminance values for video through time.” Video coding is aided by a process using the same principle. It is termed gamma encoding. Written text is encoded to represent a repertoire of characters. It is the most straightforward and easily grasped form of encoding.

The process of assignment of eight digit bytes (or more) to represent air pressure, light waves, or characters and their subsequent translation is clearly a project of an intelligent mind. All codes originate with an entity possessing intellect. We cite two examples of physical codes operating in humans as well as in all living things. The principles of coding and its intelligent origin are even more incredible in their wonder-inspiring outcomes—the neural code and the DNA code.

Mechanical pressure waves striking the ear, electromagnetic energy impinging on the retina, the pressure of physical touch on the skin, and many other bodily sensations trigger “action potentials” in millions of neural conduits to the brain. Most simply, these are described as “spikes,” also called action potentials or nerve impulses—temporary reversals of electrical polarity rapidly traveling down the length of the nerve fibers. This “spike” may be compared with a switch which is either on or off, or digits 0 or 1 having only two values.

Electrical spikes traveling down millions of neurons is coded information. Our brain is able to decode the neural signals, making them intelligible as meaningful sound, vision, or other stimuli. How our conscious brain accomplishes this task is the subject of intense research in physiology. Scientists have learned much concerning the process, but many answers are shrouded in mystery, known only by the Creator of the Code.

The DNA code is arguably the most awe inspiring code governing living things on this earth. DNA is essentially a giant molecule possessing a digital code. Only two nucleotides, molecular assemblages in the DNA molecule known as base pairs, exist on the helical DNA molecule. These base pairs occur on the DNA ladder in a specific binary digital order. The occurrence of three specific nucleotides in a certain grouping signal that one of twenty amino acids should be produced and assembled into thousands of different proteins—building blocks of the human body. Scientists have discovered what happens in the production of a new living entity, but in their discoveries of how it happens they come up short. Many coding secrets have been revealed, but the secrets of life are multidimensional.

The DNA code is recognized by scientists as a language as are other codes. All languages come from a mind. Information theorist Perry Marshall has clearly articulated these proposals in the last few years. He poses the Atheist’s Riddle: “Show me a language that does not come from a mind.” Psalm 139:14 reveals additional truth: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well (NIV).