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Babbage, Charles - The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise



Type of spiritual experience


Babbage not only conceived of the universe as one giant system - a system of spirit underpinning form - but spent some time speculating on just how many functions there might be, whether it was more simple than we might imagine from all the forms or as complex as the number of forms might indicate.  He favoured the latter, which puts him way ahead of many of the physicists of today who appear to believe there aren't many functions to discover!  [From the other observations it appears there are indeed trillions].

Also in this quote are ideas only recently used in computing itself.

There is decomposition of function - the breakdown of function into smaller and smaller sub-units  and its opposite the aggregation of function - in effect the Intelligence hierarchy. Thus he applied the ideas to the creation and we now also use them in computing - all systems.

He also mentions reusability, now a key underpinning of all computing and software development as well as hardware development but here applied to the creation - the concept of functions and parts that can be combined in all sorts of different ways to create new species and objects - from which presumably we get little animals like the duck billed platypus.

And he also considers the possibility of other creations, in environments which we may regard as hostile, but which may not be hostile to the  particular created object.

A description of the experience

from The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise: A fragment - Charles Babbage

between every law..... an infinity of others can be interposed.  All these might be combined by two, by three, or in any other groups and new systems might be imagined submitted to such combinations.  Thus, another infinity of laws, of a far higher order - might again be added to the list.  And this might still be increased by all the other combinations, of which such laws admit, besides that by addition, to which we have alluded, thus forming an infinity itself of so high an order, that it is difficult to conceive.

Man has as yet, no proof of the impossibility of the existence of any of these laws.  Each might, for any reason we can assign, be the basis for a creation different from our own......................

when contemplating the laws of inanimate matter - laws into whose consequences it has cost us such accumulated labour to penetrate - what langage can we speak, when we consider that the laws which connect matter with animal life may be as infinitely varied as those which regulate material existence?  The little we know, might, perhaps, lead us to infer a far more unlimited field of choice.  The chemist has reduced all the materials of the earth with which we are acquainted, to about 50 simple bodies; but the zoologist can make no such reductions in his science.  He claims for one scarcely noted class - that of intestinal parasites - about 30,000 species; and not to mention the larger class of animals, who shall number the species of infusoria in living waters, still less those that are extinct and whose scarcely visible relics are contained within the earth in almost mountain masses

The source of the experience

Babbage, Charles

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image