Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Everything for computers has to be numbers?

  1. Feb 25, 2013 #1
    Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Why every data, every information has to be represented in numbers for the computers. For us humans, we can take in data in various forms(or is it?). But for computers be it anything it is represented in numbers. Isn't there any other way?

    Hope question makes sense. I am having an itch but can't really express my doubt
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Computers can only process and store 2 states, On or Off. These are refered to numerically as 1 and 0 respectively.

    So computers therefore only understand 1s and 0s being input into them. Any data that is entered into the computer that is not a 1 or 0 has to be decoded into a series of 1s and 0s before it can be processed.

    For characters in the alphabet and symbols the computer uses a code system to represent each character or symbol in binary. Theres 3 main ones of these are: ASCII, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASCII , EBCDIC used by IBM mostly:, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EBCDIC and Unicode which allows a much larger character set to be used: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode
  4. Feb 25, 2013 #3
    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Consider this(I don't know if I am right or wrong but still) :- For us all the information/data in our brain is ultimately electrical/chemical signals. We can express these electrical/chemical signals numerically(although not simply 1 or 0 ... a little more complex). So in a way we also understand only numbers?
  5. Feb 25, 2013 #4

    D H

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Just because digital computers behave in a certain way does not necessarily mean that that is how brains operate. Brains apparently have some aspects that are digital, others that are analog. For example, see http://news.yale.edu/2006/04/12/brain-communicates-analog-and-digital-modes-simultaneously.
  6. Feb 25, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Your question would probably be best asked in the Medical Science forum: https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=149 [Broken] , since its starting to stray from the realm of computers and getting into neuroscience.

    I'll try my best to answer though, as far as I remember from biology class, the brain stores memories by rearranging the connections of the neurones so its not the actual action of the neurons and the electric / chemical signals but how they are connected and arranged.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Feb 25, 2013 #6
    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    Yes please move it to the appropriate forum. I don't know where this belongs.
    Anyways point was whatever way - digital or analog the brains appropriate it can be represented as numbers right? So even for us everything at a lower level can be expressed as numbers
  8. Feb 25, 2013 #7
    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    In a sense yes, it is possible to express what our brain does in mathematical terms but remember, mathematics is a language that was built to model the real world. So essentially, if it happens in the real world, it should be possible to express it using mathematics.

    I don't mean to take away any sense of awe or wonder, I'm not trying to that but I don't think this is anything special about this. It's exactly what math is meant to do, create model's that represent the world around us. Computer's can only understand and process two states, either there is a current (on) or there isn't (off) which can be mathematically represented as 1 or 0. This very effectively models what a computer does. We can apply a similar system, albeit more complicated, to model our brain.
  9. Feb 25, 2013 #8
    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    It's easy to have computers express everything in numbers. Because with binary states, 0's and 1's, you can string together these two simple states in order to create any number you want, you just have to convert it to our base 10 system.

    "Complexity arises from ordered simplicity." That is to say that using just two states 0's and 1's, we can create almost any simulation possible.

    Imagine trying to create a computer that uses DNA, you would have 4 states, A,T,C, and G, each standing for a simple nucleobase. Remmember that DNA is a molecule that encodes genetic instructions that are essential for the development of life. Notice the similarity to computers. Computers do just that, they follow explicit instructions using only a few fundamental components.

    I beleive that life finds the most efficient path to sucess, that would be through simplicity. And that is why computers are the way they are.
  10. Feb 26, 2013 #9
    Re: Everything for computers has to be numbers??

    My take; Its humans that project the quality of a number onto the physical states that computers use. This is a pragmatic thing to do, not a natural or inherent thing to do.
  11. Mar 6, 2013 #10


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    The above are describing digital computers. There have been analog computers built. Biologic thought is done by some complex analog or chemical method far more intricate than any computers.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook