And that statement is totally subsumed by philosophy

Someone on my Facebook feed, who seems to be a fairly clever person (but not very wise), posted an essay in which she wrote, "Philosophy has now been totally subsumed by computer science."

We come upon this sort of foolishness regularly: before computer science, philosophy was going to be totally subsumed by the physical sciences. It may be instructive to look at a couple of the problems with a view like this.

First of all, her statement itself is quite obviously not a finding of computer science! Computer science doesn't even contain a category called "philosophy," and so also can't contain any statements about philosophy. Computer science studies algorithms, and there is no possibility that the study of algorithms, however wonderful or brilliant those algorithms are, can reveal anything about subject A being subsumed by subject B, since computer science knows nothing of "subjects" or what it might mean for one to "subsume" another. In fact, the only subject that might be capable of making such a claim about two other subjects is... philosophy.

Secondly, her claim is based on some wooly notion that "the universe is an algorithm." On the face of it, this is sheer babble. What in the world does it mean to say that a beautiful sunrise, a woman giving birth to a child, the death of Cicero, a wolf eating a lamb, Van Gogh's "Starry Night," and the firebombing of Dresden are all "an algorithm"? Were the screams of the children being gassed at Auschwitz a for loop? The Mongols sweeping across the steppes an if statement?

But if there is any sense to her statement, just which subject might be fit to evaluate what that sense might be? Could it be... philosophy?


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