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Sure — any symbols can. There are "music processor" programs for printed music that work like word processor programs for printed text.

Symbols and Patterns

Recall that last advantage of binary:

What about representing things other than the written characters of a language? This is a deep topic, and entire books have been written on it. Here is a very sloppy discussion: Pick some subject. Use English sentences to describe it. Represent those sentences in ASCII (characters encoded as bit patterns.) Now the subject is represented in binary. If something can be represented in English, then it can be represented in binary.

Notice that this says nothing about "meaning" or "understanding." Printed books don't understand their own contents. A digital version of the book (say on CD ROM) doesn't understand the book, either. It merely holds the information, waiting for a human mind to do the understanding. However the book has been represented as bit patterns.

Nobody said that binary representations are easy to use. Some representation methods are very useful for computers (for instance, using binary patterns to represent numbers), others are nearly useless. Much of the work that computer scientists do is figuring out how to represent things using binary in ways that are useful. For example, much work has been done in the last ten years in figuring out how best to represent image and audio data.

Important Point:

All that computer memory holds is bit patterns. What those bit patterns represent depends on how they are used.


Sometimes people say, "All that a computer can handle is numbers. It doesn't understand anything else." Do you think that this is correct?

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