Guest Article: Reposted with thanks
The story of
The origins of the electronic computer…
as it is most frequently told, is an engaging tale of intellectual turbulence in the early decades of the twentieth century. The computer grew out of dramatic upheaval in the fields of mathematics and logic, not unlike what was happening at the same time in physics, politics, and the arts. In this paper, we shall examine the origins of the computer from the perspectives of two competing world views, which we will call “Mechanism” and “Romanticism”, after Dahlbom and Mathiassen (1993). Although the computer is considered the crowning achievement of the former of these, we shall see that, ironically, it was inspired by a discovery that represented, in a sense, a major setback for the Mechanistic mode of thinking.