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All posts for the month January, 2003

T’Was Ever Thus – Interesting from Seb, a reference to Richard Rorty, via Dave Weinberger, via Mitch Ratcliffe that there are very few if any new problems that previous generations have not already recognised. I’ve blogged several times “It was ever thus” and “Nothing new under the sun” over the years, most recently in connection with US Philosopher William Barrett.

Even more interestingly, Barrett makes the very point – in the concluding chapter “The Place of the Furies” of his “Irrational Man” – that recognising “it was ever thus” is itself as old as philosophy; quoting Karl Jaspers citing an anonymous 4000 year old Egyptian philosopher, and Ortega y Gasset citing the Latin poet Horace. Current issues always look more problematic than those of our ancestors, but they were always pretty much the same problems.

I’ve probably displayed more than a little skepticism from time to time, even a general lack of respect, for our cousins across the Atlantic. Despite a string of important US pragmatist philosophers in the latter half of the last century, US society as a whole does seem to be the most extreme manifestation of the western rationality “conspiracy”. I finished reading Williams Barrett’s “Irrational Man” which, as I blogged earlier and which the contemporary sleeve notes reinforce, remains poignant at the start of the new century considering it was written in 1958. So good I think I’ll post a full review in the coming week. After a review of existentialist philosophy, he concludes with a passionate summary of his opinions of the ills of US society in the days of mass communications, and paranoia about a threat from the east (1958 remember). A thoroughly recommended read.

I scribbled “Stupid White Men” in the margins on more than one occasion – which is spooky, because I’ve just returned from a trip to Houston where the guy in the seat in front on the flight out was reading Michael Moore’s book. In fact he was standing in line at US Immigration flagrantly continuing to read it, and I couldn’t help thinking if might not be a hanging offence to do so at Bush International Airport in the land of Dubya. Anyway, he survived to read another day.

The Irrational Economist ? Article by Peter Monaghan in the Chronicle of Higher Education [via Jorn]. Making economics look like a mathematical science is a con trick. All part of the “rational conspiracy”. [Quote] The orthodoxy also distorts economic reality, say its critics. “Superficially, it seems like a coherent model of the world,” says Mr. Keen, the author of Debunking Economics: The Naked Emperor of the Social Sciences. But don’t be fooled, he says, by the mainstream’s fancy mathematics and claims that it is a predictive science, not just a descriptive social science. [Unquote], and more from Deirdre McCloskey blogged earlier. Several good source references in this article.

“The quantity of journalism the modern age has turned out in the process of its own self-analysis, already overflows our archives and, were it not that most of it were doomed to perish, would be a dull burden to hand down to our descendants. Communication makes possible the [] instantaneous conveying of news from one point on the globe to another. We are still pretty much in ignorance [of true knowledge], and most of the comtemporary world is caught up in an unconscious act and gigantic conspiracy to run away from these facts. Man is willing to learn about himself only after some disaster. What he learns has always been there [and] it is no less true for having come out of a period of chaos and disaster.”

Modern world ? Contemporary world ? Blogging post 9/11 ?

Well no, 1958 actually, written by US philosopher William Barrett in “The Irrational Man – A Study in Existentialist Philosophy” reflecting on the state of philosophy and knowledge post two world wars, in the shadow of the atomic age. (Very busy right now, but had to blog that reference – No relation to Wild Willie I presume ?).

Motivation. Not his main point, but an interesting (possibly apochryphal ?) story from Cringley. [Quote] If you are in the asynchronous logic field, you know who Rajit is. He had a knack for the stuff, that’s for sure. He understood it in a native way that nobody else did at the time, which made chip design, if not effortless for him, say a thousand times easier than it was for the otherwise equally smart guy down the hall. Rajit was a one-man asynch design lab, and both Intel and Sun wanted very much to hire him, though neither ever did. Both companies were unable or unwilling to provide the kind of motivation Rajit required — cats and chocolate. Most likely, they couldn’t even imagine an engineer unmotivated by stock or money, which are the normal currencies of recruitment. Cats and chocolate would have been cheaper, of course, but they didn’t bother to learn enough about the guy to know how to attract him. Today Rajit — smart as ever — teaches at Cornell, which must be chockablock with cats and chocolate. Or maybe it has just the normal levels of each and an absence of crazy product deadlines. [Unquote] [Main topic is chip speeds and the control of the PC marketplace.]

More on Quines. Still intrigued about Quines (even though I still don’t know why it’s relevant here – ever experience just knowing it is ? – Nash / Beautiful Mind – see earlier). Miscoranda gave me the original link. This new link eventually leads to the classic ACM Turing Award lecture by Ken Thompson.

I can see the self-replicating aspect relevant to genetics / evolution, learning / AI and to trojan horse viruses. Something which (in data) contains something defining it’s function (in code). Something akin to RDF here – subject / predicate stuff – content and intent – intension and extension ? I give in for now.

Interesting interview with Ken Thompson under the circumstances. [Quote] … simple yet powerful … see primitives and recognize their power to build structures …. When I see a top-down description of a system or language that has infinite libraries described by layers and layers, all I just see is a morass … interesting conversations, where two people think they are talking to each other but they’re not. They just miss, like two ships in the night … words …. meaning different things to both sides … PAC is vastly superior to MP3 … nobody who actually uses computers today knows what an operating system interface is … the same thing with Microsoft: Until something comes along that makes them irrelevant, the entry fee is too difficult and they won’t be displaced …. Anybody who says there’s no more innovation in the world is doomed …. why on earth travel to Russia to fly a Mig-29 ? …. How often does the Soviet Union collapse? It Who wouldn’t do that? When things like that come along, I’ll take them. They’re fun. [Unquote]