Pragmatic (Humorous) Philosophy

Every time I mention a philosopher (as I often do on Psybertron) I am reminded of one collaborator (Daniel Rivers-Moore) who confided that he was in fact a philosopher by training, and almost regretted sowing (early phase) Wittgesteinian seeds in the minds of a modelling group. I am also haunted by this witty correspondence of 21 June 2001 from another collaborator (Ian Bailey) on the edi.epistle.framework exploder.

I have to say it’s great fun to get involved in all this cod philosophy again, but it’s also got me worried.

There seems to be a dogged pursuit of the “perfect model”, and philosophy seems to be the branch of “science” that is being used to pursue this. If there’s one thing we can learn from philosophy, it is that there is NO perfect model for the world. Philosophers have been trying to get this stuff right ever since the dinner party was invented. Fashions change regularly in philosophy, and opinion is always divided. It makes for interesting reading, and simply super conversation over a bottle of Petrus in a Hampstead dining room. However, I really have to question its applicability to solving real-world engineering problems.

Set theory is rooted in rather more concrete logic (yes, I know it was a pet subject of quite a few philosphers too). But again, pragmatism is more important than theory to me as an implementor….. What really concerns me is that one of the modelling team is going to buy a new philosphy book to read on his summer holiday and come back and change the whole model again. What will it be this time ?

Albert Camus ? – Things should only be modelled when they have been personally experienced. Anything which has not been experienced by me is irrelevent and so should be handled by exception.

My point is that philosophy is fine, but utterly subjective. We may as well just base our entity diagrams on an artistic movement as trust all our models to philosophy. De Stijl lends itself well to data models, I find.

LOL. De Stijl and Mondriaan were two of the themed meeting rooms in the European conference in the Kurhaus Hotel Den Haag the previous year I seem to recall. Small world.

Anyway, no argument with firm separation between pragmatic implementation and any underlying philosophical basis for a model. Probably where I might not agree is in choosing set theory / concrete logic as the best basis for a model – too rational / objective, even for “concrete” engineering – the ongoing Psybertron agenda.

But, how right he was, one of us did go off and read some new philosophy books, and now look what’s happened ! A good contribution which broke the ice in a modelling disagreement and, for me anyway, proved the value of humour in what on the face of it was a rational / technical debate. One for the “many a true word” thread.

[Post Note May 2012 – prescient on several fronts – philosophical pragmatism, direct (radical) experience and “science” in scare-quotes … re-read following this spoof Email Group IPO in a Daily Mash article posted by the same Mr Bailey via Twitter on LinkedIn.]

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