Showing posts from January, 2018

Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World

My review be done!

Philosophy of Science in Practice

My review is online at Computing Reviews. (ACM membership required.)

Berkeley's understanding of Christian belief

One of the most fascinating aspects of Pearce's work is how he unravels Berkeley's view of the truth of Christianity. Berkeley holds that both in ordinary and scientific language, "assent without ideas is a widespread phenomenon" (152). We assent to language that does not correspond to any idea when such assent enables to get on better in the world, e.g., we use the languages of "forces", even though we have no idea corresponding to "a force", because by doing so we are better able to predict the motion of objects in space. Similarly, to say, for instance, that one "believes" in the doctrine of the trinity is to assent to having one's life shaped by such a notion, and the "truth" of such language consists in the fact that those who truly assent to have their lives shaped by it thereby lead better lives. Or, as Pearce puts it regarding another belief, "The doctrine of the divinity of Christ produces a practical, interp…

Rationalism in software engineering

So, I've now come full circle, back to software engineering, after detouring through studying rationalism in economics, politics, philosophy and urban planning. And I have realized that long ago I had recognized the rationalist mistake in my own field of software engineering. It was present in the words of the critics of UNIX for not being designed according to some grand, theoretical blueprint, and instead being "hacked" together to fit the needs of the Bell Labs researchers. But even more so, it was present in the waterfall modelers and software managers requiring "complete specifications" before any coding starts.

One goal of this effort was to be able to hire really dumb programmers, whom one could pay very little. As T.S. Eliot might have put it, "They were dreaming of systems so perfect that no one had to be intelligent." But the dream is impossible to achieve: it was like the Soviet Union's five-year plans that would envision all economic …

Berkeley and Peirce

Interestingly, Berkeley anticipated C.S. Peirce's division of signs into indices, icons, and symbols, as he contended that one idea can suggest another "by likeness [icon], by necessary connexion [index]... or by arbitrary convention [symbol]." (The Theory of Vision Vindicated)

(The correspondence is not exact, however, since Berkeley includes a fourth category he calls "geometrical inference".)

God's language

Kenneth Pearce (Language and the Structure of Berkeley's World) argues that, for Berkeley, "bodies" are linguistic constructions built up from our phenomenal experience, and that causal talk, in everyday life and in physics, is an extension of that sort of operation. But Berkeley does not therefore dismiss such talk. The reason is twofold:
First of all, to model things this way is useful: it helps us "in the pursuit of happiness, which is the ultimate end and design... that sets rational agents at work" (204).But these ideas are also true, in an important sense: they reflect the underlying reality of "the regular ordering of ideas instituted by God, i.e., the linguistic or grammatical structure of the divine language of nature. Our talk about bodies aims to capture the lexicon of this language, and our talk about causes, laws, and forces aims to capture its syntax" (204).

How do you want to get there?

We jumped in a cab in front of our apartment. We told the driver, "Newark Airport, please."

He asked, "How do you want to get there?"

I answered, “By cab.”

Dancing intelligently

Is not to do two things: first, to have an “idea“ about dancing, and then secondly to execute that idea.

Instead, it is doing one thing, namely dancing, in an intelligent manner.

(In this post I am, of course, simply practicing thinking as Gilbert Ryle does.)


In a segment from BBC's program The Hunt, I learned of a quite amazing animal: portia, a spider-hunting spider.

In the clip, you can see a portia approach another spider, twice her size, and then, stop and carefully think about the best approach route to take her prey. She finally picks a route that will take many, many minutes to complete, and which involves her being out of sight of the prey for a great deal of the route. And faced with unfamiliar spiders, they improvise new tactics. Furthermore, they are social, and recognize other individuals of their species.

Scientism defined

"all reality that did not bend or reveal itself through the orthodox method [of the physical sciences] was a priori defined as subjective fancy." -- Colin Cordner, "Eric Voegelin and Michael Polanyi on Science and Philosophy," forthcoming in Tradition Versus Rationalism.

That's a nice, concise definition or you!

My review of Why Liberalism Failed...

is online at The American Conservative.

Canadian Goose Arctic Program

I was walking in NYC one day this fall when I was surprised to see several people nearby, wearing identical jackets, with patches claiming that they were participants in the "Canadian Goose Arctic Program." Maybe the Canadian goose was in trouble, despite its ubiquitous presence on golf courses?

Then I saw a few more participants, and then a few more. Soon I was seeing them everywhere. Apparently, there were hundreds of participants in this program, and they had all descended on New York City!

But when I asked my friend about this, he told me, "It's not a program, it's a brand."

"What?! Why would someone buy a jacket carrying such an idiotic patch, you know, given they aren't in any such program?"

"Not only do they buy them," my friend explained, "they pay $400 a jacket for the privilege of wearing the idiotic patch."

All just so one can be sure one is "fashionable"!

Nagios, oh Nagios!

Typical open source install mess: first, their instructions are wrong, and I had to spend ten minutes researching why one of the commands they told me to run was failing.

But once it ran, it then spent 20 minutes seemingly installing half of the open source software in the world. Folks, having this many dependencies just about guarantees future messes down the road: how in the world are the dozens of packages I just installed all going to be kept in sync?

And what about just coming as a Docker image?

Financial “independence“

From a woman born in the 60s: “Women of my generation were told the most important thing was to be financially independent, so we weren't relying on a man. But almost none of us became financially independent: instead, we just came to rely on a corporation instead of a man to support us."

Two-Population Social Cycle Theories

has been published online in Research in the History of Economic Thought and Methodology.

The Stupidity of "Regulating" Banks to Prevent Meltdowns

"The move took place mostly because of the overbureaucratization of the system as paper shufflers (who think work is mostly about paper shuffling) overburdened the banks with rules -- but somehow, in the thousands of pages of additional regulations, they avoided considering skin in the game." -- Nassim Taleb, Skin in the Game, p. 13