Re: What's the name for this?

From: Edward G. Nilges (
Date: 04/28/04

Date: 28 Apr 2004 05:46:27 -0700

Chris Sonnack <> wrote in message news:<>...
> "Edward G. Nilges" wrote:
> >>>> We have a philosophy of mathematics whether we want to or not,
> >>>> and Platonism produces bugs because of its demand that everything
> >>>> be known and available.
> (The above statement is utter gibberish, AFAICT.)
> >>> What demand?
> (An unanswered--nay, IMO, an unanswerable--question.)
> >> I suspect this is just babble. He's been parroting "Platonism"
> >> ever since a thread here touched on it.
> >
> > Actually, I haven't been "parroting" it.
> I think you have. Your posts never mention in *prior* to its recent
> mention here in this group. Since that time, you've mentioned it
> numerous times (all incorrectly from what I've seen). The obvious
> conclusion--given your general tendancy to pick up and misuse terms--
> is clear.
> > I have instead been showing how even that notoriously uneducated
> > tribe, of computer scientists, reproduce philosophical memes
> > including "Platonism" because American universities do such a poor
> > job of teaching philosophy,...
> You must be referring to yourself, because every mention I've seen
> you make has had nothing to do with Platonism.
> Also, you're the only one mentioning it in connection to programming.
> A connection that seems tenuous--at best--to me, but more likely is
> completely specious.
> Ed, here's a challenge for you. You claim you're better educated
> than us. You certainly seem to think you're better than me. You
> have also claimed teaching experience.
> Okay, consider me an unwashed, illiterate idiot--no stretch for you
> I'm sure--and use your teaching power to educate me. I claim there
> is no connection between the philosphy of Plato and Computer Science.

> In clear, teacher terms, please educate this ignorant fool.
> Or admit you are "BS"ing.

Glad to accept. I would point out, first of all, that there's no point
in being Irish if you can't mix a little BS, a little blarney, with a
high seriousness: but in your sense of "total bullshit" I don't

Here goes:

To be proven that there is a connection between the philosophy of
Plato and Computer Science

Proof 1 (trivial): everything is connected with everything else. If
"connection" is a fully transitive operator, then there is an infinity
of proofs that there is a connection between Plato and CS.

But let's be serious, or, at a minimum, nontrivial.

Platonism is in large measure the belief that the contents of our
minds, whether mathematical or not, are partial shadows of real
entities that exist in a timeless "world of forms".

For example, the initial dialog of the Republic is a discussion of
what "justice" means. The conclusion is that in the "real" world of
Athens there is only partial "justice" because the arrangements of the
state don't make it possible for men and women to be just, therefore
Socrates as Plato's mouthpiece describes an ideal society, in which
men would be perfectly just.

This has been interpreted as a serious, practical program, but recent
scholarship indicates that it's more of an ideal or

As to mathematics, Platonism is the belief that mathematical
statements when true, even in the real world, are necessarily true
because they describe entities that don't exist in the real world but
in the world of forms.

It is challenged by Intuitionism which is based on Kant's claim that
our experience necessarily takes place in an inescapable framework of
space and time, and therefore bases the truths of mathematics on their
constructibility by step by step arguments which, rigorously, assume
no "Platonic" knowledge of a world other than the space-time manifold
in which we live. For example, many Intuitionists reject the
proposition "if a is not true it is false" the so-called law of
excluded middle.

There's a connection, in the Intuitionist challenge to Plato, to
programming, for Intuitionists have the attractive humility of the
"structured" programmer who uses good structure because this ensures
he makes his goal in a step-by-step fashion. The best debuggers are
natural born Intuitionists for they make sparse assumptions.

Platonism in mathematics is also challenged by Marxism which points
out that despite all of Plato's ravings, mathematics was actually
developed by ordinary slobs in Sumeria, China and elsewhere who were
trying to divvy up goods and earn a living. The connection with CS is
that the actual history of CS is the post-facto dignifying of
discoveries by that species of ordinary slobs called programmers of
how to accomplish a job of work, with impressive sounding theories.

In our own lifetime we see how discoveries made by ordinary employees
of IBM become "theory" once the academics have at them, and this is a
good thing as long as we can remember that the original practice
wasn't theory. The point is not privileging EITHER the practical
inventors or the academics.

Another challenge to Plato came from David Hilbert who claimed that
mathematics is a game we play with symbols. His spiritual cousin is
the person for whom the computer is a game playing machine.

However, Platonism is dominant in the academy for the very good reason
that academics like to think of themselves less as the servants of
practical men and more like Plato's vision of the philosopher, who
emerges from the cave to see the sun of absolute reality, illuminating
a world of forms strangely like the precise visions of advanced

A typical result is the overly ambitious system (more an artifact of
the prehistory of software before C and unix taught us all humility,
in some cases too much) which attempts to be the corporation's or
government's World of Forms which, on the nacreous computer screen,
expresses truths more True than the messy ambiguity of daily life.

A recent dialog with Plato was constructed by Jacques Derrida, a
French philosopher, who pointed out that at the dawn of writing, Plato
(despite all of his "academic" credentials) suspected and even feared
writing. Plato approvingly told the story of Thamuz, who when
presented by an ambitious scribe with the new invention of "writing",
rejected it as unnecessary and even dangerous for it would cause men
to forget things and give them the vanity of false knowledge, false
because it wasn't "inscribed" on their hearts.

Derrida pointed out that the very language used to REJECT writing has
to ASSUME writing which means that for Derrida, "writing" was never
"invented", like Thomas Edison invented the electric light in a lab
illuminated by gas lamps. Instead and for Derrida, writing and speech
are both as old as language and are constituted in the differences
between linguistic forms of life; speech is an attempt to write upon
the soul of another.

Derrida claims that the (unconscious) privileging of speech over
writing and the very idea that writing is a second fiddle to speech
(including the literally false idea that writing represents speech) is
something constitutive of Western philosophy since Plato.

The relevance to CS is deep. This is because CS is the invention, if
it is anything at all, of a new form of more intense, "active"
writing, programming. But in proportion to its importance, programming
and its practioners must be relegated to deep left field just as
writing is considered to be the "weaker" term.

The result is that in a completely unconscious form, end users
continually have a blind spot such that they cannot see that an active
writing is what makes the "magic" and consistently underestimate its do programmers themselves.

> > What I'm saying is that even programming language designers "parrot",
> > in the sense of unconscious replication, Platonism due to ignorance,
> > to be brutal, of the alternatives.
> What you are saying seems total BS from where I stand.
> Please educate me.
> Remember, I'm an uneducated ignorant, so be a good teacher.

Chris, during the first ten years of my programming career, I made the
mistake of abandoning general culture since I was so busy programming
and I found myself regressing into barbarism. Perhaps you are so good
at what you do and you enjoy it so much that you've neglected other
fields. Or perhaps I'm just bullshitting you.

> > ...Joe Weizenbaum of MIT who in 1976 [...] tried to show how
> > computer "philosophy" [...] is inimical to anything like a
> > holistic or half-human approach to social and interpersonal
> > issues.
> I see nothing inate about "philosophy" that is at cross-purposes
> with *any* given approach. If anything, given what "philosophy"
> *means*, actually having one should be better than none at all.
> > My own discovery is that it is even [...] inimical to the
> > accomplishment of the computerist's ends because the very
> > fragmentation of analysis produces bugs at the interfaces
> > generated.
> Why would any philosphy result in a "fragmentation of analysis"?

Forest and trees.
> Have you not learned that we actually think about your unsupported
> assertions? And hence see them for the smoke and fog they are?

The irony is that they are supported by references you don't trouble
to read.

Are you sure they are nacht undt nebel? Be advised that they may seem
to be so and might not be. For one thing, in years of experience in
programming alone, I have the drop on you, and I predate the C
language and its mistakes.
> Your biggest error is in thinking you are superior to people here.

I don't think I am "superior". I know what I know and I enjoy setting
others straight in order to refine my ideas.

> So long as you can't get past that illusion, and so long as you
> continue to sling back-handed insults, you will never succeed in
> what appears to be your most fervent hope: that we will accept you
> as a peer.

Dude, I don't want you to accept me as a peer.
> > Since Chris you are nothing more than a programmer, dude,...
> Even if that were so, it wouldn't be--to me--the insult you seem
> to think it is. I'm proud to be a craftsman. I make things for
> people that they like and find useful. That works for me!

If this is true then you are to be respected and admired in a society
in which people don't take their jobs seriously.
> > I suggest you take the opportunity to learn instead of so readily
> > dismissing what has been a concern not only of Weizenbaum but also
> > of Norbert Weiner.
> I am always ready to learn. Educate me, teach.