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!