[OT] Re: [NCLUG] Linux can do THIS too??!!!

Marcio Luis Teixeira marciot at holly.colostate.edu
Sun Oct 27 05:39:34 MST 2002

On Sunday 27 October 2002 11:29 am, Evelyn Mitchell wrote:

> One of the things I learned studying Academic philsophy is that any
> Platonic Ideal we believe we're (moving | progressing | evolving ) towards
> is just a projection of our beliefs.

I believe that one of Pirsig's point was that Quality has absolutely nothing 
to do with a Platonic ideal. I don't think he would have been sympathetic to 
Plato, in so far as Plato defines the ideal (for instance, Plato would have 
said that "the set of all points equidistant from a central point" is a 
Platonic ideal for a circle).

The way I see it (and this is my own interpretation, not Pirsig's) quality is 
some sort of gradient over some unknown "fitness" function. We cannot see the 
global maximum of this function, so instead we follow the gradient. Those of 
you who know AI would call this the "hill-climbing" algorithm. There's no 
guarantee we will reach the global maximum, and we might as well get stuck in 
a local maximum. Anyhow, I think that Plato tends to talk only of *the* 
global maximum (the global maximum) while Pirsig seems to be talking about 
the gradient. I think this is why he calls it "dynamic Quality" -- the 
gradient changes as you move around on the plane of the function. I don't 
think it's much of a leap of faith to believe that "hill-climbing" is 
employed by evolution.

> I wonder. There was a thread on Dave Farber's IP list this week about the
> lack of historical perspective of most contemporary academic Computer
> Scientists. They'd much rather reinvent a solution (often badly), than to
> do research into published solutions from the past. In general, I've found
> computer scientists to be quite intellectually lazy when it comes to
> knowing the past of their own field.

Yes. As a computer scientist, I admit that I hate reading philosophy or past 
works from late computer scientists. The reason is that most of the material 
was written long ago and has an incredible amount historical context that 
gets in the way of the reading. Descartes, for example, has some really good 
ideas but I can't stand reading it because he lapses off into religion, 
probably because 1) everyone was religious back then 2) he didn't want to 
have the church to come after him. The problem I have with philosophy is that 
in order to make sense of it you have to spend a lot of time understanding 
the historical context. If you find that stuff facinating, you'll enjoy it 
and have a blast with it; if you don't, you'll suffocate and gasp for air. 
The same is true when you read literature from computer scientists from the 
1970s. In computers, things become obsolete much more quickly. When they 
write about how probable it is that computer will have tens of thousands of 
bits of memory by the end of the millenium, I find it so tiresome to read  
that whatever relevant points they may make gets lost in the noise.

So, I would read philosophy, but only if it was modernized and written by 
contemporary authors. I wouldn't mind reading from computer scientists 
either, so long as they at least had at used a computer that didn't have a 
punch card reader. I wouldn't mind reading Shakephere either, if someone 
would please translate it into modern english and remove all the obscure 
references to Elizabethan times.

Yes, I know many of you will criticise this viewpoint as being backwards and 
uncultured, but that's the way I see it. I just don't have the time or 
insterest in learning the cultural context that I need to make sense of 
historical material. I grant that Pirsig may be a bad philophopher from an 
academic standpoint, but at least his book is timely and I'm not likely to 
ask myself whether his views would have been any different had he lived in 
this decade. Ten years from now, I'll probably find his book irrelevant and 
will hope that someone else has written something with a modern context, even 
if the underlying ideas are exactly the same.

Marcio Luis Teixeira

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