1969-west.pdf: “An Atomist Illustration In Aristotle”, (1969; ):
Tragedy and comedy come out of the same letters.
or the more abstract observation
Tragedy and Comedy come out of the same letters.
should be read as Democritus engaged in word play:
For ‘Tragedy’ [τραγωδία] and ‘Comedy’ [τρυγωδία] come to be out of the same letters.
Because the surrounding passage in Aristotle strongly implies that Democritus is defending the position that small changes (in atoms) can yield large changes (in observed appearance or behavior or property), in the same way that a word can alter its meaning completely based on a single letter (emphasis added):
A similar criticism applies to all our predecessors with the single exception of Democritus. Not one of them penetrated below the surface or made a thorough examination of a single one of the problems. Democritus, however, does seem not only to have thought carefully about all the problems, but also to be distinguished from the outset by his method. For, as we are saying, none of the other philosophers made any definite statement about growth, except such as any amateur might have made. They said that things grow ‘by the accession of like to like’, but they did not proceed to explain the manner of this accession. Nor did they give any account of ‘combination’: and they neglected almost every single one of the remaining problems, offering no explanation, eg. of ‘action’ or ‘passion’ how in physical actions one thing acts and the other undergoes action. Democritus and Leucippus, however, postulate the ‘figures’, and make ‘alteration’ and coming-to-be result from them. They explain coming-to-be and passing-away by their ‘dissociation’ and ‘association’, but ‘alteration’ by their ‘grouping’ and ‘Position’. And since they thought that the ‘truth lay in the appearance, and the appearances are conflicting and infinitely many, they made the ’figures’ infinite in number. Hence—owing to the changes of the compound—the same thing seems different and conflicting to different people: it is ‘transposed’ by a small additional ingredient, and appears utterly other by the ‘transposition’ of a single constituent. [For Tragedy and Comedy are both composed of the same letters.]
West states that if Democritus had not intended this wordplay, he would have used other terms for ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’. Hence not using his alternative reading and translation renders the passage ‘unintelligble’.]
[Technical report from a research project aiming at writing a GUI OS in 20k LoC; tricks include ASCII art networking DSLs & generic optimization for text layout, which lets them implement a full OS, sound, GUI desktops, Internet networking & web browsers, a text/document editor etc, all in less lines of code that most OSes need for small parts of any of those.]
…Many software systems today are made from millions to hundreds of millions of lines of program code that is too large, complex and fragile to be improved, fixed, or integrated. (One hundred million lines of code at 50 lines per page is 5000 books of 400 pages each! This is beyond human scale.) What if this could be made literally 1000 times smaller—or more? And made more powerful, clear, simple and robust?…The ’STEPS
STEPS Aims At ‘Personal Computing’—STEPS takes as its prime focus the dynamic modeling of ‘personal computing’ as most people think of it…word processor, spreadsheet, Internet browser, other productivity SW; User Interface and Command Listeners: windows, menus, alerts, scroll bars and other controls, etc.; Graphics and Sound Engine: physical display, sprites, fonts, compositing, rendering, sampling, playing; Systems Services: development system, database query languages, etc.; Systems Utilities: file copy, desk accessories, control panels, etc.; Logical Level of OS: eg. file management, Internet, and networking facilities, etc.; Hardware Level of OS: eg. memory manager, process manager, device drivers, etc.
“The Slaughterhouse of Literature”, (2000-03-01):
The history of the world is the slaughterhouse of the world, reads a famous Hegelian aphorism; and of literature. The majority of books disappear forever—and “majority” actually misses the point: if we set today’s canon of nineteenth-century British novels at two hundred titles (which is a very high figure), they would still be only about 0.5 percent of all published novels.
[Literature paper by Franco Moretti. Moretti considers the vast production of literature of which only the slightest fraction is still read and studied as part of a ‘canon’. Canons are formed by market forces, leading to preservation and reading in a feedback loop—far from academics selecting the best based on esthetic grounds. Moretti offers a case study of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes by comparing to all the now-forgotten competing detective fiction, to study the evolution of the idea of a ‘clue’; his competitors reveal its difficult evolution and how everyone groped towards it. Surprisingly, clues were neither obvious nor popular nor showed any clear evolution towards success. This raises puzzling questions about how to create and interpret ‘literary history’.]
2005-moretti-graphsmapstrees-3-trees.pdf: “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for a Literary History, ch. 3: Trees”, (2005; ):
After the quantitative diagrams of the first chapter, and the spatial ones of the second, evolutionary trees constitute morphological diagrams, where history is systematically correlated with form. And indeed, in contrast to literary studies—where theories of form are usually blind to history, and historical work blind to form—for evolutionary thought morphology and history are truly the two dimensions of the same tree: where the vertical axis charts, from the bottom up, the regular passage of time (every interval, writes Darwin, ‘one thousand generations’), while the horizontal one follows the formal diversification (‘the little fans of diverging dotted lines’) that will eventually lead to ‘well-marked varieties’, or to entirely new species.
The horizontal axis follows formal diversification . . . But Darwin’s words are stronger: he speaks of ‘this rather perplexing subject’—elsewhere, ‘perplexing & unintelligible’ 4—whereby forms don’t just ‘change’, but change by always diverging from each other (remember, we are in the section on ‘Divergence of Character’).5 Whether as a result of historical accidents, then, or under the action of a specific ‘principle’, 6 the reality of divergence pervades the history of life, defining its morphospace—its space-of-forms: an important concept, in the pages that follow—as an intrinsically expanding one.
From a single common origin, to an immense variety of solutions: it is this incessant growing-apart of life forms that the branches of a morphological tree capture with such intuitive force. ‘A tree can be viewed as a simplified description of a matrix of distances’, write Cavalli-Sforza, Menozzi and Piazza in the methodological prelude to their History and Geography of Human Genes; and figure 29, with its mirror-like alignment of genetic groups and linguistic families drifting away from each other (in a ‘correspondence [that] is remarkably high but not perfect’, as they note with aristocratic aplomb), 7 makes clear what they mean: a tree is a way of sketching how far a certain language has moved from another one, or from their common point of origin.
And if language evolves by diverging, why not literature too?
1956-austin.pdf: “A Plea for Excuses: The Presidential Address”, (1956-10-29; ):
Summary by The Philosogist:
Excuses are offered when a person is said to have done something bad or wrong
To justify means to admit to performing the action but argue that it was good, right, or permissible, either in general or under the circumstances
- To justify is to accept responsibility but deny its wrongness
To excuse is to admit the action wasn’t good, but assert that there are extenuating circumstances, eg., that it was an accident, or one was forced to do perform the action
- To make an excuse is to accept its wrongness but deny responsibility
- Few excuses are entirely exonerating
The theory of excuses will have major implications on moral philosophy · To attain a foundation for moral philosophy, it’s necessary to better understand what it means to do an action · Studying excuses, which are a type of abnormal action, will facilitate understanding and classification of actions in general, and clarify the notions of and relationship between freedom and responsibility
Doing an action is more complex than merely making a physical movement with the body · It’s misleading to take “doing an action” as a concrete description rather than abstract stand-in for a verb · What constitutes an action is a complex question that can involve difficult questions of motive and classification The theory of excuses has practical implications for ordinary language
It is a good thing to have a clear understanding of the words we use and how to use them
Excuses present a good field of language for study, due to its rich, subtle, and practical nature, and the fact that it is relatively untouched by traditional philosophy
The fact that people may differ in use of terms is no barrier, but actually may help illuminate subtle distinctions
Ordinary language is not a perfect or finalized system; it is rather a starting point
Some ways to systematically understand excuses are as follows:
- Dictionary · Law, especially common law, and specifically tort law · Psychology, including anthropology and zoology · These sources will aid in providing a classification, understanding, and definition of many expressions and actions
Aim and general lessons to be learned from the study of excuses (numbered as follows):
- Normal actions should not be modified by adverbs; adverbs are only used to mark peculiar or abnormal instances of actions
- Adverbs generally apply only to a narrow range of verbs
- Pairs of words that are ostensibly opposites, like voluntarily/involuntarily, are not necessarily so, and many words such as “inadvertent” have no clear opposite
- Adverbs describe different machineries of action, such as the decision stage, the planning stage, and the executive stage (carrying out the action)
- There are unacceptable excuses, but standards for acceptance vary by situation
- It’s important to pay attention to subtle differences between similar words (such as “intentionally” and deliberately")
- The 1874 court case of Regina v. Finney, in which a man accidentally scalds a mental patient to death in the bath, is illustrative of the differences in clarity with which excuses can be described
- The object of the study of excuses is to clearly distinguish between terms through illuminating examples
- It’s necessary to pay attention to the context and expression in which the word is used, not merely to the meaning of the word in isolation
- Adverbs may also describe a style of performance, such as a deliberate or careless manner of action
- An adequate account of actions, ie., the stages or stretches of an action and what constitutes an action, is vital to the study of excuses (that is, to know what is being excused)
- Etymology can help shed light on difficult words like “result” and “intention” · One must avoid the danger of believing that words should fit neatly together into a single conceptual scheme –terms may overlap, conflict, or be disparate · This is a problem in philosophy more generally, in that key terms like “right” and “good” are often assumed to have the potential to fit in a unified framework
- Modern science, such as zoology, has revealed gaps in the capacity of language to describe certain actions, such as compulsive behavior
1949-borges-fromallegoriestonovels.pdf: “From Allegories to Novels”, Jorge Luis Borges
1982-perlis.pdf: “Epigrams on Programming”, (1982-09-01; ):
[130 epigrams on computer science and technology, published in 1982, for ACM’s SIGPLAN journal, by noted computer scientist and programming language researcher Alan Perlis. The epigrams are a series of short, programming-language-neutral, humorous statements about computers and programming, distilling lessons he had learned over his career, which are widely quoted.]
8. A programming language is low level when its programs require attention to the irrelevant….19. A language that doesn’t affect the way you think about programming, is not worth knowing….54. Beware of the Turing tar-pit in which everything is possible but nothing of interest is easy.
15. Everything should be built top-down, except the first time….30. In programming, everything we do is a special case of something more general—and often we know it too quickly….31. Simplicity does not precede complexity, but follows it….58. Fools ignore complexity. Pragmatists suffer it. Some can avoid it. Geniuses remove it….65. Make no mistake about it: Computers process numbers—not symbols. We measure our understanding (and control) by the extent to which we can arithmetize an activity….56. Software is under a constant tension. Being symbolic it is arbitrarily perfectible; but also it is arbitrarily changeable.
1. One man’s constant is another man’s variable. 34. The string is a stark data structure and everywhere it is passed there is much duplication of process. It is a perfect vehicle for hiding information.
36. The use of a program to prove the 4-color theorem will not change mathematics—it merely demonstrates that the theorem, a challenge for a century, is probably not important to mathematics.
39. Re graphics: A picture is worth 10K words—but only those to describe the picture. Hardly any sets of 10K words can be adequately described with pictures.
48. The best book on programming for the layman is Alice in Wonderland; but that’s because it’s the best book on anything for the layman.
77. The cybernetic exchange between man, computer and algorithm is like a game of musical chairs: The frantic search for balance always leaves one of the 3 standing ill at ease….79. A year spent in artificial intelligence is enough to make one believe in God….84. Motto for a research laboratory: What we work on today, others will first think of tomorrow.
91. The computer reminds one of Lon Chaney—it is the machine of a thousand faces.
7. It is easier to write an incorrect program than understand a correct one….93. When someone says “I want a programming language in which I need only say what I wish done”, give him a lollipop….102. One can’t proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.
100. We will never run out of things to program as long as there is a single program around.
108. Whenever 2 programmers meet to criticize their programs, both are silent….112. Computer Science is embarrassed by the computer….115. Most people find the concept of programming obvious, but the doing impossible. 116. You think you know when you can learn, are more sure when you can write, even more when you can teach, but certain when you can program. 117. It goes against the grain of modern education to teach children to program. What fun is there in making plans, acquiring discipline in organizing thoughts, devoting attention to detail and learning to be self-critical?
[Fierce but witty critique by David Stove of philosophy throughout the ages and defense of Logical Positivism, with Christian theology, Neoplatonism, and German Idealism as examples. Logical Positivists took the easy way out: the problem with these philosophies is not that they are gibberish or meaningless, because at least then they would all be wrong in the same way and could perhaps be refuted in the same way, but that they each are wrong in a myriad of different ways, ways for which we have no existing “fallacy” defined, entire universes of new errors—undermining the hope of using reason or philosophy to make any kind of progress. What is wrong with philosophy, and ourselves, if we cannot even explain why these are so badly wrong after millennia of thought and debate?]
2010-yvain-inverselawofscientificnomenclature.html: “Inverse Law of Scientific Nomenclature”, (2010-10-23; ):
It is, of course, a notable prediction of this theory that the least scientific idea possible would end up called “Scientology”.
Or so I thought! Last night, I discovered there was a movement called “Factology”. Obviously this requires further investigation!
…But surely they don’t just randomly draw crazy conclusions based on a few words that sound the same, do they? Well, here’s a quote from their Wikipedia article, about “examples of movies with encoded content about the reality of aliens among us”:
Yoda…is short for Judah. Freemasons are inspired by one entity and that is a grey, by the name of Yoda. Yoda guides Freemasonry back to Judah, with the ancient Israel masonry. The British “Covenant Of Man” symbolizes the empire striking back. America is the empire fighting to overthrow Europe…The word Yoda is not an English word as you have been led to believe. Its root word yawdaw appears 111 times in the Old Testament, means “to give thanks or praise, throw down, cast, shoot.” The word Yadah meaning, to “to praise, give thanks” stems from the root word Yawdaw and appears only two times in the Old Testament (Daniel 2:23, Daniel 6:10). Not to mention the fact Yoda played in [the film] Return of the Jedi, and the word jedi is the same as yeti, it’s just a matter of a letter, it’s really the same word. Yeti is the name of Sasquatch (Bigfoot), also called Seti which is equivalent to the Extraterrestrials called the Seirians.
…Okay, so Uncle Sam is a gnostic demon, as revealed by Dr. Seuss who is secretly the king of the pagan gods. But can they get even crazier?:
White people were bred to be food, and the ‘rapture’ expected by Christians is really the return of the ‘raptors’ who will dine on the now-ripe delicious white flesh.
Aaron Smith-Teller works in a kabbalistic sweatshop in Silicon Valley, where he and hundreds of other minimum-wage workers try to brute-force the Holy Names of God. All around him, vast forces have been moving their pieces into place for the final confrontation. An overworked archangel tries to debug the laws of physics. Henry Kissinger transforms the ancient conflict between Heaven and Hell into a US-Soviet proxy war. A Mexican hedge wizard with no actual magic wreaks havoc using the dark art of placebomancy. The Messiah reads a book by Peter Singer and starts wondering exactly what it would mean to do as much good as possible…
Aaron doesn’t care about any of this. He and his not-quite-girlfriend Ana are engaged in something far more important—griping about magical intellectual property law. But when a chance discovery brings them into conflict with mysterious international magic-intellectual-property watchdog UNSONG, they find themselves caught in a web of plots, crusades, and prophecies leading inexorably to the end of the world.