[Edu-sig] Python for Philosophers

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Thu Oct 29 19:50:03 CET 2009

On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 10:07 PM, Edward Cherlin <echerlin at gmail.com> wrote:
> My degree is in Math and Philosophy. Most of the Foundations of
> Mathematics courses were in the Philosophy department back then,
> including a lot of what turned into Computer Science.

I did philosophy as well, as an undergrad at Princeton (had to write a
thesis and everything).

My focus with Ludwig Wittgenstein's later philosophy especially,
though I was also taking advantage of having Walter Kaufmann as a
teacher, reading my Nietzsche 'n stuff.  Richard Rorty was my thesis
adviser.  I also studied Marx-Freud in conjunction (Adorno etc.), took
a History of Mentalities class that was pretty wild 'n crazy (autobio
of Malcolm X was assigned reading).

Kaufmann had just discovered Erhard's punchy philosophy lectures that
previous summer and gets credit for nudging me into a kind of
philosophical activism which eventually had me hooking up with the
Bucky Fuller group, meeting that network.  I was Buckminster Fuller
Institutes first web wrangler after he died in 1983, working with
Kiyoshi Kuromiya.


Bill Thurston, the famous topologist, was my honors calculus teacher
(you have to teach undergrads at Princeton, no matter how famous and
valuable your time).


This is where I discovered APL and started haunting the engineering
quadrangle (E-quad), sneaking in at night to play with the APL
graphics terminals by Tektronix, or sneaking time on a Unix-based PDP
with a guest account.  But mostly I just had to use punch cards and
job control language in those early days of time sharing mainframes,

FORTRAN, PL/1... a little this, a little that.  Later I became an
xBase coder as a day job, mostly working for non-profits and local
government agences (that'd be dBase II, III, IV, Foxpro 2, Microsoft
Visual Foxpro 3-9).

However, growing up I was more thinking I'd be a psychoanalyst
someday, maybe a Jungian or something.  I was getting into Ernest
Becker's 'The Denial of Death' and then Normon O. Brown's 'Love's
Body' 'n stuff, a literature I've continued to follow right up to the
present, taking 'Walking with Nobby' to the Chicago Pycon as airplane


> On Wed, Oct 28, 2009 at 11:25, kirby urner <kirby.urner at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I've been seeing some conversations aimed at expanding the Python
>> community (the community of Python users) beyond the world of computer
>> science and IT, into the Liberal Arts more generally.[0]  Of course
>> this is music to my ears.
> The Two Cultures prejudice is one of the worst ever.

Yeah, C.P. Snow's chasm.  When Dr. Wulf, head of National Academy of
Engineering came to Portland, that's what he wanted to talk about:


>> Parallel to this notion that ordinary math learning would be enhanced
>> through mastery of an "executable math notation" (aka a programming
>> language) [K. Iverson], is the idea that contemporary academic
>> philosophy curricula should take these languages more seriously.
>> What's closer to fulfilling the Leibnizian dream of automating
>> thinking, modal logic or Python?  Not that it's either/or of course.
>> I've been looking at this one of the Wittgenstein lists.[1]
> We're doing quite well at Artificial Stupidity, I hear. ;->

AS -- I like it.  AI by another name.  Or maybe AI = RS (Artificial
Intelligence = Real Stupidity).


>> Speaking of philosophy, old timers here know I've poked at this issue
>> of "objectification" i.e. in some corners "to objectify" is a bad
>> thing to do, means you're at best being a cold fish, at worst being
>> inhumane to your fellow humans.
> Reification is also a problem. Most people imagine a world made of
> things. Wittgenstein tried to imagine a world made of facts. Some
> scientists have noticed that this is a world of a) we don't know what
> and b) we don't know how to think about it. Mathematically, the world
> could just as well (or as poorly) be composed of relations or
> processes.

So pick a paradigm and go with it.  In a math, we like internal
consistency, elegance, a game with clear enough rules that at least
it's playable.

In OO, we distill everything to objects, which you could describe as
giving into a prejudice, going for reification all the way (in for a
penny, in for a pound), but hey, it's one way to think.  We have

It's "maths" in the plural in the UK, not a monolithic one size fits
all problem domains.

>> I've flagged this as a PR issue we
>> need to address.  Along those lines, I've buried a comment for
>> feedback, probably won't get any (too buried).[2]
>> Wev'e got James Bennett in the Django tribe, yakking about the
>> relevance of a philosophy background to his work with Python.[3]
>> Imagine a four-year philosophy program that actually featured some
>> programming.
> As I said, I did that--Turing machines and several of the
> Church-equivalent systems, modal and combinatorial logic, recursive
> function theory, non-standard arithmetic and analysis...

In Wittgenstein's later philo, ala Remarks on the Foundations of
Mathematics, you have a kind of break from the Anglo-analytic views of
the day, in which something called Logic underpins everything
"higher".  He said logic underpins mathematics much as a painted
foundation supports a painted castle (paraphrase).

In any case, I'm seeing a lot of good reasons to link his notion of
"language games" to our more modern idea of "namespaces".

My live-and-let-live philosophy is all about a "no global variables"
way of thinking i.e. let's not pretend we're all trying to get into
the same namespace once and for all (an imperialist agenda).

There are only so many cool words that we'd all like to use, and that
old philosophical maneuver "If you don't mean what I mean by 'gravity'
then you should say 'shmavity'" is just so *not* what we do in
computer programming anymore.

We both use 'gravity' but disambiguate by being explicit about
namespaces.  Undergrads learning philosophy today need to learn about
namespaces I'm thinking, why not?


> --
> Edward Mokurai (默雷/धर्ममेघशब्दगर्ज/دھرممیگھشبدگر ج) Cherlin
> Silent Thunder is my name, and Children are my nation.
> The Cosmos is my dwelling place, the Truth my destination.
> http://www.earthtreasury.org/

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