Functionalism, aesthetics Was:(RE: I come to praise .join, not

Alex Martelli aleaxit at
Wed Mar 21 00:39:11 CET 2001

"Donn Cave" <donn at> wrote in message
news:998a11$q3e$1 at
> Quoth "Alex Martelli" <aleaxit at>:
> ...
> | Buildings as such (and more generally dwelling-places) are old
> | enough that it's quite possible that we all share some basic
> | biological basis for sound judgment -- I'm not pronouncing
> | on that, but that's what Alexander is mostly writing about.
> Anyway, as long as we're talking about things that we spend our
> days doing, we certainly do have the capacity for sound judgement.
> It doesn't mean our judgement is therefore infallibly sound, but
> the collective judgement of an established culture brings a kind
> of sense to bear that can dwarf a brilliant appeal to abstract
> principles.

Do you perchance play contract bridge?  It's interesting, in this
regard, because you will find in it both stuff that is susceptible
of being settled once and for all (mostly in the card-play part)
AND stuff that is endlessly debatable (mostly in the bidding).

Indeed, it might have been conceived as a practical experiment
to test (among other things) these assertions of your about what
"we" are or aren't able to do regarding "things we spend out days
doing".  Lots of retirees spend their days playing contract bridge,
particularly today when they can do it online from the comfort of
their homes -- and online play has the advantage that every card
played by each participant is recorded forever, computer accessible,
susceptible to any kind of analysis one might dream of.

_Some_ of these guys and gals, merely 60 years after Emile Borel
first published in his "Theorie Mathematique du Bridge" some of
the "obvious" applications of Bayes' Theorem to card play, have
finally managed to pick the most elementary ones up _in a
practical sense_ -- in bridge, it goes by the name "Restricted
Choice", because that's how it was dubbed by a great champion
and writer more than a dozen years after Borel's book (and for
twenty more years, it was a *controversial* matter in _expert_
circles... and that's a mathematically *obvious* part of that
subset of the game which CAN be "settled once and for all"!!!).

This is an endeavour that (roughly in its present form) has been
around for over 70 years; for over a century, actually, other forms
of bridge have been practiced, with card-play aspects that are
not materially different from today's version.  Yet the most basic
and elementary aspects of the application of probability theory
to bridge card-play are STILL not in the "collective judgment of
... established culture" if one means by 'collective' the judgment
of the hoi polloi, as opposed to that of people who can be
called 'experts' of the game.  And don't get me started on the
applications of game theory -- it appears one needs a degree
in maths, as well as decent bridge expertise, to avoid making
the most incredible blunders in what should yet be a simple
indeed case of zero-sum, imperfect-information game (in the
game-theoretical sense; again, I refer to bridge _card-play_).

Memes do spread faster than genes -- but, as bridge shows,
we're still talking in terms of centuries, not of years, before a
meme has spread anywhere like enough to make 'collective
judgment' anything but an oxymoron.  Chemistry (cfr my
previous example on the 'paler pills') is an example of an
endeavour that has been around for centuries -- maybe we
don't spend our days "doing chemistry", but some of us
take lots of pills &c, yet that doesn't make our aesthetics
anywhere close to having any usefulness in their regard.

Economic activity IS what most of us spend our days at --
yet well-known, *obvious* fallacies which Ricardo was already
denouncing in ringing tones 200 years ago STILL rule the
economics opinion of most citizens (anything from "lump
of labour" to "their harbors are bad, so we should mine
ours", the latter being Ricardo's colorful but correct parallel
for the instinctive protectionist reaction to other nations'

Stored-program computers are quite a bit newer than
bridge, much newer than chemistry and even economics.
What makes you think 'collective judgment' has any real
worth in the former, any more than in the latter three?

"Dwelling in a place" is something that we have been
doing for FAR longer -- _building_ places to dwell in is
an activity which can be traced back for many millennia,
and the apperception of space runs very deep in our
genes (while that of, e.g., probability theory, does NOT:
indeed, we seem to be wired FOR certain fallacies, and
it takes lots of memes on top to correct that wiring!-).

Whatever holds in the realm of architecture, therefore,
has no necessary parallel in that of programming, where
"collective judgment" is concerned.


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