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Two sides

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Edsger Dijkstra not only invented semaphore, but also wrote an interesting essay called On the fact that the Atlantic Ocean has two sides, which, in some parts, nicely contributes to discussion about rationalism, empiricism and cluelessness. Here are few quotes I found inspiring.


[edit] Platonic or Pragmatic?

Traditionally there are two ways in which science can be justified, the Platonic and the pragmatic one. In the Platonic way — "l'art pour l'art" — science justifies itself by its beauty and internal consistency, in the pragmatic way science is justified by the usefulness of its products. My overall impression is that along this scale Europe, for better or for worse, is more Platonic, whereas the USA, and Canada to a lesser extent, are more pragmatic...

[edit] Tolerance for soft science

The first phenomenon is a greater tolerance for the soft sciences which purport to contribute to the solutions of "real" problems, but whose "intellectual contents" are singularly lacking. (When I was a student at Leyden, a quarter of a century ago, economy and psychology had been admitted to the campus, but only with great reservations and absolutely no one considered them as respectable; we had not dreamt of "management science" — I think we would have regarded it as a contradiction in terms— and "business administration" as an academic discipline is still utterly preposterous.)

My note: Certainly a business administration can't be platonic. It has to be pragmatic, if not barbarian.

[edit] In Depth and Isolation

Dealing with some aspect of a complex problem "in depth and in isolation" implies two things. "In isolation" means that you are (temporarily) ignoring most other aspects of the original total problem, "in depth" means that you are willing to generalize the aspect under consideration, are willing to investigate variations that are needed for a proper understanding, but are in themselves of no significance within the original problem statement. The true integralist becomes impatient and annoyed at what he feels to be "games"; by his mental make-up he is compelled to remain constantly aware of the whole chain, when asked to focus his attention upon a single link

[edit] More Computing Science and Less Computing

Finally a difference that is very specific to academic computing science in Europe ... All sorts of explanation are possible: Europe's economic situation in the early fifties...

The first series of machines —that of the singletons— was mainly developed in the USA shortly after the World War II, while a ruined continental Europe had neither the technology, nor the money, to start building computers: the only thing we could do was thinking about them. Therefore it is not surprising that many US Departments of Computer Science are offsprings of Departments of Electrical Engineering, whereas those in Europe started (later) from Departments of Mathematics (of which they are often still a part). This different heritage still colours the departments, and could provide an acceptable explanation that in the USA Computing Science is viewed more operationally than in Europe.

Reminds me that I was learning programming in Karel on a computer I put together from paper clips. And of course, I studied programming at MatFyz.

[edit] How difficult is Programming?

Good programming is probably beyond the intellectual abilities of today's "average programmer". To do, hic et nunc, the job well with today's army of practitioners, many of whom have been lured into a profession beyond their intellectual abilities, is an insoluble problem.

Time has passed and the situation has not changed. But I got used to it: Just get ready that users of your technology are completely clueless. At least think when designing APIs of your technology.

[edit] LISP Manual

...after an incomplete language definition, that text tries to fill the gaps with an equally incomplete sketch of an —of the?— implementation. Yet LISP 1.5 conquered in the decade after the publication of that manual a major portion of the American academic computing community. This, too, must have had a traceable influence. Why did LISP never get to that position in Europe?

That is what I'd like to know too. But wait, it is not just about LISP. What about Perl, Ruby, JavaScript and other languages without (prior) specification?

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