Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
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Although Lisp certainly has a lot more buzz in computer science circles, Fortran and Cobol probably get a LOT more actual use in the industry these days. I also thought they were all pretty much dead, but working in the high performance computing industry taught me that Fortran is very much alive in that particular area. As for Cobol, it may be better off dead, but there's a standards body slated to come out with a new version of the Cobol standard in a year or two, IIRC.

Anyway, aside from the aforementioned languages not being quite as dead as is frequently reported, I thought the comparison was pretty apt and I enjoyed the article. Long live Lisp and Philosophy! ;-)

—Levi Pearson

Yeah, I suppose you can't kill anything really. I mean, I still adore Forth

—Howard Abrams

Smug Philosophers and Lisp Weenies

In the "software engineering" field, we have a computer language called Lisp. It was invented near the dawn of civilization (or so I've been told), and that the cuneiform tablets of Sumeria contained the prototype of the parenthesis that became the hallmark of a Lisp program (although another camp claims they look more like the angle brackets of XML). But Lisp is an old man who had some glorious days in battle, but is now pretty much confined to a convalescence home. Fortran and COBOL are dead and on life support, but Lisp can still rattle on about its greatness… and often does.

Don't take this wrong, for I'm not saying that Lisp is useless and good-for-nothing. It is just that you almost never see a requirement for Lisp for a job posting, for the industry has moved on. However, whenever there is a new feature added to Java or Ruby or what-have-you, the Lisp programmers will smirk in unison about how Lisp had that feature back in 1975. This arrogant tendency has given them the label, smug Lisp weenies, and they actually wear this moniker proudly across their forehead.

To be fair, Lisp has been hugely influential, and still has a lot to offer… sadly, most of this comes in the form of advice. Disclosure: I used to program in Lisp, and really liked it. Its limitations at the time (its user interfaces) have been largely overcome, but that ship has sailed for me, and I lost whatever edge I had… hell, I don't think I even could tell you what a cdr is … or even pronounce it.

The reason why I bring this up is that philosophers are like these smug Lisp weenies, in that any thought you might have believed that you invented or originated was probably already discussed and debated by some hygienically-challenged, sandal-wearing philosopher of yore. Perhaps this is why philosophy is so alien to our society… I mean, we don't appreciate arrogant, self-righteous know-it-alls… Hrm, then why did we put such a person in the White House?

By way of example-- Back in college a friend of mine and I were arguing over death. We concluded that logically there was nothing to fear or dread, for you could take one of two approaches:

  1. If death is the complete end, then it is nothing more than an endless sleep, from which you wouldn't even know about… and who wouldn't like such a good sleep?

  2. If there was a heaven, then you could go there and have a grand time. Hopefully the part about practicing a harp on a cloud is mere metaphore for something a wee bit more interesting.

So, with either conclusion, there isn't anything to be concerned about. Sure, you should postpone it as long as you want, and just like you might as well stay up into the night to watch Conan before you go to bed. At the time, I thought this was a novel (albeit obvious) conclusion, and didn't realize for quite some time that this has been the basis for much philosophical discussions originating from Socrates:

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things: either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another.

Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness‡‡That could be translated as soul , but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain…

But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this? … What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus, and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again! Above all, I shall then be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in the next; and I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not … In another world they do not put a man to death for asking questions: assuredly not.

So, while my friends who study physics and my software engineering geeks seldom need (or can afford) to read a book with any amount of dust, students of philosophy return to the classics.

But let's get back to the rub-- or the smug. Philosophers once used to be the pinnacle of spirituality and were held in high regard… until their quest for wisdom went beyond political and religious walls. It appears that philosophers have all died of pipe tobacco cancer, but the "sons of philosophers" took an even stronger, naturalistic and non-supernatural view of the world and gave themselves various labels that are now viewed with extreme derision: atheist, agnostic, rationalist, materialist, skeptic, near-sighted.

But the smugness stayed on. Not too long ago, Richard Dawkins and others thought it a good idea to help unify this group with the meme of "Bright". Of course, it back-fired as it just gave into the stereo-types that middle America had for these shifty and often liberal individuals.

I know about the smugness, but I didn't realize that many people view people of a naturalistic-persuation as angry†See this debate for an example. . Sure it may be just another form of the "modern christian martyr" symptom that thinks that everyone who disagrees with them are "persecuting them". But naturalistics (a far better label and a better meme, if you ask me) are definitely upset at what has been done in God's name over the last 6 years.

People who are naturalistic have, in their hearts, the goal of helping to elevate the minds and hearts of people… but it is a shame that it comes across as superiority. Oh sure, there are many that are, but the best teachers give respect to their students.

Continue these thoughts with my other essay, Am I a Nat?
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