Sunday, October 15, 2017

Return of Plato And The Nerd

At Castillo San Cristรณbal do the old world ๐Ÿš‚  and the new world ๐Ÿš  collide and make overtures to each other to co-evolve in a virtuous cycle of complementarity ๐Ÿ’


The Quotes ๐ŸŽ

For many years it was believed that countless monkeys working on countless typewriters would eventually reproduce the genius of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the World Wide Web, we know this to be false ๐Ÿต ๐Ÿต ๐Ÿต ๐Ÿต  ... ๐Ÿต ๐Ÿต
~ Robert Wilensky
Then we swirled around each other and the thread was spun
to some Arcadian band
I would stop it from swinging like a pendulum
Just to hold time in my hand
And you shot me with a cannonball of history
And long forgotten art
I'd be turning it over as our words ran free ๐Ÿ’˜
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Golden Heart) 
People don’t appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space. People miss out on what’s solid ๐Ÿ“ฆ
~ Jubal Early (Firefly, Objects in Space)
Life is a distributed object system. However, communication among humans is a distributed hypermedia system where the mind’s intellect, voice + gestures, eyes + ears, and imagination are all components ๐ŸŽก
~ Roy T. Fielding


Preamble ๐ŸŽˆ


But First...

Let's please take a minute to remember—better still, do something about—the fact that it is patriotic to help fellow Americans, especially in times of distress ๐ŸŒ€

๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ 
What better way to put our patriotism into practice than by helping fellow Americans in Puerto Rico whose lives have lately been devastated by hurricanes?
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ  Here's how you can help... ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ 

We Had Gazed Into The Crystal Ball

I sure hope that you had taken note of my purportedly prophetic words in the previous essay where I had pontificated, as I'm known to pontificate at times—toward the end of the essay as I typically slip in the crystal-ball-gazing only when we're winding down any given essay—that Plato and the Nerd touches upon a ton of fundamental themes that have resonated with your blogger over the years; just tons and tons ๐Ÿ”ฎ

To that I had politely added how you all should stay tuned for more fun ahead ๐Ÿ“บ  We're talking, of course, about the book that we had dived into in the previous (i.e. first) installment in the series of essays on the following book, with this essay being the sequel:
So I'm back today to keep my promise, to make sure you all feel good about having stayed tuned, and to share with you an exploration of a bunch of themes—a set of themes that you're possibly already familiar with—in as they arose to the fore of my mind when I had read the mesmerizing pages of Plato and the Nerd for the first time. That, of course, was the book into whose pages we had dived in the previous essay; to be fair, this will probably be the final essay in this series. Mark the famous last words of yours truly ๐Ÿ˜‰

Beginnings And Endings

There are beginnings, and then there are endings. Speaking of which, let's harken back to the following intriguing observation
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
~ Sir Winston Churchill ("The End of the Beginning" in Winston Churchill War Speeches Collection Book 3)
I hope you're beginning to see what I had been trying to get at when, in the previous essay, I had said in reference to the seemingly enigmatic Churchillian observation above—that "This is only the beginning"—was simply this: Stay tuned for a second installment of the essay on Plato and the Nerd. You got it, a second, follow-up essay, the one you're reading now, in fact ๐Ÿ’

Even though doing such a thing might strike some  at first blush as gratuitous, since it's only the rarest-of-rare essays on this blog that is ever devoted to a single book—let alone two essays devoted to the same book—let me assure you that my decision to devote two full essays to Plato and the Nerd (this one and the one that came before) was fully baked ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿ• ๐Ÿช

So I'm here to add to your enjoyment of some musings, plus get you a better appreciation for why there's simply no substitute for reading Plato and the Nerd for yourself to get a sense for why it had your bleary-eyed blogger benchmarking his babbling brook of brash ideas brusquely with barely-restrained excitement! ๐Ÿ‘ป


The Ties That Bind And Themes Which Rewind ๐ŸŒ’ ๐ŸŒ 


Singularity And Complementarity

Much as I pointed out earlier, Plato and the Nerd touches upon a ton of fundamental themes which have resonated with me. And doesn't this whole business of interleaving, cascading themes (see the John Muir quote below) have a way of being "hitched to everything else in the universe"?

In this essay, we'll be exploring those themes a bit. Equally important, I hope that you'll now get the opportunity to check out a handful of related books that are quite intriguing in their own right, and which, dare I say, will have you circling back—let's use the metaphor of "hovering back"—to Plato and the Nerd to seek unifying closure ๐Ÿš
When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe
~ John Muir
So let's see if we can stitch up those themes into a unified tapestry, connecting them and all the while retaining their contextual integrity in the hope of avoiding the fate which the poet Emily Dickinson had voiced by using the following uncanny imagery—just imagine blobs of mercury on the floor or perhaps a bunch of untethered tennis balls—in these deliciously angst-ridden words that could've come only from the mind of an unstraightened genius ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ
I felt a clearing in my mind
As if my brain had split;
I tried to match it, seam by seam,
But could not make them fit.
The thought behind I strove to join
Unto the thought before,
But sequence ravelled out of reach
Like balls upon a floor ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ ๐ŸŽพ
~ Emily Dickinson (In XXIII: THE LOST THOUGHT, from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson)
Hold on to this thought: Noted researcher—and prolific inventor—Ray Kurzweil has written extensively about the "singularity"; meanwhile, Edward here has—in the fidelity of the high-SNR, deliciously-rich pages of Plato and the Nerd—taken on the concept of "complementarity", an eminently sensible concept (though admittedly a bit startling on first encounter) that is at least as important and symbolically significant as that of the "singularity" ๐ŸŒŽ

And since we saw mention above of the genius of Emily Dickinson, it's only fair that you have the chance to check out the related work of Philip M. Bromberg, the master of crafting seamless prose—I don't know how Bromberg does it, but I sure am green with envy—as elucidated in an essay elsewhere, which was in the context of chatting briefly about his book entitled Awakening the Dreamer ๐Ÿ˜ด

More On Complementarity

Within the decidedly limited space and narrow borders delineated by an essay such as this one, I simply can't do justice to splendid take of Plato and the Nerd on the whole business of "complementarity"; for a much fuller, engaging, and riveting treatment of "complementarity", I invite you again to head over to your local, bricks-and-mortar bookstore—in fact, I strongly encourage you to patronize and support the vestige of the remaining bricks-and-mortar bookstores lest they, too, get overrun by the juggernaut of online bookstores and thereby go the way of the dodo.

It would be sad to see the cultural tradition, which I think bricks-and-mortar bookstores truly are, bite the dust. So walk on over to your nearest bookstore—getting some exercise in the process—and grab a copy of the book and find it all out for yourself, about "complementarity" in particular; you won't regret it ๐Ÿ’

I'll add a solitary observation regarding the notion of "complementarity", should it pique your interest to inquire further:
We are seeing the emergence of symbiotic coevolution, where the complementarity between humans and machines dominates over their competition.
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“

Escher's Drawing Hands

"Real artists ship, Akram, real artists ship!"—Those are the words with which I had spurred myself on to wrapping up this essay as I revisited the final draft of this essay ๐Ÿšข  And so a digression into how Escher's magnificent lithograph entitled Drawing Hands had come to adorn an essay elsewhere  (that essay being on the terrain of the Lisp dialect we know as Clojure) will, alas, need to await the light of day in a future installment of this series of essays on Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿ”ญ

But quickly, that exploration of the Lisp dialect Clojure—as I revisited it, merely glancing at it ever-so-briefly—I found that Escher's Drawing Hands lithograph had performed the signal service of adorning that essay which I had written back in the August of 2015. Now I see with some satisfaction that it seems to have found a kindred soul ๐Ÿ‘ฆ ๐Ÿ‘ง  in the refreshingly evocative cover of Edward's Plato and the Nerd, woohoo!


Postponing Yet Another Exploration (To A Future Essay)

Alas, I have to inform you that yet another exploration will need to await the light of day in a future essay. That digression, when it happens, will be on an endearing metaphor—and a haunting one at that—of "shapeless as a collapsed tent" that veritably leaped out at me from the riveting pages of Donnel Stern's magisterial, motif-laden masterpiece entitled Partners in Thought: Working with Unformulated Experience, Dissociation, and Enactment (Routledge) ๐ŸŒฑ ๐ŸŒฟ ๐ŸŒพ ๐Ÿ

But quickly again, let's leave for ourselves here a handful of breadcrumb, should we all decide to retrace our steps back here and pick up the thread—we really have a story in the telling—of a narrative in the narration, as it were, since, in Stern's not-so-stern words ๐Ÿ˜™
Narratives are the architecture of experience, the ever changing structure that gives it form. Without narrative, affect would be chaotic and rudderless, as shapeless as a collapsed tent; and without affect, narrative would be dry and meaningless (italics mine).
And hey, don't be disheartened by how we neither have the time nor the space here to do much more than leave much more than a handful of breadcrumb. Please don't! The fact of the matter is that I'm relying on you all to have your wits about you; I'll shortly be requiring your help with getting me out of a quandary. That's where we all go next so buckle up! ๐Ÿš™


Your Blogger Finds Himself In A Predicament ๐Ÿ˜จ


Laying Out The Lachrymose Quagmire

So here was the predicament in which your blogger found himself as he sought to choose a title for the essay you're reading. Ah, tell me about the joys of naming things ๐Ÿ˜ฐ  Give yourself a minute to internalize what the following quote from noted linguist and Harvard University professor Steven Pinker is trying to intone ๐Ÿ”ฎ
Give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name
Indeed, the stakes for your blogger—and you all in the Programming Digressions reading community in turn—were rather high. Basically, the stark choices I faced were these:
  1. Do I call this essay Plato and the Nerd Returns (and be evermore maligned by the grammar police who would surely pounce on me for confusing people as to who, exactly, is returning, Plato or the Nerd?) ๐ŸŒ‹
  2. Should I call this essay Return of Plato and the Nerd (and thereby earn the ire of the fastidious types who would have me skewered—yeah, drawn-and-quartered—for being less than clear about what the Nerd is doing in the title, after the return of Plato?) ๐ŸŒ€
Ah yes, the joys of naming things ๐Ÿ’ Yeah right, talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was a quandary there all right ๐Ÿ™‰  But your blogger remained fearless—as always, mostly intrepid though sometimes vapid—comforted in the knowledge that he has your support; surely you all would aid me, continue to embolden me, and indeed rush to my side should either the grammar police or the fastidious types descend upon yours truly, wouldn't you? ๐Ÿ‘€

Moving Past Our Plight 

Wait a second, what is mention of Scandal in Bohemia doing here?! Woohoo, good old Sherlock Holmes, anyone? And Irene Adler, was it? It was, and remains, a question of identity. Indeed, questions of identity and ideation had all been percolating through the cranium of your truly as he wrestled with the joys of naming things—actually more like being stuck between a rock and a hard place lol—but I digress ๐Ÿšถ

At this moment, I can palpably sense all the kind, caretaker souls in our Programming Digressions reading community brimming with compassion for your blogger, sending their kind wishes my way ๐Ÿ’• reassuring me that it's perfectly fine to get an education and have fun at the same time ๐Ÿ‘ Thank you, I needed that!

Okay, okay, you impatient souls out there ๐Ÿ˜–  We're moving right on with the narrative, so don't get all antsy. In fact, with you in mind, I'm not even going to digress one bit by bringing up the stellar work of Carol Dweck (currently with Stanford University) in connection with the thought above on generating motivation (i.e. getting an education and having fun at the same time) or what is called "self-scaffolding" (in the marvelous use of that phrase in Plato and the Nerd) ๐ŸŽ“

I am, however, going to leave a mere handful of dangling pointers here for you all; a tribute of sorts to one of the programming languages—the C programming language to be precise—in which I had got the earliest of starts (and a rather jarring one at that, but oh well) in my programming career, circa 1995 ๐Ÿ
Growin' up you don't see the writing on the wall ๐Ÿ””
Passin' by, movin' straight ahead you knew it all.
But maybe, sometime, if you feel the pain,
You'll find you're all alone; everything has changed 
Play the game; you know you can't quit until it's won ๐Ÿ†
Soldier on, only you can do what must be done.
You know, in some ways you're a lot like me.
You're just a prisoner, and you're tryin' to break free.
~ John Parr (Lyrics from St. Elmo's Fire (Man In Motion)) ๐ŸŒ‹

The Collage That Follows Will Be The Essay (Proper) ๐Ÿ˜‡


So what I'm really saying is simply this: The collage is the essay.

To elaborate the previous statement that may have startled some, we need to check out some brief yet endearing dialogs from the classic movie Chariots of Fire, which, by the way, I've watched 16 times so far—yes, it is that good ๐ŸŽฏ Imagine if you will, a royal, courtly setting in Paris where a ton of ladies and gents from around the world have converged in anticipation of the 1924 Olympics—it used to be called the Summer Games back then—and in particular a stately room where several important-looking gents are seated. A ragtag bunch of Cambridge University students is on its way to the room to meet those gents (in particular to have a word with the number one power-player who works the unmarked corridors of power). En route, the very cool, youthful, and fashionable Lord Andrew Lindsay confides in his Cambridge University classmate-friend, Monty:
Protocol, Monty, protocol. He is here to show us what may be done, and more essentially, what may not be ๐Ÿ˜‰
Once seated in the high company of those high-powered gents, there is some matter of concern to be settled in connection with the upcoming Summer Games, and this ever-so-brief dialog takes place:
  • Lord Cadogan pronounces: That's a matter for the committee ๐ŸŽฉ
  • Without missing a beat, the worldly-wise Lord Birkenhead replies: We are the committee! ๐Ÿ˜‚
So there you have it, and hovering right back to Plato and the Nerd: The collage that follows shortly is the essay—more precisely, will be the essay because it's coming up, and coming up quick—because we are the committee. We make the rules around here, just you and I. The aim is to please... Cool, cool? ๐Ÿ˜Ž
I'm in the mood, I'm in the mood, I'm in the mood
I can write it on the door - I can put it on the floor
I can do anything that you want me for
If you want me to
I can do it right - I can do it wrong
'Cause a matter of fact it'll turn out to be strong
If you want me to
~ Robert Plant (Lyrics from In The Mood) ๐Ÿˆ

A Word To The Wise, Sticky Notes Shall Arise ๐ŸŽซ

Wait till you see the sticky notes that will appear in some rather interesting places in the pics toward the end of this essay. But hey, let's not give it all away. Plus remember what we chatted about earlier, in the previous essay to be precise regarding how—out of the thousands of regular readers who come here every month—a good number of this blog's visitors likely are new readers? ๐Ÿ’ช

So as a warm welcome for our new readers, let's all of us build some suspense so we can have them join us for even more fun—the more, the merrier, eh?—fun perhaps with discovering some apocryphally allegorical sticky notes tucked away in the swathe of a menagerie of wild animals, our fabled  beasts ๐Ÿป ๐Ÿ ๐ŸŠ ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿธ

Ah, as for the menagerie of wild animals above, let's flag them to make them the easier to locate them, shall we? ๐Ÿšฉ You may well be thinking, Wherefrom did all those beast come forth? Allow me to reintroduce the subtle topic of "leaky abstractions" ๐Ÿ’ง ๐Ÿ’ง๐Ÿ’ง

We had digressed slightly into an exploration of exactly that topic—the notion of "leaky abstractions"—in fact in the previous (first) installation and had some fun as we ran with it. In fact, why don't we pause and have you glance back at the first essay right now? Go ahead. I'll be waiting here for you when you come back ⏳

Remember, too, that
There's no time for us.
There's no place for us.
What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us?
~ Queen (Lyrics from Who Wants To Live Forever)

The Collage (The Guts Of This Essay) ๐ŸŽจ


With a friendly reminder that, this time around—and breaking with the past, where I've unwittingly had you scale walls of texts—the collage that follows truly is the essay. Please indulge me, won't you? ๐Ÿ‘บ

I hasten to add a remark regarding the choice of words for the name  of this essay section (i.e. "The Collage (The Guts Of This Essay)"). As I deliberated on a choice—foremost in my mind being the thought whether the signposting was decent enough for you all, my friends in the Programming Digressions community—I couldn't help but think to a hilarious piece I had read in an especially entertaining issue of the magazine Harvard Lampoon during my graduate school days at Texas A&M University.

Back then—and I date myself here—over a couple of decades ago, I was getting myself a fine education in the engineering and science of employing pattern-detection and artificial intelligence — specifically the algorithms we all know as our friendly neural networks — all in the service of designing a method for automated roadside traffic-sign recognition ๐Ÿšณ ๐Ÿšธ ๐Ÿšฏ ๐Ÿšฑ

Yep, so I didn't let getting one kind of education (i.e. in the engineering and the sciences) interfere with getting the other kind of education (i.e. in, um, culture and the humanities) ๐Ÿ‘ป

Anyhow, hastening now to add that parenthetical thought so as to spare the sensibilities, as it were: According to a side-splitting article in that Harvard Lampoon issue, the author of that article noted how readers sometimes weren't sure if they had come to the end of any given article; readers would just keep on reading past the end ๐Ÿš€  Oops! So the author resorted to the artifice of strategically placing a STOP sign icon at the end of the article, like so: ๐Ÿšซ  Okay, this is an entry-barred icon, since it's the only relevant one I could find, you all... But you get the idea, right? ๐Ÿ˜‚

Yep, that's what I was rambling about a few breaths away in mentioning about how the foremost thought in my mind was whether the signposting in this essay was decent enough for you all ๐Ÿ’ช


What, There Is No Essay?! ๐ŸŽฑ

Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you'll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
~ The Matrix (the classic, dystopian movie)
Relax ๐ŸŽป  I admit that the preceding narrative from The Matrix may have been a bit disconcerting and jarring to your fair sensibilities. So here goes my ad hoc attempt at some verses of rhyme, which I hope—indeed hope against hope—will soothe your nerves as well as unruffle your fair sensibilities ๐Ÿ˜ฐ  My readers are the best, and I care for each one of you ๐Ÿ†  And I kid you not ๐Ÿ™Œ
Blogger: There is no essay,
What?! So what do we do, simply amuse ourselves with sachet? 
Reader: You had a volley of ideas going there, I mean a barrage
Dare I ask if all that was merely a mirage? 
Reader: Lest our collective psyche be forever scarred,
Are you suggesting that our entry to further enlightenment is barred? 
Blogger: Whoa, dear Reader, don't you be deterred,
Or let you hopes fly away, or worse, be forever interred

Blogger: There is hope, there surely is, so carry on, please read on,
And do recall your blogger's thoughts on the Vonnegut crayon
~ Akram Ahmad (blogger, software craftsman, technologist, artist, or something)
Finally, should anyone have tarried a bit longer than they really needed to on the point above regarding dashed hopes—rather, hopes flying away and being interred—let's check out what Senor Poe had to say about this whole business, shall we? ๐Ÿง
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."
~ Edgar Allan Poe (The Raven)
Wait a second, I was a poet and I didn't even know it? ๐ŸŽญ

Anyhow... Hmm... A rather bleak picture painted above by Poe, wouldn't you say, Joe? Maybe he had watched the classic, dystopian movie The Matrix one time too many ๐Ÿ™ˆ  That would explain, wouldn't you say, Jane?

Anyhow, poor, petulant, plaintive, and sometimes pugnacious Poe is what you got above. And I got nothing more to add to that. Nothing ๐Ÿšง

And if there's no essay, this time around on our blog, let's find out what we instead do have...


Ah, There Is This Collage ๐Ÿ˜‚


Without further adieu, we'll now embark on a guided tour of the architectural corridors of, um, the Programming Digression galleries of art ๐ŸŽƒ

For a slightly different kind of tour—at least an inkling of a tour that your blogger took, nearly two decades ago, of a real (as in bricks-and-mortar) art gallery that is the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in NYC—I can point you in the direction of an essay elsewhere ๐ŸŽจ In particular, when you visit that essay, look for a section toward the top of that essay ๐ŸŽฏ immediately after a framed pic of yet another pair of framed paintings, in fact; talk about self-referential recursion having come unhinged and run amok. Hey, oh hey, are we going metacircular here? ๐ŸŽˆ

Meanwhile, we begin the tour of our very own gallery of art: Each piece of art in the gallery features a pic—taken of course by your tour guide, yours truly—followed by a vignette each of a book of which I was reminded as I read the pages of Plato And The Nerd with the heady feeling that you get, alas, only on the first reading after you chance upon a book of such an extraordinarily high caliber; that headiness, the giddiness, wears off with each successive reading as one realizes, as it were, that one had known this all along, in one's core, in one's bones ๐Ÿ’€  Recall, if you wish, the sentiments expressed on this blog earlier, about my desert-island books... ⛱

For an account of why, and how, the pics have as their backdrop a menagerie of wild animals, our fabled beasts ๐Ÿป ๐Ÿ ๐ŸŠ ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿธ, allow me—your trusty guide for the gallery tour of course—to point you in the direction of a section (it's entitled "A Word To The Wise, Sticky Notes Shall Arise") that appeared earlier in this very essay, flagged in fact by a cutesy, triangular marker which looks like this one here: ๐Ÿšฉ

1. Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age (O'Reilly Media) by Paul Graham


I was reminded of the message in the pages of Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age (O'Reilly Media) by Paul Graham by how Plato And The Nerd takes on ideas that are at least as weighty—and probably far more consequential—as those in Hackers & Painters.

The author of Hackers & Painters, Paul is one of the profoundest thinkers alive, and this is his profoundest book. He is, first and foremost in my mind anyway, a Lisp hacker extraordinaire, then a noted essayist, and then finally of course the resident impresario at Y Combinator ๐Ÿš€

At any rate, check out this passage from Chapter 2 in Hackers and Painters where Paul reminisces about how
When I finished grad school in computer science I went to art school to study painting. A lot of people seemed surprised that someone interested in computers would also be interested in painting. They seemed to think that hacking and painting were very different kinds of work—that hacking was cold, precise, and methodical, and that painting was the frenzied expression of some primal urge. 
Both of these images are wrong. Hacking and painting have a lot in common. In fact, of all the different types of people I've known, hackers and painters are among the most alike
What hackers and painters have in common is that they're both makers. Along with composers, architects, and writers, what hackers and painters are trying to do is make good things. They're not doing research per se, though if in the course of trying to make good things they discover some new technique, so much the better (italics mine).
The meme and theme—corresponding to the passage above—which resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is best illustrated by an example from the latter:
The title of this book comes from the wonderful book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan (Taleb, 2010), who titled a section of the prologue Plato and the Nerd... 
But more fundamentally, the title puts into opposition the notion that knowledge, and hence technology, consists of Platonic Ideals that exist independent of humans and is discovered by humans, and an opposing notion that humans create rather than discover knowledge and technology. The nerd in the title is a creative force, subjective and even quirky, and not an objective miner of preexisting truths
I hope that through this book, I can change the public discourse so young people are more inclined to consider a career in engineering, and not just because of the job prospects. I am convinced that engineering is fundamentally a creative discipline, and the technical drudgery that prejudices many people is no more drudgery than found in any other creative discipline. Yes, hard work is required, but as a reward for that hard work, you can change the world (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

2. Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead Books) by Steven Johnson


So I was reminded of the message in the pages of Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation (Riverhead Books) by Steven Johnson by how Plato And The Nerd introduces the eminently reasonable idea of how "...technology is coevolving with humans, augmenting our own cognitive and physical capabilities, all the while enabling us to nurture, evolve, and propagate the technology." (italics mine).

I sensed that Edward has taken the whole notion of the evolution of ideas—as delineated in the pages of Johnson's Where Good Ideas Come From—to the next logical step in its inevitable progression and addressed it rather nicely in Plato And The Nerd. So the meme and theme that resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
Once we recognize that technology is fundamentally a creative enterprise and a partnership between man and machine, then the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the creators of any particular technology become important. We must not treat technologies as dry Platonic facts that have always existed in some other world, waiting to be discovered. Instead, they are cultural, dynamic ideas, subject to fashion, politics, and human foibles. To me, this makes technology much more interesting... As cultural artifacts, technologies evolve through collective mutation, through design and invention, more than through discovery (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

3. If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic (Columbia University Press) by Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White


I was reminded of the message in the pages of If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic (Columbia University Press) by Michael Shenefelt and Heidi White by how Plato And The Nerd gently introduces—nay, deftly slips in—the idea that "Intuitionistic logic is a rather draconian solution to this problem." ๐Ÿ˜‡

The major takeaway I got from If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic was that it ignites our curiosity and imagination in inviting us to follow the evolution of logic and the practice of clear thinking; that's where engineering comes in and takes science to its fruition ๐ŸŒฑ ๐ŸŒฟ ๐ŸŒฝ

I liked how Edward has taken the gist of following the evolution of logic and the practice of clear thinking—as delineated in the pages of If A, Then B: How the World Discovered Logic—to the next logical step in its inevitable progression and addressed it rather nicely in Plato And The Nerd. So the meme and theme that resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
It is hard to point to any scientific discovery that led to the iPhone, in the sense that every scientific discovery it depends on was already in widespread use in other products. Nevertheless, it is easy to find evidence that popular culture assumes that this linear model of innovation is in fact how things work. For example, About.com, an advertising-funded website centered around articles on a huge variety of subjects, collects reader commentary. On the question of “Engineer vs Scientist - What’s the Difference?” some of the reader answers are: 
  • Scientists are the ones who create the theories, engineers are the ones who implement them. They compliment [sic] each other…
  • Science is a lot of high level theory and engineering is implementation and optimization.
  • Engineers deal with math, efficiency and optimization while Scientist [sic] deal with "what is possible."
  • Engineers trained [sic] for Using tools, where Scientists are trained for Making them.
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

4. From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (W. W. Norton & Company) by Daniel C. Dennett


So I was reminded of the message in the pages of From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (W. W. Norton & Company) by Daniel C. Dennett by how Plato And The Nerd takes on ideas that are at least as weighty—and probably far more consequential—as those in Hackers & Painters.

Dennett's book is richly dense in metaphor and analogies, quite often thought-provoking. He is wide-ranging in unfolding the narrative, and linguistically clever. In other words, this book is vintage Dennett.

The central artifice that Dennett has used for fathoming intelligence and minds is the notion of memes ala Richard Dawkins. Dennett takes a deep dive into the co-evolution of genes and culture through memes, arguing that this very co-evolution is what makes the human mind unique.

I would say that Edward has taken the whole notion of the evolution of intelligence and minds—as delineated in the pages of From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds—to the next logical step in its relentless progression and addressed it exceptionally well in Plato And The Nerd. So the meme and theme that resonated with me as I read its pages is perhaps best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
There is no question in my mind that humans are coevolving with computers. If computers and software form organisms, then they depend on us for their procreation. We provide the husbandry and serve as midwives. In exchange, we depend on them to manage our systems of finance, commerce, and transportation. More interesting, the machines make the humans more effective at the husbandry that spreads the software species... Compilers translate human-readable code into machine-readable bits... And software innovations fuel the startup culture of Silicon Valley, where the software survives and evolves only if the company survives and evolves, and vice versa (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

5. The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (Penguin Books) by David Deutsch


I was reminded of the message in the pages of The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World (Penguin Books) by David Deutsch by how Plato And The Nerd takes on ideas and explores the deep connections between the themes behind those ideas. Without a shred of doubt, The Beginning of Infinity explores and neatly outlines deep connections between the laws of nature, the human condition, knowledge, and the possibility for progress. No wonder it got rave reviews, such as the following:
"Brilliant and exhilarating . . . Deutsch is so smart, and so strange, and so creative, and so inexhaustibly curious, and so vividly intellectually alive, that it is a distinct privilege to spend time in his head."
~ The New York Times Book Review 
I'll go out on a limb and say that Plato And The Nerd is every bit as good as Deutsch's The Beginning of Infinity, and more. The meme and theme that resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is perhaps best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
Plato recognized that the ideal truths of Forms could not be fully known by humans. But because they cannot be fully known by humans, isn’t it more practical to view what we do know about nature as human-constructed models or what Deutsch calls good explanations? This would be more humble, tacitly acknowledging that even our most fervently held beliefs about nature are subject to improvement. I’m not saying that there are no truths, but just that we should always be required to question them.
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

6. Meta Maths: The Quest for Omega (Atlantic Books) by Gregory Chaitin


So I was reminded of the message in the pages of Meta Maths: The Quest for Omega (Atlantic Books) by Gregory Chaitin by how Plato And The Nerd takes on the idea of the impossible becoming possible. Chaitin’s startling discovery, the Omega number, is a remarkably complex representation of unknowability in mathematics. His investigations shed light on what can ever really be known about the universe. Period. Interesting stuff!

I would say that Edward has taken that selfsame notion—as delineated in the pages of Meta Maths: The Quest for Omega—to the next logical step in its inevitable progression and addressed it rather nicely in Plato And The Nerd. So the meme and theme that resonated with me as I read its pages is best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
Gregory Chaitin, an Argentine-American mathematician who worked at IBM in New York and at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, developed a beautiful example of such a number, one that he called “Omega,” or ฮฉ. ฮฉ is a number between zero and one whose binary representation can be used to solve Turing’s halting problem for a particular binary encoding of Turing machines. Specifically, if we know the first N bits of the binary representation of ฮฉ, then we can determine for all valid programs of length up to N bits whether they halt. Because this question is known to be undecidable, no computer program can give us any arbitrary bit of the binary representation of ฮฉ... Semantics is an association between a set of syntactic objects, such as bit sequences, and a set of concepts. Numbers are concepts, so one possible semantic interpretation of a sequence of bits is as a binary number (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ


Don't Be Too Surprised When Sticky Notes Do Arise ๐Ÿ˜ฎ


Recall what we had read earlier—in the section entitled "A Word To The Wise, Sticky Notes Shall Arise"—about how we have a warm welcome for our new readers in the Programming Digressions reading community? Well, we've now come full circle, and are ready to discover some apocryphally allegorical sticky notes tucked away in the swathe of a menagerie of wild animals, our fabled  beasts ๐Ÿป ๐Ÿ ๐ŸŠ ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿธ

Hey everyone, let's proceed into the jungle now, at your own risk of course, since I'm not exactly a lion-tamer or a zookeeper ๐Ÿ˜‰  I do, though, know a thing or two about ZooKeeper—since I've been having fun designing and crafting distributed systems application software for a while now for a living—and was delighted to read about ZooKeeper in the pages of Plato and the Nerd, yay๐Ÿ‘


There Arrive Pivotal Moments In Our Lives ๐Ÿš


Ponder if you will on this briefest of phrases: "And then it began..." ๐Ÿฃ
"…then it began…" Do you know that feeling? Can you point to a single moment in your life and say: "…then it began…"? Was there a single event that changed the course of your life and eventually led you to pick up this book and start reading this foreword? 
I was in sixth grade when it happened to me. I was interested in science and space and all things technical. My mother found a plastic computer in a catalog and ordered it for me. It was called Digi-Comp I. Forty years later that little plastic computer holds a place of honor on my bookshelf. It was the catalyst that sparked my enduring passion for software. It gave me my first inkling of how joyful it is to write programs that solve problems for people. It was just three plastic S-R flip-flops and six plastic and-gates, but it was enough—it served. Then… for me… it began… But the joy I felt... (italics mine)
~ Michael Feathers (Robert Martin in his Foreword to Working Effectively with Legacy Code — Pearson Education)

7. Gรถdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic books) by Douglas R. Hofstadter


I was reminded of the message in the pages of Gรถdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic books) by Douglas R. Hofstadter by how Plato And The Nerd spins a tale—weaves a web—as did Gรถdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. And what a marvelous tale there is in the telling and gelling of the themes that run free and unite into a coherent whole between the two covers of Edward's Plato And The Nerd.

Let me put it this way: Anything profounder could only transcend into the realm of the spiritual and your blogger might be found singing something along the lines of
I'm over my head,
But it sure feels nice,
I'm over my head,
But it sure feels nice.
~ Fleetwood Mac (Lyrics from Over My Head)
Gรถdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, of course, needs no introduction. In fact, you'll find plenty of reference to it through the length and breadth of the vistas covered right here on this blog community we know as Programming Digressions. It's truly a wonderful exploration—with Hofstadter digressing willingly at the drop of a hat to weaving a bunch of themes into a unified fugue—of fascinating ideas at the heart of cognitive science (meaning, reduction, recursion, etc.), and I encourage you to check it out.

So the meme and theme that resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd—and actually there were many memes and themes but I have to pick one in the interest of time, space, plus your sanity and mine—is best illustrated by an example which goes like this:
I won't explain how Gรถdel proved his theorem, although it's an interesting subject. I’ve already risked losing too many readers. If you are interested in understanding this more deeply, I recommend Franzรฉn (2005), which is informal and accessible. A more rigorous overview can be found in Raatikainen (2015). A delightful and witty exposition of the topic can be found in Gรถdel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (Hofstadter, 1979), which won a Pulitzer Prize. 
Instead of giving you more detail on Gรถdel's theorems, I would like to consider their implications for modeling and software. In Gรถdel's formal languages, the set of all mathematical statements and the set of all proofs are countable sets, just like the set of all computer programs. Moreover, a "proof" in a formal language is a sequence of transformations of sentences, where each transformation is governed by a set of inference rules. This is conceptually close to what a computer does when it executes a program. In a computer, the sentences in the formal language are ultimately just sequences of bits, and the inference rules are the instructions in an instruction set architecture (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
To the quote above I wish to add: You know how we all have premonitions from time to time? Well, as I read the author's polite admission in the quote above—when he noted with great civility how "I won't explain how Gรถdel proved his theorem, although it's an interesting subject"—I had this premonition that Edward had somehow marshaled the discipline and restrained himself from a digression on to an exploring and explaining how Gรถdel proved his theorem ๐Ÿ˜‡

Oh, and did you notice the observation—again referring to the brief passage excerpted above from Plato and the Nerd—that was tacked on to the author's remark about refraining from explaining how Gรถdel proved his theorem? Hey, I had even made the observation all italicized as a telltale clue, come to think of it ๐Ÿ‘ป  Anyhow, we're all friends here in the Programming Digressions community of readers, so all good! But the careful reader may have noted how Edward had observed that "I’ve already risked losing too many readers." (again, italics are mine).

I thought that was awesome! As a matter of fact, it illustrates another nice thing about Plato and the Nerd: The author has a great sense of humor. Yep, he is a true, fellow nerd all right ๐Ÿ‘ Thus, Edward elaborates—parenthetically, and in a footnote on the same page where the observation above appears in the book to be precise—on what he had in mind in making that observation, saying
My former PhD thesis advisor, Dave Messerschmitt, once told me that when you publish a book, every equation you put in the book cuts your readership in half. I will call this principle "Messerschmitt’s Law," although Dave tells me he did not discover this law. But I first heard it from him. Throwing caution to the wind, I am putting in an equation, but in an attempt to have some discipline, I will number each equation with an estimate of the remaining readership. Here, I’ve assumed optimistically a starting readership of 8,192, so the presence of this equation has cut it to 4,096. The next equation will be numbered 2,048. These are powers of 2 to make it easier to evenly divide by 2 each time and to underscore that I really am a nerd. If and when I get down to equation (1), I can write whatever I want because I will presumably have no more readers. As a side note, my PhD thesis had several dozen equations in it. It makes me wonder whether Dave ever read it.
I sure got a kick out of reading it; oh goodness, Plato and the Nerd is a book to dig in to and savor ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Lest your blogger takes a page from Plato and the Nerd and himself begins digressing here, let's quickly infuse some discipline into our demeanor and move on to the final couple of vignettes in our collage of a gallery, shall we? ๐ŸŽ

8. The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind (Simon & Schuster) by Marvin Minsky


So I was reminded of the message in the pages of The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind (Simon & Schuster) by Marvin Minsky by how Plato And The Nerd takes on a diverse set of ideas and explores them with delicious relish ๐Ÿง

Consider for example how Chapter 5—entitled "LEVELS OF MENTAL ACTIVITIES"—begins with this intriguing quote:
"We are evidently unique among species in our symbolic ability, and we are certainly unique in our modest ability to control the conditions of our existence by using these symbols. Our ability to represent and simulate reality implies that we can approximate the order of existence and ... gives us a sense of mastery over our experience."
~ Heinz Pagels, in The Dreams of Reason
Minsky goes on to explore the theme with great relish. Correspondingly, the meme and theme—corresponding to the passage above—which resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is best illustrated by an example from the latter:
...Computers can, for example, sometimes prove theorems and symbolically solve mathematical equations involving real numbers. However, software is fundamentally limited to a countable world, and it is limited to processes that are algorithmic, following step-by-step procedures. If the physical world is not so limited, then there are machines that can perform functions that software cannot. I believe it is extremely unlikely that the physical world is so limited; thus, despite the amazing things we can do with software, we can’t do everything, and even what we can do with software often requires a partnership with humans to give it any semantic meaning. Computers are not universal machines (italics mine).
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
Moving on now to the final vignette—all good things sure come to an end—in our collage of a gallery ๐ŸŽ

9.  The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (The MIT Press) by Noson S. Yanofsky


In this final vignette—at least for the second installment of this series of essays on Plato And The Nerd—I was reminded of the message in the pages of The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (The MIT Press) by Noson S. Yanofsky by how Plato And The Nerd delves into the rubric of the unknown knowns with the relish of a child who feels compelled to dive into a big pile of painstakingly raked leaves in a typical backyard framed in the soft colors of the autumn season ๐ŸŽƒ

The wherewithal of the other book I mentioned above—The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us—is succinctly captured in the following online review of that book:
Many books explain what is known about the universe. This book investigates what cannot be known. Rather than exploring the amazing facts that science, mathematics, and reason have revealed to us, this work studies what science, mathematics, and reason tell us cannot be revealed. In The Outer Limits of Reason, Noson Yanofsky considers what cannot be predicted, described, or known, and what will never be understood. He discusses the limitations of computers, physics, logic, and our own thought processes.
But first... Hey, where did our charming beasts of the jungle all go? ๐Ÿ˜ง Hey, where's the menagerie of wild animals, our fabled  beasts? Remember, their mug shots look like this?: ๐Ÿป  ๐Ÿ  ๐ŸŠ ๐Ÿž ๐Ÿ ๐Ÿ™ ๐Ÿข ๐Ÿน ๐Ÿธ

Heaven forbid, did a meteor strike, flattening them all out of existence, leaving behind nothing more than blood and concrete?  I mean, all I see in the pic above is my copy of The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (The MIT Press) by Noson S. Yanofsky—bedecked in an ebony dust jacket that's rather lovely and all the fashion—basking in sunshine outside the Gates Dell Complex (GDC) on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin ๐ŸŽ“  The GDC, of course, is home to the computer science department.

All that is fine and well—I mean the not-exactly-crimson-suffused-concrete and all—but where are our beasties?! ๐Ÿ˜ญ

Let's calm down, you all, and hope for the best...

Meanwhile, the meme and theme—corresponding to the succinct online review of The Outer Limits of Reason that we glanced at a breath away—which resonated with me as I read the pages of Plato and the Nerd is best illustrated by the following signpost that marks the outset of Chapter 2 (which is entitled "Inventing Laws of Nature") where the authors has an intriguing signpost for the reader by way of a riveting synopsis. Thus, in introducing Chapter 2 of Plato and the Nerd, Edward notes that this is a chapter
· · · in which I argue that models are invented, not discovered; that engineers and scientists use models in complementary, almost opposite ways; that all models are wrong, but some are useful; and that the use of models can slow as well as advance technological progress by establishing a backdrop of unknown knowns, by forcing increased specialization, and by requiring humans to assimilate new paradigms.
~Edward Ashford Lee (Plato and the Nerd) ๐Ÿ”ญ ๐Ÿ‘“
With that, your tour guide for the fabled Programming Digressions gallery announces that we're bringing our gallery tour to a graceful end ๐Ÿšง

So please remember to stop reading now ๐Ÿšท

This friendly reminder is, of course, along the lines of what we came across earlier in this essay (in the context of an especially entertaining issue of the magazine Harvard Lampoon that I recalled reading during my graduate school days at Texas A&M University). Okay, okay, so I genuinely was diligently studying, researching, programming away in the computing labs in College Station (Texas) but—much as I noted there—I didn't let getting one kind of education (in the engineering and the sciences) interfere with getting the other kind of education (in, um, culture and the humanities) ๐Ÿ‘ป

Tell you what, while the tour proper drew to a close, there's actually some stuff that follows... Never mind, carry right on, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, you may proceed now... ๐Ÿ‘ž ๐Ÿ‘ก

The magical fortress that is Castillo San Cristรณbal, where the old world ๐Ÿ‰ meets the new ๐Ÿ’ผ

My words have come unlocked and run freely in this essay, more so than in other essays, though I'd like to hang on to the illusion that my words have not come unhinged ๐Ÿ” I suspect this has something to do with how I've had Plato and the Nerd constantly—well, near-constantly, I hasten to add for fellow nerds who value precision everywhere, ah, even in essays ๐Ÿ‘บ With Plato and the Nerd at my side, to give my imagination wings with which to soar, I wish to add only this much: The author speaks my language, he really does ๐Ÿ‘ฃ

I wish I had written this book, although I sure am glad I didn't—intimately familiar though I am with the background and terrain that the book covers par excellence between its covers—because I couldn't have done half as good a job as Edward has in his book ๐Ÿ†


Should The Author Stumble Across This Essay... ⛱


So I speak for myself (and perhaps also on behalf of a growing number of you all), doing so with the depth of my heart, and say, Edward, your book has given me much joy. Hats off to you ๐ŸŽฉ ๐Ÿ‘’

As I've come to learn, you have coauthored several textbooks on topics including digital communication, signal processing, embedded systems, and software modeling. Plato and the Nerd is your first book for a general audience. Please make sure this is not your last ๐Ÿ„ You've got a great thing going. Please ride the wave and keep the momentum going.
Your blogger, the Programming Digressions reading community—and indeed the whole world—are all at a pivotal point in our co-evolution where we sorely need a voice like yours. We need to hear more from you ๐Ÿ“ž Would you please give us hope perhaps by sending a signal or two—a semaphore or even a smoke signal, it really does not matter—that you'll go on to write at least as many book for a general audience as you have for a technical audience? ๐Ÿ“ฌ Would you please? ๐ŸŒˆ
A man sleeps heavily ๐Ÿ˜ด
though something blazes in him like the sun,
like a magnificent fringe sewn up under the hem. 
He turns under the covers ๐ŸŽญ
Any image is a lie: 
A clear red stone tastes sweet ๐Ÿ“•
You kiss a beautiful mouth, and a key
turns in the lock of your fear. 
A spoken sentence sharpens to a fine edge ๐Ÿฅ
A mother dove looks for her nest,
asking where, ku? Where, ku? 
Where the lion lies down ๐Ÿฏ
Where any man or woman goes to cry.
Where the sick go when they hope to get well. 
Where a wind lifts that helps with winnowing ๐ŸŒพ
and, the same moment, sends a ship on its way.
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi — HarperCollins)
You really know that your world has been rocked when tunes like the following chestnut start making their presence felt—even as they delicately impinge on your consciousness—in their selfsame, reflexive innocence ๐Ÿ‘ถ
Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round
Upside down
Boy, you turn me
Inside out
And round and round
~Diana Ross (Lyrics Upside Down)

An Invitation ๐Ÿ’


In the end, I invite your comments—Having now taken a leisurely tour of our very own Programming Digressions gallery of art in the collage above, and assuming you're still awake... ๐Ÿ’ค
  • Do you find that your experience of reading Plato and the Nerd was different? ๐Ÿข 
  • Did I perhaps not cover some qualities, and which are the ones that you actually found the most helpful as you wrestled with the tantalizing ideas in Plato and the Nerd? ๐ŸŒŽ 
  • Did I leave out your favorite aspect of Plato and the Nerd perchance? ๐Ÿš› 
The hope that abides in my collage above is that it'll inspire and propel you to learn more, to build bridges as far as the horizon of your imagination lets you, and keep going from there!


Till we meet next time, you have a great, productive week ๐Ÿ€


Postscript Collage of Pics and Lyrics ๐ŸŽป

You can sketch, smudge, and draft bits of code in JavaScript, while pushing and twisting the language in the direction that best suits your particular style.
~ Michael Fogus Functional JavaScript (O’Reilly Media) - From the Foreword by Jeremy Ashkenas 
Here, and much as I said in the first installment of this series of essays on Plato and the Nerd—in the context of when I was listening to a song by Knopfler—it occurred to me that you simply can't comprehend the splendor of Knopfler's voice without actually listening to it ๐ŸŽง  Likewise, you simply won't be able to comprehend the splendor of the tone of Plato and the Nerd without actually reading it ๐Ÿ“–

This collage of an essay of a fugue can merely paint my impressions of reading, and continuing to re-read Plato and the Nerd. Helpful as I hope that all was, you stand to benefit from hearing it from the proverbial horse's mouth. So what are you waiting for? Go out and grab a copy—preferably your own, not someone else's lol—of Plato and the Nerd for yourself and find out for yourself ๐Ÿ˜‰

She was swinging by the bangles in a main street store ๐ŸŽ
A while before we met
The most dangerous angles that you ever saw
She spied her amulet 
And she took a loop of leather for around her neck ๐Ÿ’
And that was then the start
The most dangerous lady on her quarter deck
She found her Golden Heart
You found your Golden Heart 
Then we swirled around each other and the thread was spun ๐Ÿž
to some Arcadian band
I would stop it from swinging like a pendulum
Just to hold time in my hand 
And you shot me with a cannonball of history ๐Ÿš€
And long forgotten art
I'd be turning it over as our words ran free
I'd hold your Golden Heart
I'd hold your Golden Heart 
Nothing in the world prepared me for, your heart, your heart ๐Ÿ’
Nothing in the world that I love more, your heart, your heart
Your Golden Heart
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Golden Heart)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Plato And The Nerd



The Quotes ๐Ÿฉ

I've noticed that even people who believe in fate look both ways before crossing the street.
~ Stephen Hawking (University of Cambridge)

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect...
~ E.M. Forster (Howards End)

Let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
And stand together, yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.
~ Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet) 
I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.
~ Robert Frost


Preamble ⛱


Palpable Excitement Afoot

Some books set their sights high; some set their sights low. Some books are ambitious; and then you occasionally run into those rare ones—perhaps once in a decadewhich are hugely ambitious. The book I'm introducing today sets its sights high and is hugely ambitious. And oh my, does this book pull it all off swimmingly well! All I'm going to say is this: You have to read this one for yourself to get a sense for why it's got your bleary-eyed blogger benchmarking his babbling brook of brash ideas brusquely with barely-restrained excitement! ☄

Let me put this all in context for you. Of all the books I've reviewed so far on this blog—barring none but four others—this one has recently joined the pantheon of my super-select list of desert-island books. You all are probably already familiar with the other four. But let me go ahead and remind you: I'm also mindful of the fact that thousands of regular readers come here every month. I'm surmising that the deluge includes a good number of new readers. Shhh... Long-time readers, you all, don't anyone tell our new readers, yet, about all the fun we regularly have here with digressions, okay? ๐Ÿ‘

Precursors...

So I was going to remind you in passing about that other, tiny handful of desert-island books—to which I'm gleefully adding a fifth one that I'll soon introduce. They are as follows, appearing on this list in the chronological order in which they have appeared on this blog:
I won't have say much to say about them here—tempted though I am to do exactly that—but rest assured that you're bound to run into those names as you hover around this blog ๐Ÿš and cruise through the other essays ๐Ÿšฃ

Today, though, we're going to chat about a rare gem of a book that I'll usher in soon. I'm sure you're curious at this point to find out what's got me so excited!

Introducing The Book With a Drum Roll ๐Ÿ“ฃ


Why The Exuberance?

Pictured center square in the pic above that's embedded in a thematic postage stamp border—which itself is a tribute to our society's still-extant paper-and-pencil heritage—is the stellar book that has got me oh-so excited! There's a lot going for this book, and I think you're going to like it, too. A lot! So here we go, introducing the book with a drum roll ๐ŸŽถ
I'm at least as excited as was legendary programmer Robert C. Martin (aka Uncle Bob) when he had introduced a book on Java application architecture, saying
I'm dancing! By god I'm dancing on the walls. I'm dancing on the ceiling. I'm ecstatic. I'm overjoyed. I'm really, really pleased.
In his exuberant remarks above, Uncle Bob was just getting started with his rave review of Java Application Architecture: Modularity Patterns with Examples Using OSGi (Addison-Wesley Professional) by Kirk Knoernschild. Okay, so I, too, know a thing or two about OSGi—and a whole lot more still about architecting software applications—but I'm going to leave it at that for now ๐Ÿ

But did you notice how excited Uncle Bob was in the comment above? Some people do get carried away, don't they? Then again, look who's talking ๐Ÿ™Š So your blogger himself unabashedly confesses to feeling carried away, by a different book, of course: Plato and the Nerd. You, too, may experience the same euphoria once you get a chance to see what all this book has to offer ๐ŸŒน

Here's The Deal

So here's the deal: I'll try to distill the overall theme of Plato and the Nerd as best as I can, but in a nutshell—and much as I had mentioned at the outset about how hugely ambitious it is—Plato and the Nerd book takes on some of the deepest, most crucial, undeniably vital, and burning technological-societal issues head on ๐Ÿš˜  And the way it tackles those issues and succeeds at exploring them effectively is something to behold. In the process, Plato and the Nerd lays unprecedented groundwork for bridging the humanities and engineering.

And I'm not talking about building castles in the air; I can assure you that I'm not ๐Ÿฐ  I am talking about an incredibly clear-eyed and unprecedented tour of the very essence of where society is headed. "Bold statement there, Akram!", I hear you say. And you're entitled to your opinion, of course, much as I am to mine. All good ๐Ÿ˜Ž  Do bear with me, though. We have a lot of ground to cover in order to let you on to the gift Edward has given to humanity in the shape of this phenomenal book ๐ŸŽ

Speaking of how Plato and the Nerd has undeniably ushered in the ubiquity-in-the-wings of unprecedented groundwork for bridging the humanities and engineering, the video of a fun colloquium—entitled Symbiosis or Annihilation? How Humans and Technology Coevolve—is available online under the auspices of EECS at UC Berkeley. In the video, the author takes the audience along for an engaging and entertaining romp through the background of how the book Plato and the Nerd came to be—the video is fairly recent, having been delivered just last month, on Wednesday, September 27, 2017 to be precise. Check it out! Methinks you'll enjoy it; I sure did ☕

I've Been Searching So Long

Surely someone noted that, in the section above, I referred to the author by his first name, Edward. Being a fellow hard-core technologist, I feel far more comfortable calling authors by their first name; I hasten to add that the author's last name, Lee, is a perfectly good name. The only thing is that calling someone by their last name sounds, um, a bit too stuffy for my taste. I can only hope that Edward himself will not demur, should he stumble on this essay ๐Ÿ˜‡

So I was saying... Ah yes: Dare I say, I may just have found—in Plato and the Nerd—what I had been looking for?
I have climbed highest mountain ⛰
I have run through the fields ๐ŸŒพ
Only to be with you ๐ŸŒฟ
Only to be with you ๐ŸŒฟ 
I have run ๐Ÿƒ
I have crawled ⏳
I have scaled these city walls ๐Ÿฐ
These city walls ๐Ÿฐ
Only to be with you ๐ŸŒฟ 
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for ⏳
But I still haven't found what I'm looking for ๐Ÿ”Ž
~ U2 (Lyrics from I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For)
OK, you all in the amazing music group U2, while your searches may continue—such as the one you alluded to in the song lyrics above—I'm officially calling off my search ๐Ÿ˜‰  By the way, I love some of your songs, especially the one that has the lyrics above ๐ŸŽฏ

An Improbable Place

If it strikes you as improbable that a book like Plato and the Nerd could set your blogger on fire—the metaphorical kind of fire, I hasten to add, for those of us who can lurch into literal-mindedness—I invite you to read on...

So let's briefly turn to what is, IMHO, a profound observation; then again, since we're chatting in this essay about Plato and the Nerd, we're in profoundness central to begin with. Relax ⛱  We're at home—this is our blog. Remember, we're in the friendly environs of Programming Digressions? Let's continue with our romp, shall we?

Something now of the profound observation I had alluded to above: Let's turn the following magisterial thought inside-out—I was about to reach for my "onion metaphor of conceptualizing" (more on that below) before I realized that the profound observation I'm sharing below is going to be more like an exercise in the mathematical field of topology—in the style of inverted donuts from the land of topology:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
~ Sir Winston Churchill ("The End of the Beginning" in Winston Churchill War Speeches Collection Book 3)
Do let's take a little time to let the Churchillean observation above soak in to our cuddly, crepuscular, and collective craniums ๐Ÿ’€ Well, okay, maybe not that cuddly ๐Ÿ‘ฝ So I first heard that Churchillean gem on NPR (that's National Public Radio here in the Unites States of course) over a decade ago while driving to work one fine—though rather frosty—morning in my former home state of Minnesota ⛄

And should you wish to learn a bit more about what I had in mind when referring to  the "onion metaphor of conceptualizing" above, I invite you to look up some musings elsewhere under the rubric of the book entitled How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics in an essay where we had some fun with the mathematical machinery that underpins linear algebra.

I trust that you're getting a sense for the gravitas of Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿ‘“


A "Map" of the Book ๐Ÿ”


In my mind, Plato and the Nerd is to the world of paradigmatic bridge-building—and we really, really need to have more of these mergers between the humanities and engineering and the sciences to be sure—what the seminal Gang Of Four (GoF) book is to the world of software design patterns and what Joy of Cooking is (was?!) to the culinary world (I can't definitively judge in the latter matter since I don't follow the happenings in the world of cooking, plus my culinary skills, if any, barely hover above the EKG flatline) ๐Ÿ”

At any rate, Edward lays out a super-helpful map of Plato and the Nerd in the Preface—to be precise, in an introductory section entitled Overview of the Chapters—pointing out how
Some readers like to be told what they will be told before they are told it. Putting aside the problematic self-referentiality, for those readers, I provide here a brief overview of the book. But honestly, I recommend skipping this and going directly to chapter 1. The story told in this book cannot be accurately summarized in a few paragraphs, and any such summary will necessarily make the book seem more dense
Okay, you all, guys and gals, listen up—and clearly your blogger has managed to thaw after eleven frosty wistfully wonderful, wintry years in the beautiful (but rather frosty) state that is Minnesota ⛄  And not only, he has managed to pick up a bunch of southern mannerisms to boot ๐ŸŽฉ

The alert reader may have noted my rather untraditional use of the word "Map" in the heading of this section (i.e. A "Map" of the Book). What gives? And here I find myself resisting the temptation to digress into a word or two on my use of the word "Map"—as in "A Map of the Cat?", and as used by one of my heroes in science, the legendary physicist Richard Feynman—in the heading above ๐Ÿฑ Your blogger's will power is being put to a severe test, you all! ๐ŸŽง


Let's Get Ourselves Acquainted ☕


Table of Contents 

Lest we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a deep breath here ๐Ÿ‹  So to acquaint you the better with the contents of Plato and the Nerd—here I'll parenthetically add only this much that the chapters of the book are engagingly organized into sections with delightfully named headings—let's have ourselves a peek at its table of contents ๐Ÿฎ
Preface
I. Yang
1. Shadows on the Wall
2. Inventing Laws of Nature
3. Models of Models of Models of Models of Things
4. Hardware Is Ephemeral
5. Software Endures
6. Evolution and Revolution
II. Yin
7. Information
8. The Limits of Software
9. Symbiosis
10. Determinism
11. Probability and Possibility
12. Final Thoughts
Bibliography
Index
Since I had mentioned atop this section about how Edward has engagingly organized the chapters of Plato and the Nerd into delightfully named sections, it's only fair that I give you a taste of this aspect of the book as well ๐Ÿœ  For the real deal, please grab a copy of the book for yourself and find out for yourself. My copy of the book is already spoken for; on top of that, my copy is so profusely lit up with highlighter marks that it just might be a bit too jarring for your eyes ๐Ÿ‘€  Yeah, right, I would hear you mutter, should you chance upon my copy of Plato and the Nerd, "Akram, you might as well have dipped the whole thing in fluorescent highlighter ink ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sections In The Chapters Are Named Delightfully

Okay, so we were saying... Ah yes, to give you a better sense for how the author of Plato and the Nerd has organized the chapters into delightfully entitled sections, consider a handful of example—just keep in mind that we glanced at the table of contents earlier whereas what follows is a random selection of sections that are named especially delightfully—starting with
2.1. The Unknown Knowns
3. Models of Models of Models of Models of Things
3.1. Technological Tapestries
3.3. Transitivity of Models
5.1. Self-Scaffolding
5.5. Libraries, Languages, and Dialects
6.4. Models in Crisis
7.4. Continuous Information
8.4. Digital Physics?
9.3. Digital Psyche?
9.4. Symbiotic Partnership
10.1. Laplace’s Demon
12.3. Autonomy and Intelligence
And don't let the book's slim size fool you; its slimness belies the amazingly wide scope and deep coverage of remarkable ideas that you'll find in its pages. Put another way, the SNR is really high ๐Ÿ“ˆ Plato and the Nerd covers a wide swathe of territory, and does it incredibly well. All that combined has knocked your blogger's socks off ๐Ÿ‘ž

Actually, Plato and the Nerd is not that slim either ๐Ÿ˜‰  It's a bit under 300 pages in length. I think it's just that I likely had another book in mind—The Nature of Computation (Oxford University Press) by Cristopher Moore and Stephan Mertens—as I wrote this so my mind had perhaps reflexively turned to comparing the two, unbeknownst to me. Ah, we all can confabulate, can't we?  And be good at it, without even knowing it; but this is getting metacircular, and I digress. So that other book is a hefty one; a bit under 1000 pages in length, gulp. That's why, by comparison, I unthinkingly referred to Plato and the Nerd above as being slim ๐Ÿ™‰

Rave Reviews 

Before we dive into Plato and the Nerd to get a sense for the goodies it offers, here are a couple of rave reviews that I thought were especially apt. Let's first look at the brief review by Janos Sztipanovits, E. Bronson Ingram Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Vanderbilt University:
Lee's book is a brilliant articulation of the unique and increasingly important role technology plays in the evolution of mankind. He offers a deeply optimistic perspective with clarity and intellectual rigor without ever losing accessibility.
Next, we turn to the review by Thomas A. Henzinger, President, IST Austria:
In every decent bookstore, you find shelves full of volumes written by top mathematicians, physicists, and biologists explaining the state of the art in their field and its impact on the human condition. This book is important because it is high time for computer scientists and engineers to do the same.
And to get a sense for the professional background of the author—Edward Ashford Lee—he is Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, where he has taught and researched digital technology and computer science for more than thirty years. He has coauthored several textbooks on topics including digital communication, signal processing, embedded systems, and software modeling. This is his first book for a general audience. I sure hope Edward will go on to write at least as many book for a general audience as he has for a technical audience. It just so happens that I have the luxury of a professional background in exactly the technical areas for which he has coauthored those textbooks; I'm tempted to check those out as well, should time permit... ๐Ÿ˜Ž

A Theme Begins To Emerge...

Methinks that the picture of a rather intriguing book is likely beginning to emerge in your mind. If so, you're in good company. In fact, great company because I'm reminded of a beautiful passage from a book entitled ANSI Common LISP (Pearson) by Paul Graham—I implore you to suspend your judgment because alarms probably went off in your head when I mentioned "beautiful" and "ANSI" in the same breath—because that book is from the mind of one of the most profound thinkers on the planet. In section 2.16 of the aforementioned treatise, entitled Looking Forward, Graham tellingly notes with his trademark clarity how ๐ŸŽ€
In this chapter we have barely scratched the surface of Lisp. And yet a portrait of a very unusual language is beginning to emerge. To start with, the language has a single syntax to express all program structure. This syntax is based on the list, which is a kind of Lisp object. Functions, which are Lisp objects in their own right, can be expressed as lists. And Lisp is itself a Lisp program, made almost entirely of Lisp functions no different from the ones you can define yourself. 
Don't worry if the relations between all these ideas are not entirely clear. Lisp introduces so many novel concepts that it takes some time to get used to all the new things you can do with it. One thing should be clear at least: there are some startlingly elegant ideas here (italics mine).
I see that you're intrigued. Great! To learn more, I suggest that you visit the webpage for Plato and the Nerd. In particular, I draw your attention to the VIEWPOINTS segment in particular; the latter has a substantial amount of the author's stellar thinking on display ๐Ÿš€


The Joy of Reading Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿฌ


Hey, Yay, The Author Knows A Thing Or Two About Digressions

Oh, and let me tell you about how delighted I was as I gleefully read a handful of references to the notion of digressing. Some of you—oops, many of you now?!—already know my propensity for digressing. So you can well imagine how delighted I was on finding some of the same phenomenon (i.e. explorations of tangential ideas) going on in Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿ˜‚

For example, I got a kick out of the following intro to a section, which immediately follows a figure portraying a small fragment of x86 assembly code:
If I may digress briefly, I would like to comment on the culture of programmers (italics mine).
Frankly, I fell for Plato and the Nerd hook, line and sinker right there! Oh, and let me tell you: What you saw above—where Edward was sounding civilized notes of polite diffidence—was only the beginning ๐ŸŽฉ

A bit later, we have a photo showing Richard Stallman in Vietnam—and I sure got a kick out of the anachronistic photo of Stallman, obliviously tapping away at his laptop from a rickety boat sailing on a river. At any rate, shortly after that photo, we have Edward politely adding this thought:
But I digress. My topic in this section is programming languages (italics mine).
Wait, there's more! As a final example—and your blogger is feeling positively giddy at this time—let's catch a glimpse of the section where Edward is telling us about how
The license history of jQuery also reflects an ongoing passionate debate about the nature of open-source software.  
But I digress again (it is hard to avoid... the background stories are really quite interesting). Let’s return to the subject of how to manage the vastness of possibilities that software offers. Software technologies emerge chaotically in a Darwinian ecosystem of ideas (italics mine).

May You Digress Even More

As I read that passage in Plato and the Nerd, I could barely hold myself back from offering to its author this solicitous piece of advice—from me of course, as well as on behalf of all of us here in the Programming Digression community who are equally smitten by the allure of exploring related and tangential ideas—in the most unequivocal way possible: Edward, we encourage you to digress, we really do ๐Ÿ˜Ž

As a fellow nerd, let me assure you that he is one of us. And you don't have to take my word for it either; simply pick up the book and confirm for your own self ๐Ÿ‘•  I mean, Plato and the Nerd could easily be the poster child of this nerdy blog, which came to be named—by the way, the decision was mostly subliminal as I can't quite recall why I chose that name a few years ago to call our blog—Programming Digressions!

The Siren Call

Sara
You're the poet in my heart
Never change
And don't you ever stop
Now it's gone,
No, it doesn't matter anymore
When you build your house
I'll come by 
Sara
Sara 
(There's a heartbeat
And it never really died, it never, never really died)
Oh Sara,
Would you swallow all your pride
Would you speak a little louder
Singing, all I ever wanted
~ Fleetwood Mac (Lyrics from Sara)
If there's a poet in you—and I believe there's a poet in all of us—it will beckon to you like a siren as you read Plato and the Nerd. Allow me to elaborate that somewhat enigmatic statement by way of a personal anecdote: So one of the best complements I've ever received—at least I hope it was meant as a complement—is when a coworker at a former workplace wrote to me, saying, "Akram, you write like a poet" ๐ŸŽ And I was like, "I'm a poet, and I didn't even know it!" ๐Ÿ’ช  Woohoo! ๐Ÿ‘ป


Engaging Style, Deep Coverage, Zero Fluff ๐Ÿ’


Helpful Signposts Abound 

I also liked a lot that Edward liberally sprinkled Plato and the Nerd with copious signposts to help the reader navigate the narrative with the greatest of ease; I would be pressed hard to think of another book that has accomplished this with greater finesse! Here, as an example, and much earlier in the book, we have Edward—in section 3.2 of the book, Complexity Simplified—telling the reader how
Engineering of simple systems, like Edison’s lightbulb, can be carried out with a prototype-and-test approach. But this approach breaks down as systems get more complex. With more complex systems, the use of models becomes much more important. 
Complexity is a difficult concept to pin down. Roughly speaking, something is complex when it strains our human minds to comprehend it. Complexity is therefore a relation between an artifact or a concept and a human observer.
Finally, as another example of how the author has artfully sprinkled signposts throughout the pages of Plato and the Nerd, to help the reader navigate the narrative, consider this endearing marker on a subject—in section 3.2 of the book, Dualism, tackling the admittedly knotty notion of dualism—which I felt truly come alive in the pages of the book! So we have here Edward subtly offering these words regarding how ๐Ÿ˜‚
The few readers who have gotten this far (thank you!) are probably wondering how I have avoided mentioning Descartes’dualism, the mind-body separation. I’ve built a whole story about how layers of modeling result in a divorce between software and the physics on which it runs. Software is a model, and I’ve repeatedly cautioned against confusing the model with the thing being modeled, the map with the territory. A map is a model, and the territory is the physical world being modeled. Isn’t my stance the Cartesian dualism all over again, where I’ve just replaced "mind" with “model”?

Endearing Markers Lead Off Each Chapter

Another terrific feature of Plato and the Nerd is that it provides great context for each and every topic as the narrative unfolds over the span of the book. Yet another feature of the book that I liked a lot is that each chapter leads off with a succinct "signpost" ๐Ÿšธ Think "marker"—or if you're smitten by the passion of seeking excellence in the art of computer programming, as is your blogger—think to the "marker interface pattern", which, of course, kicks into high gear at precisely those times when a programming language doesn't have explicit support for metadata. But I digress; I won't even bring up my passion for conceptual blending and instead merely leave a marker for anyone so interested to pick that up further ๐ŸŽป

Indeed, I cease and desist, you all—my dear friends all in our Programming Digressions community—but not before leaving a marker of my own, this trailing signpost that you'll spy right next to this very sentence ๐Ÿšง  ๐Ÿ‘ป  Who said you can't get an education and have fun at the same time. Okay, okay, let's move on with the narrative, so I'm not even going to bring up the stellar work of Carol Dweck (currently with Stanford University) in connection with the preceding thought on generating motivation (i.e. getting an education and having fun at the same time) or perhaps "self-scaffolding", in the marvelous use of that phrase in Plato and the Nerd ๐ŸŽ“

An Example Or Two Of Markers that Emblazon The Book's Goodness!

So I was saying... Ah yes, each chapter in Plato and the Nerd has emblazoned atop it a succinct "signpost" ๐Ÿšธ To take an example or two, consider how the author begins Chapter 1 Shadows on the Wall begins with this thoughtful signpost:
. . . in which I examine the very idea of “facts” and “truths,” showing that: collective wisdom about them can be better than individual wisdom; a narrative about facts can be more interesting than the facts themselves; facts and truths may be invented or even designed, not just discovered; facts and truths may be wrong; and it can cost billions to show that facts are true. And, oh yes, nerds are misunderstood, and science and engineering get confused.
And for the second of the two examples I had promised above, consider how the author leads off Chapter 5 Software Endures begins with this terrific signpost:
. . . in which I argue that the layers of paradigms for software are so deep that the physical world largely becomes irrelevant; that software reflects the personalities and idiosyncrasies of its creators; that software endures much better than hardware in no small part because it encodes its own layered paradigms; and that connected machines in server farms dream (italics mine)
Incidentally, I got quite the kick out of the italicized words above; take this from someone who lives and breathes the software that powers enterprise applications for some of the most massive volumes of internet data—think the Internet of Things (aka IoT) ๐Ÿš™ ๐Ÿš• ๐Ÿš… ๐Ÿš ๐Ÿš ๐Ÿšœ ๐Ÿš“ ๐Ÿšˆ ๐Ÿšข ⛵ ๐Ÿš€ ๐Ÿš‰ Okay, okay, so I got a little carried away with those endearing icons there ๐Ÿ˜‚ All I was trying to do there was illustrate a point that's becoming increasingly relevant for our even more increasingly networked world ๐Ÿ“ฌ

The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts

All these things combine and cohere into a beautifully wrought narrative that I savored to the last drop, as it were. In fact, there were times—as I was reading Plato and the Nerd for the first time—when I was compelled to deliberately force myself to slow down and savor the book so it didn't slip away any quicker than I would wish for it to ๐Ÿ’ฐ But guess what? There's such a thing as re-reading a book ๐Ÿ“– Woohoo, Plato and the Nerd, here I come again!

I found myself obliviously rapt by the delightfully positive story that this book has to tell. Oh, and just to disambiguate something above: That was "Woohoo, Plato and the Nerd, here I come again!" as in the book, and neither addressing Plato—long gone anyway ala Dead Poets Society—nor the apocryphal Nerd ๐Ÿ™Š Just sayin'.

Abstractions That Are Engaging and Entertaining ๐ŸŽˆ

Delightful Exploration Of Vital Abstractions

I may be losing track of the essays on this blog, but if memory serves me right, this is only the second essay ever that is being wholly devoted to a single book! The other one was devoted to an unbelievably good book on technical blogging. Yes, the book we've dived into is that special

As a software craftsman, fewer things get me as excited as do elegant abstractions. And Plato and the Nerd is replete with lavish narratives on abstractions; suffice it to say that you'll be in for a marvelous romp through a variety of abstractions that engage and enlighten, even as they entertain. Real artists just have to ship; otherwise, I was sorely tempted to talk with you a bit on a particularly delightful abstraction—ala metaphor and I never metaphor I didn't like—in the pages of the book where Edward illustrates the narrative with a photo of  a drill going through a map ๐Ÿ”ญ

It got me thinking to the notion—and as best as I can recall, it's from the area of neuro-linguistic programming—of how "The Map is Not the Terrain". But I digress...

Speaking of the terrain, a quick word on the layout of this essay: At the outset, when I conceived the idea of sharing with you the findings from my dive into Plato and the Nerd, I had contemplated several approaches to how best I could give you a sense for just how spectacularly good a book this is ๐ŸŽฌ

The Pull of Allegorical Musings

I even contemplated going for an allegorical slant along the lines of Peter Seibel's brilliantly inimitable take on revealing the essence of what Lisp macros do—in his stellar book entitled Practical Common Lisp—when he begins a simply marvelous section entitled "The Story of Mac: A Just-So Story" like so, telling the reader how ๐Ÿฏ
Once upon a time, long ago, there was a company of Lisp programmers. It was so long ago, in fact, that Lisp had no macros. Anything that couldn’t be defined with a function or done with a special operator had to be written in full every time, which was rather a drag. Unfortunately, the programmers in this company—though brilliant—were also quite lazy. Often in the middle of their programs—when the tedium of writing a bunch of code got to be too much—they would instead write a note describing the code they needed to write at that place in the program (italics mine).
And so it is that your blogger sheepishly reminds you that some of his own abstractions can leak Yes, drip, drip, drip, one drop—or one line of code or prose—at a time ๐Ÿ’ง ๐Ÿ’ง๐Ÿ’ง

Your Blogger Comes To Grips With (His Very Own) Leaky Abstractions

Here's what I mean by my somewhat enigmatic remark above about leaky abstractions: As someone who lives and breathes technology—lately focused on designing and implementing distributed systems—the relevant concepts from the field permeate my thinking. So please don't be too surprised if, every now and then in my essays, I pluck a metaphor or two from my field to illustrate any given point better ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

Having sounded those civilized notes of polite diffidence, allow me to bring in Joel Spolsky's nice take on leaky abstractions. Yep, we'll be in abstraction central for just a bit, though not too long, so don't you run away yet!

In the same book I mentioned above—in his stellar book entitled Practical Common Lisp—in section entitled "Plugging the Leaks:, the author (Seibel) mentions Spolsky's original work by telling the reader how
In his essay "The Law of Leaky Abstractions," Joel Spolsky coined the term leaky abstraction to describe an abstraction that "leaks" details it’s supposed to be abstracting away. Since writing a macro is a way of creating an abstraction, you need to make sure your macros don’t leak needlessly.

The Challenge Of Covering The Rich Content

I soon came to the conclusion that Plato and the Nerd is way too richly packed with innovative ideas—all of the first order — that trying to convey the thing would simply be futile. The logical conclusion I arrived at was that—short of writing a whole book to describe the purport and wherewithal of it—a collage format would perhaps work the best.

Here I'm reminded me of a book that is of the same caliber, although far more technical: The Nature of Computation (Oxford). It pulls no punches—I mean, it's literally filled to overflowing with the most marvelous mathematics I've seen in ages!

So it's no wonder that several luminaries of our field have been equally wowed by that unprecedented work of Moore and Mertens—here's just one rave review:
To put it bluntly: this book rocks! It's 900+ pages of awesome. It somehow manages to combine the fun of a popular book with the intellectual heft of a textbook, so much so that I don't know what to call it (but whatever the genre is, there needs to be more of it!).
~ Scott Aaronson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) ๐Ÿš…
The reason I dragged in mention of that other stellar bookThe Nature of Computationis that my sentiments regarding Plato and the Nerd are much the same: I find myself resonating with Aaronson's comment above, which I apply without hesitation to Plato and the Nerd by saying that it, too, "...somehow manages to combine the fun of a popular book with the intellectual heft of a textbook, so much so that I don't know what to call it (but whatever the genre is, there needs to be more of it!)." Enough said ⛳

Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.
~ Kahlil Gibran (The Prophet)

A Collage Inspired By Plato and the Nerd ๐ŸŽช


In what follows, wherever I use the word "technologist", feel free to replace it by the word engineer—for those not yet familiar my background, please know that your blogger is as much a software craftsman ๐Ÿ‘“ (that being his professional background for 22-plus years) as an engineer ๐Ÿ”ง (earned both his BSEE and MSEE degrees with focus throughout the training on the science and strategy of mastering computing, culminating in a dissertation involving Artificial Intelligence algorithms) as an artist ๐ŸŽป (entirely self-taught after having been smitten by the allure of painting with prose when he was a high school freshman) ๐Ÿ“• ๐Ÿ“— ๐Ÿ“˜


Are We Ready To Embrace Complementarity?

So here we might find reflections of ourselves in the pic above ๐Ÿ‘ง ๐Ÿ‘ฆ  Inebriated by the exuberance of creativity and armed with nothing more than, in the words of Plato and the Nerd, the "models and abstractions to build inventive artificial worlds and [in the process] give us incredible capabilities", we face one another in our selfsame innocence—she (technology) ๐Ÿ‘ง  a boundlessly fertile though sometimes demure canvas on which to sketch our ideas while he (technologist) ๐Ÿ‘ฆ ever-ready with overtures and equally determined for revelation and sweet progress. The burning question I have for all of us is, "Are we ready, truly ready, to embrace complementarity?"


End Of The Innocence Or Can We Co-evolve?  

The evanescent butterfly has finally alighted on a solitary flower (technology) ๐ŸŒป which serves as a richly protean and metamorphosing source of nectar; the butterfly (technologist) ๐Ÿ is the seeker, a protagonist of sorts, eager for symbiosis and becoming one with the flower in an act of selfsame melding. The question I have is, "Will this mark the end of the innocence, with the two—the flower and the butterfly—giving up their respective secrets or are both up to snuff to knowingly retain their dignity, their honor, and to co-evolve?"


Surely Not A Faustian Bargain?

And here we are, face-to-face with the unblinking, all-knowing, steely stare of a cat—the cat (technology) ๐Ÿˆ  dug into her steely mirthlessness, zealously guarding the gates of discovery, and we (technologists) ๐Ÿ‘• equally eager to prove to her that we have the endurance and pluck to stand our ground. Indeed, we (technologists) ๐Ÿ‘•  will not settle for anything less than the best we can get out of the cat (technology) ๐Ÿˆ  on our road to discovery ๐Ÿšง

But first, in full disclosure, and several of you already know this: I'm an inveterate cat-lover ๐Ÿฑ So take this next question with a grain of salt and a whisker ๐Ÿฑ

Now, in the marvelous words of Plato and the Nerd, "...the layers of paradigms for software are so deep that the physical world largely becomes irrelevant; that software reflects the personalities and idiosyncrasies of its creators...". And the question I have for all of us is, notwithstanding those for whom the inevitable mishaps and mistakes made along the path of pursuing technology are sour grapes, "Surely what we've got here is more—hopefully much more—than a Faustian bargain?" ๐Ÿ‡


Can We Wrest The Next Generation Away From Distractions?

We have a suitcase of knowledge to unpack, and a classroom full of empty chairs to fill; but with whom? Where are our learners? How do we wrest them from a world that's awash with distractions? How do we engage them with the passion to take on the quest of taming technology even as it co-evolves with us? Plato and the Nerd has much, much more to say on this than there is space in the essay to cover. But the related question I have is, "What can we do to nudge the next generation of (hopefully would-be) learners in the direction of distraction-free concentration that enables their intellects to grow?" ๐ŸŽ
The Ten O’Clock Scholar ⏰
A diller, a dollar,
A ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.
~ Songs & Rhymes From England ๐ŸŽฉ
Next, we turn to the ever-present and near-palpable forces of paradigm shifts at work, transforming us irrevocably—mostly for the good, I hasten to add, non-Panglossian realist that I unabashedly am ๐Ÿˆ


Will Progress In Engineering Unerringly Lead Us To Platonic Truth?

The night sky is charged with the swirl of miasmic fumes billowing out of factory stacks. We have layer upon layer of an enmeshed industrial complex. As we turn to discern the counterparts of this layering in the digital world, let's harken to these sublimely melded thoughts from Plato and the Nerd where Edward tells us—in the lead-in to Chapter 4 Hardware Is Ephemeral—how "...hardware is soft, a transient expression of ideas, and those ideas are more durable than the hardware itself. And in which I trace the layered paradigms that make possible digital machines made with billions of transistors."

We can also get caught up in a paradigm shift or two—maybe more, given the ever-accelerating pace of innovation—in our lifetime. Again in the words of Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿข
...Paradigm shifts are difficult for humans... Software that supports design, such as hardware description languages and their compilers, may have to be redesigned with significant paradigm shifts. Even manufacturing plants may have to change (italics mine)
To the deep observtions above, I add a more pedestrian one ๐Ÿ‘บ
Shift happens
~ Popular saying
And the question I have for all of us to ponder is twofold here, (1) "Is it actually true, as is commonly assumed, that the progress of science has us marching ineluctably toward some Platonic truth?" and (2) "If that assumption is ill-founded, what are the costs of living in a fool's paradise where one merely slips and slides to no avail?" ๐ŸŒ

Anyone remember singer-songwriter, guitarist Mark Knopfler (of the British music group Dire Straits) singing the deeply symbolic, poignant, and classic song Telegraph Road? ๐Ÿš• ๐Ÿš— ๐Ÿš™ ๐Ÿšš ๐Ÿš›๐Ÿš“
And my radio says tonight it's gonna freeze
People driving home from the factories
There's six lanes of traffic
Three lanes moving slow ๐Ÿš•  ๐Ÿš—  ๐Ÿš™
I used to like to go to work but they shut it down
I've got a right to go to work but there's no work here to be found
Yes, and they say we're gonna have to pay what's owed
We're gonna have to reap from some seed that's been sowed ๐ŸŒฑ ๐ŸŒฟ ๐Ÿ
From all of these signs saying "sorry but we're closed"
All the way down the Telegraph Road ๐Ÿšฆ ๐Ÿšง  ๐Ÿšซ
With those soulful Dire Straits lyrics having filled our senses, shall we move on to the remaining two questions?


Do I Have The Courage To Plant My Flag In An Open Field?

Pause for a few moments and please take in the meandering road in the pic above. Is what you see just that, an ordinary and prosaic path that leads somewhere? Or can we let our imagination soar—with Plato and the Nerd at our side to give our imagination wings with which to soar—above the ordinary, flying for a few fleeting moments perhaps? Can we wonder, too, alongside the essayist Anais Nin when she had pondered whether
Real wonder lies in the depths; as soon as you look deeply you find the extraordinary.
~ Mirages, pg. 335 The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations (Sky Blue Press)
The road ever goes on and on—a winding road at whose periphery we just might witness a butterfly alighting on flowers or perhaps technologists trekking the fields in pursuit of technology, pushing the limits in their quest to get technology to divulge her deepest secrets. And the question I have here is really one that squarely addresses me, your blogger, though you—as dear kindred readers who participate in the community that is Programming Digressions— are so very welcome to join me in trying to answer this particular question, which is, "Do I have the courage to plant my flag in an open field?" ๐ŸŒต

And here I'm speechless, having no more words to offer other than to look to Jelaluddin Rumi—a true genius who was at least as extraordinarily gifted as Anais Nin whom we met earlier—for inspiration in helping restore my words to me๐ŸŒน
Plant your flag in an open field!
No more timid peeking around. 
Either you see the beloved,
or you lose your head! 
The real truth of existence is sealed,
until after many twists and turns of the road. 
As in the algebraical method of "the two errors,"
the correct answer comes only after two substitutions,
after two mistakes. Then the seeker says, 
"If I had known the real way it was,
I would have stopped all the looking around." 
But that knowing depends
on the time spent looking!
~ Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks, The Essential Rumi—HarperCollins)

Are We Willing To Suspend Our Judgment?

The girl in her backyard looks deeply into the far horizon. What do you think she sees? Do we sense her seeing a horizon suffused with hope, or one with dread? And here I turn to what is probably the most delicious chapter in all of Plato and the Nerd—Chapter 10 Determinism—which dives into some truly elegant considerations of a set of terrific topics such as that of how "...determinism is a property of models not of the physical world; that determinism is an extremely valuable property, one that has historically delivered considerable payoffs in engineering and science..." and the topic of how "...nondeterministic models, used explicitly and judiciously, play an essential role in engineering." Great stuff in there! ๐ŸŽ

Before I even pose the next question, it would help we find ourselves in agreement with the notion that we need—and need it compellingly so—systematic ways to handle uncertainty. All good there? So I see you nodding your head in affirmation. That is awesome! ๐Ÿญ So here we go: The question I have for us to ponder here is, "Are we willing to suspend judgment and be receptive to the idea that the very concept of "determinism" is a subtle one, in fact every bit as subtle as the notion of "free will" itself?" ๐Ÿ„

Those who know me well for digressing at the drop of a hat, let me assure all those buddies of mine. You all, please bear with me and listen up for just a sec: The question I posed above is, it truly is, a far cry from building castles in the air. Yes Sir! ๐Ÿ‘ฑ and Yes Madam! ๐Ÿ‘ฐ I kid you not. These are questions that fuel the passion of those of us who love building—nay, crafting—and evolving software with the same love and energy as we bring with us when tending to our tenderest and fondest plants in the garden. Yes, this is pragmatism writ large. With that, I will digress no more ๐Ÿšซ  Secretly, though—especially when you all are not looking—Quoth the Blogger "Evermore" ๐Ÿ˜‰

Whoa, what's that you say, dear Reader? Let's see if I got this one right...
  • Reader said: Quoth the Raven "Nevermore." ๐ŸŒš 
  • Blogger said: Ooh la la, so the blogger gets a dose of his own medicine! Surely this day was coming, he should've foretold ๐Ÿ‘ป
  • Reader said: Eavesdropping stealth led us to hear, Quoth the Blogger "Evermore" ๐Ÿ˜ฑ 
  • Blogger said: Oops, um, well, the story will now have to be retold ๐Ÿ™
This all eerily reminds me of the haunting lyrics of the ethereal song Empty Garden by piano virtuoso Elton John who—along with Kishore Kumar and Mark Knopfler—is one of my all-time favorite singers. So in that angst ridden song Empty Garden, we hear Elton John soulfully and wistfully wondering as to
What happened here
As the New York sunset disappeared
I found an empty garden among the flagstones there
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And now it all looks strange ๐ŸŒ˜ 
And what's it for
This little empty garden by the brownstone door
And in the cracks along the sidewalk nothing grows no more
Who lived here
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
And we are so amazed we're crippled and we're dazed
A gardener like that one no one can replace ๐ŸŒฟ 
And through their tears
Some say he farmed his best in younger years
But he'd have said that roots grow stronger if only he could hear
Who lived there
He must have been a gardener that cared a lot
Who weeded out the tears and grew a good crop
Now we pray for rain, and with every drop that falls
We hear, we hear your name ๐Ÿ 
Johnny can't you come out to play in your empty garden ๐Ÿ  

Shall We Cross The Chasm? 

Are we truly ready to cross the chasm? Are we really? Do we have the wherewithal to bridge the two worlds, one of the humanities and the other of engineering and the sciences?

In the delectable words of Plato and the Nerd below, can we, too, be like Steven Connor—professor of modern literature and theory at Birkbeck, University of London—when he finds these amazing essences under surfaces?
Connor finds allusions in Serres’ writings to an astonishing array of oppositions between hard and soft, including body and language, science and humanities, things and signs, physical and conceptual, object and idea, form and information, physics and language, a stone and a ghost, motors and information theory, the manual and the digital, sound and meaning, bridge and hyphen, energy and information, flesh and word, the real and the virtual, forces and codes, solids and geometry, objective and subjective, war and religion, a book and a story, or sound and music (italics mine).
The question I have is, "Are we prepared to take that most difficult step where we make the transition between visionaries and pragmatists?" ๐Ÿš


Do We Have The Will To Marshal Technology Into Serving Humanity?


Are we merely spectators by the side of the stage of life? Will we content ourselves with watching passersby in the hubbub of life? Are we, indeed, lending credence to the observation of Alan Perlis when he had wondered aloud the following thought?
Is it possible that software is not like anything else, that it is meant to be discarded: that the whole point is to see it as a soap bubble?
Or can we rise up to the occasion as our present times warrant? And the question I have here is simply this, "Is there truly something deeper going on that's eluding us at the moment?" ๐ŸŒฑ
There's something happening here
But what it is ain't exactly clear
~ Buffalo Springfield (Lyrics from For What It's Worth)
Neither do we want to be in the predicament that Buffalo Springfield was describing above nor do we wish to contemplate the uncomfortably ๐ŸŒ‹  numb situation—yes, that was not ๐ŸŒ  a typo you all, though I do proffer profuse apologies to fellow Pink Floyd fans—and be compelled to echo these hauntingly angst-ridden refrains, saying with perhaps a primal scream how ๐Ÿ˜ฑ
I've got amazing powers of observation
And that is how I know ๐Ÿ”ฎ
I've got a strong urge to fly
But I've got nowhere to fly to ๐Ÿฅ
~ Pink Floyd (Lyrics from Nobody Home)
Maybe it's my seeking solace in the unifying comfort of Nature that leads me to express my wish that I'd rather walk away from the situation painted in the starkly visceral lyrics above and instead contemplate a halcyon future such as the one that the music group Hootie & The Blowfish was getting at in a song when they had enthused how ๐ŸŒŠ
With a little love, and some tenderness
We'll walk upon the water
We'll rise above this mess
With a little peace, and some harmony
We'll take the world together
We'll take 'em by the hand ๐Ÿ’–
~ Hootie & The Blowfish (Lyrics from Hold My Hand)
Surely we can summon the powers of our creativity—rev up the engines of our ingenuity—marshalling technology into the service of humanity and thereby rise above the mess . . . ๐Ÿš‚

Can Creative Aspects Of Technology Development Restore Our Humanity?


Are we being inexorable sucked into the insatiable vortex of technology? Will we be mercilessly swallowed whole and chewed by its automaton maw? Is the relentless march of technology inherently dehumanizing? Or is there a point of return? In fact, on a far more positive note, hope springing eternal in the human breast—all the while reminding you of my own decidedly non-Panglossian-realist credentials as well—my mind turns to ponder whether the creative aspects of technology development restore our humanity to us?

So the question I have is, "Will the creative aspects of technology development restore our very humanity to us so we can stave off a future where even conceiving its once-dehumanizing aspects would be an alien thought?" ๐ŸŒฟ

In the bold and intriguing words of Plato and the Nerd
... that technology development is a fundamentally creative human activity driven by culture and aesthetics and built on models that are human fabrications much more than discovered natural laws. Only the difficulty of making this case makes writing this book difficult (italics mine).
Can we reinvigorate our humanism to the point where we trust our powers of creativity to feel emboldened enough to resonate with the vision that Richard Feynman—one of my heroes in science by the way—had in mind when he had remarked, "Don’t look up the answer; just figure it out. After all, it’s only nature; she can’t beat you. If you think hard enough, you’ll figure it out", as quoted in The Quotable Feynman (Princeton University Press)?


Can We Predict Where The Primrose Path Will Lead Us? 

And finally...

Where does the primrose path lead us? Is it a walk in the orchard? Does the path beckon the caller to a rosier, greener pasture? Or are we looking at a frosty future, such as the mirthless one symbolized by the snow-capped mountains over yonder in the pic above? As we peer into that phantasmagoric pic, might we wonder along with Anais Nin whether
I am like the crystal in which people find their mystic unity. Because of my obsession with essentials, my disregard of details, trivialities, interferences, contingencies, appearances, faรงades, disguises, gazing into me is like crystal-gazing. They see their fate, their potential self, secrets, their secret self.
~ Diary 2, pg. 109 Anais Nin. The Quotable Anais Nin: 365 Quotations with Citations (Sky Blue Press)
I'm someone who aligns himself with the Bayesian perspective, having increasingly gravitated toward, and in fact wholly embraced, the Bayesian way of looking at thing ever since discovering its virtues a few years ago from the highly readable, entertaining, and high-octane book prosaically entitled Probability Theory: The Logic of Science (Cambridge University Press) by E. T. Jaynes ๐ŸŒ As such, I found myself especially resonating with the following passage in Plato and the Nerd
Laplace distinctly adopted a subjective approach that Popper deems unacceptable, but this is actually a consistent position for Laplace to take. After all, Laplace believed in a deterministic world governed by deterministic models and predictable by his demon. In such a world, repeated experiments are pointless. But Laplace recognized that we don’t know the initial conditions for the experiments exactly. We are uncertain about those conditions, and his probabilities model exactly that uncertainty, not some intrinsic chance in the world, where God plays dice (italics mine).
And the question I have here is, "Can we say with confidence that we know where the primrose path will lead us?" ๐ŸŒพ

Judgment ๐Ÿ†


I kept thinking to myself—on my first reading of the book so far, anyway—"What is there to not like about Plato and the Nerd?" So if you enjoy surfing—and diving deep—into the ocean of ideas that are at once profound and pragmatic, at times Platonic, and occasionally phlegmatic, then you simply can't go wrong with this book ๐Ÿ„

I love this rarest-of-rare books ๐Ÿ’• Don't you miss it. It's hard to imagine anyone other than Edward having the guts to take on such an ambitious goal—taking on a deep exploration, in a comprehensive and engaging style, of some of the deepest, most crucial, undeniably vital, and burning technological-societal issues that our world faces—and then pulling it off as successfully as he has ๐Ÿ†

I simply don't have the wherewithal to convey the gravitas of Plato and the Nerd; for that, you'll need to head over to your nearest bricks-and-mortar bookstore—in fact, I strongly encourage you to patronize and support the vestige of the remaining bricks-and-mortar bookstores lest they, too, get overrun by the juggernaut of online bookstores and thereby go the way of the dodo. Grab a copy of the book and find everything out for your own self; you won't regret it ๐Ÿ’

Anything profounder than what you'll find in the pages of Plato and the Nerd could only transcend into the realm of the spiritual ๐Ÿ’ญ ๐Ÿ’จ ๐Ÿ’ญ ๐Ÿ’จ ๐Ÿ’ญ
I'm in the mood, I'm in the mood, I'm in the mood
I can write it on the door - I can put it on the floor
I can do anything that you want me for
If you want me to 
I can do it right - I can do it wrong
'Cause a matter of fact it'll turn out to be strong
If you want me to
~ Robert Plant (Lyrics from In The Mood)
Far be it from me to nominate a book for The Pulitzer Prize—for starters, I'm not exactly qualified to do so, hard-core software practitioner that I am—but if I could nominate just one book... Just floating an idea, just floatin' ๐ŸŽˆ


Aha, so in the pic above, we find my copy of The Outer Limits of Reason: What Science, Mathematics, and Logic Cannot Tell Us (The MIT Press) by Noson S. Yanofsky—bedecked in an ebony dust jacket that's rather lovely and all the fashion—basking in sunshine outside the Gates Dell Complex (GDC) on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin ๐ŸŽ“  The GDC, of course, is home to the computer science department. As to what my copy of The Outer Limits of Reason is doing outside GDC is a longish story that would lead us far afield from our essay. Hmm... Maybe not that much. Okay, look for when that all resurfaces in a future essay right here on this blog ๐ŸŽƒ

Wait a second, as for the pic below, what in the world is it doing here? Hmm... Possibly a dangling pointer from the draft of the previous essay on the Deep Learning area in Artificial Intelligence. Zombie processes notwithstanding—I don't about you, but I sure don't fancy ghosts and ghouls—so help me here, won't you? ๐Ÿ‘ป


Connoisseur, n. A specialist who knows everything about something and nothing about anything else ๐ŸŽ“
~ Ambrose Bierce (The Devil's Dictionary) 
I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves ๐Ÿ“˜
~ Anna Quindlen 
Philosophy, in one of its functions, is the critic of cosmologies. It is its function to harmonise, refashion, and justify divergent intuitions as to the nature of things. It has to insist on the scrutiny of the ultimate ideas, and on the retention of the whole of the evidence in shaping our cosmological scheme. Its business is to render explicit, and—so far as may be—efficient, a process which otherwise is unconsciously performed without rational tests ๐Ÿ”ญ
Alfred North Whitehead (English mathematician and philosopher)

An Invitation ๐Ÿ“ฃ


In the end, I invite your comments, assuming you're still awake at this point ๐Ÿ’ค  Having now read my take on Plato and the Nerd
  • Do you find that your experience of reading it was different in some ways? ๐Ÿข
  • Did I perhaps not cover some qualities of the book, and which are precisely the ones that you actually found the most helpful to your enjoyment? ๐ŸŒŽ
  • Did I just plain miss chatting about your fondest aspects of the book? ๐Ÿš›
To the extent that I succeeded in getting across to you the gravitas of Plato and the Nerd—as well as the sheer fun that it's a harbinger of—I will have accomplished an important goal of this essay to that extent. Regardless, I sure had a lot of fun writing it!

Till we meet next time, you have a wonderful week ๐Ÿ‚



Epilogue ๐Ÿ‘บ


An End Or A Beginning?

Lest any of you Programming Digressions readers thought that this essay was the end, please hold on to this thought: This is only the beginning. So everyone let's line up now—on the 30-yard line on the American football gridiron—for the first down ๐Ÿˆ  And speaking of endings and beginnings, I harken back to what we read earlier on, in this very essay, by way of the profound observation that
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
~ Sir Winston Churchill ("The End of the Beginning" in Winston Churchill War Speeches Collection Book 3)
So do please take a little time to allow the observation above to sink in ๐Ÿณ

And what I meant by the admittedly enigmatic thought above—that "This is only the beginning"—is simply this: Stay tuned for a second installment of this essay on Plato and the Nerd. You got it, a second, follow up essay ๐Ÿ’  Though doing such a thing might strike some as gratuitous at first blush, since it's only the rarest-of-rare essays on this blog that is ever devoted to a single book—let alone two essays devoted to a single book—let me assure you that my decision to devote two full essays to Plato and the Nerd (this one and an upcoming essay) is fully meditated.

On The Horizon Of Programming Digressions

Outlandish though it might first appears—you're thinking, "Akram, what in the world are you going to have to write about yet another essay on Plato and the Nerd?—allow me to comfort you in the thought that I'm confident you won't be disappointed๐Ÿ‘Œ Can we settle on that for now? ๐Ÿฃ

As a matter of fact, I already have way too many ideas percolating in my head for that very essay, some of which I've actually managed to scribble down ๐ŸŽณ And no, it's got nothing whatsoever to do with the fine game of bowling, though methinks we were chatting about the American football gridiron metaphor (the 30-yard line and a new set of downs) just a short while ago ๐Ÿ‰  Oops, not rugby—that would be too brutal to even mention here—I meant the gentlemanly, good old full-contact sport that is American football, yay ๐Ÿˆ


To all that I'll simply add that Plato and the Nerd touches upon a ton of fundamental themes which have resonated with your blogger over the years; just tons and tons. Ah, I can smell the roses ๐ŸŒน So you all, I invite you to stay tuned for a future essay in which we'll explore a bunch of the themes that have been beautifully tackled in Plato and the Nerd, all in the context of how those themes connect, in turn, with yet another set of themes that you're probably quite familiar with already. Methinks that you, too, will find that future digression intriguing ๐ŸŒฟ

Meanwhile, I wish to share some words wherein I find delicious inspiration ๐Ÿฉ
Good mathematicians see analogies between theorems or theories, but the very best ones see analogies between analogies (italics mine)
~ Stefan Banach (Polish mathematician), as recounted by his friend Stanislaw Ulam, in turn quoted by Douglas Hofstadter and Emmanuel Sander in their fantastic book entitled Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking (Basic Books)
Hmm... Mention of Douglas Hofstadter reminds me—and more details in an essay elsewhere—that someone here did win The Pulitzer Prize, and very justifiably of course (for their monumentally important book entitled Gรถdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic Books) while someone hasn't yet won that Prize... Just floating an idea, just floatin' ๐ŸŽˆ
Only connect!
That was the whole of her sermon.
Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted,
And human love will be seen at its height.
Live in fragments no longer.
Only connect...
~ E.M. Forster (Howards End)
Fellow intrepid explorers, while I sense your understandable suspense—doing my best here to both empathize and sympathize, though not necessarily in that order—please know that your blogger isn't entirely stone-hearted either ❤ Come on, you all. As a matter of fact, even the merge suggestion such as that would leave me broken-hearted. Ouch, that would hurt ๐Ÿ’”

And so it is that I hasten to give you a clue here which harbors telltale signs plus a foretaste of things to come in a future essay: This Epilogue itself finds itself sandwiched between two pics that will be reappearing in the second installment of this essay on Plato and the Nerd. Enough said. Now you all stay tuned ๐Ÿ“บ


Collage of Pics and Lyrics ๐ŸŽธ


Typically, I don't add my own opinions to the Collage section each in any given essay; this time it's different. Here's why. As I was scribbling down my, um, laser-focused thoughts—"Akram, Akram, fess up, they're all digressions!" I hear some of you say—I was listening to a song by Mark Knopfler... Then a lovely analogy came to mind, one that perfectly illustrates a point I was trying to make about Plato and the Nerd earlier!

Knopfler is a singer-songwriter, guitarist (of the British music group Dire Straits), whose deeply symbolic, classic song Telegraph Road made an appearance in an essay elsewhere, which I had used to illustrate the gut-wrenching catastrophe that had visited my dear former town: Houston (Texas) ๐ŸŒ˜

Here, and much as I said above—in the context of when I was listening to a song by Knopfler—it occurred to me that you simply can't comprehend the splendor of Knopfler's voice without actually listening to it ๐ŸŽง  Likewise, you simply won't be able to comprehend the splendor of the tone of Plato and the Nerd without actually reading it ๐Ÿ“–

This essay could merely have painted my impressions of reading Plato and the Nerd. And impressions are just that: impressions ๐Ÿ‘ฃ

Helpful as I hope that all was, you stand to benefit from hearing it from the proverbial horse's mouth. So what are you waiting for? Go out and grab a copy—preferably your own, not someone else's lol—of Plato and the Nerd and find out for yourself. Much as I love the community of readers here at Programming Digression, I sure ain't giving up my copy of Plato and the Nerd ๐Ÿ˜‰

It's time to come away, my Darling Pretty
It's time to come away on the changing tide
Time to come away, Darling Pretty
And I need you darling by my side ๐ŸŒป
Cast away the chains, Darling Pretty
Cast away the chains away behind
Take away my pain, my Darling Pretty
And the chains that once were yours and mine ๐Ÿ‰
There will come a day, Darling Pretty
There will come a day when hearts can fly
Love will find a way, my Darling Pretty
Find a heaven for you and I
Love will find a way, my Darling Pretty
Find a heaven for you and I ๐ŸŒˆ
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Darling Pretty)