On the radical novelty

...and the cruelty of really teaching Computing Science

"It is the most common way of trying to cope with novelty: by means of metaphors and analogies we try to link the new to the old, the novel to the familiar. Under sufficiently slow and gradual change, it works reasonably well; in the case of a sharp discontinuity, however, the method breaks down: though we may glorify it with the name "common sense", our past experience is no longer relevant, the analogies become too shallow, and the metaphors become more misleading than illuminating. This is the situation that is characteristic for the "radical" novelty."
~ Edsger W. Dijkstra, On the cruelty of really teaching Computing Science


On How Far the Pendulum has Swung..

"Our generation has been fortunate to have plenty of low hanging fruit to pick (the facts that can be captured with short ngrams), but the next generation will be less fortunate since most of those facts will have been pretty well picked over before they retire, and therefore, it is likely that they will have to address facts that go beyond the simplest ngram approximations."
-Kenneth Church, in the article "A Pendulum Swung Too Far"


Rationalism vs. Empiricism

"The Innate Knowledge Thesis: We have knowledge of some truths in a particular subject area, S, as part of our rational nature. Like the Intuition/Deduction thesis, the Innate Knowledge thesis asserts the existence of knowledge gained a priori, independently of experience.

The Innate Concept Thesis: We have some of the concepts we employ in a particular subject area, S, as part of our rational nature. According to the Innate Concept thesis, some of our concepts are not gained from experience. They are part of our rational nature in such a way that, while sense experiences may trigger a process by which they are brought to consciousness, experience does not provide the concepts or determine the information they contain. Some claim that the Innate Concept thesis is entailed by the Innate Knowledge Thesis; a particular instance of knowledge can only be innate if the concepts that are contained in the known proposition are also innate. "

The Intuition/Deduction thesis, the Innate Knowledge thesis, and the Innate Concept thesis are essential to rationalism: to be a rationalist is to adopt at least one of them. Two other closely related theses are generally adopted by rationalists, although one can certainly be a rationalist without adopting either of them. The first is that experience cannot provide what we gain from reason.

The Indispensability of Reason Thesis: The knowledge we gain in subject area, S, by intuition and deduction, as well as the ideas and instances of knowledge in S that are innate to us, could not have been gained by us through sense experience. The second is that reason is superior to experience as a source of knowledge.

The Superiority of Reason Thesis: The knowledge we gain in subject area S by intuition and deduction or have innately is superior to any knowledge gained by sense experience.
-- taken from the article "Rationalism vs. Empiricism"


On the cruelty of doing research

"I spent the Fall quarter (of 1950) at RAND. My first task was to find a name for multistage decision processes. “An interesting question is, ‘Where did the name, dynamic programming, come from?’ The 1950s were not good years for mathematical research. We had a very interesting gentleman in Washington named Wilson. He was Secretary of Defense, and he actually had a pathological fear and hatred of the word, research. I’m not using the term lightly; I’m using it precisely. His face would suffuse, he would turn red, and he would get violent if people used the term, research, in his presence. You can imagine how he felt, then, about the term, mathematical. The RAND Corporation was employed by the Air Force, and the Air Force had Wilson as its boss, essentially. Hence, I felt I had to do something to shield Wilson and the Air Force from the fact that I was really doing mathematics inside the RAND Corporation. What title, what name, could I choose? In the first place I was interested in planning, in decision making, in thinking. But planning, is not a good word for various reasons. I decided therefore to use the word, ‘programming.’ I wanted to get across the idea that this was dynamic, this was multistage, this was time-varying—I thought, let’s kill two birds with one stone. Let’s take a word that has an absolutely precise meaning, namely dynamic, in the classical physical sense. It also has a very interesting property as an adjective, and that is it’s impossible to use the word, dynamic, in a pejorative sense. Try thinking of some combination that will possibly give it a pejorative meaning. It’s impossible. Thus, I thought dynamic programming was a good name. It was something not even a Congressman could object to. So I used it as an umbrella for my activities" (p. 159).
-Richard Bellman, from his biography "Eye of the Hurricane" The Birth of Dynamic Programming


Interesting Quotations

The usual way in which we plan today for tomorrow is in yesterday's vocabulary. ~ E.W. Dijsktra

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. ~ Thomas J Watson

If you're not doing some things that are crazy, then you're doing the wrong things. ~ Larry Page

You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you're going to innovate. ~ Jeff Bezos

If we don't believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don't believe in it at all. ~ Noam Chomsky

Either you repeat the same conventional doctrines everybody is saying, or else you say something true, and it will sound like it's from Neptune. ~ Noam Chomsky

Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it. ~ Noam Chomsky

What makes you different or weird, that’s your strength. ~ Meryl Streep

You are only as good as the chances you take. ~ Al Pacino