Subject: Re: becoming a better programmer
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 18 Sep 2002 14:29:27 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* synthespian
| There's one thing that I definitely think is a basic flaw with ontologies,
| at least the way they're set up (I may have a very limited understanding on
| the topic, however): the ontology is defined by the "definer".

  That is, it is a flaw in the system that it is designed by humans for humans.
  This is an age-old philosophical problem which I personally consider totally
  nuts.  We /are/ humans.  This is /not/ a flaw.  We take what we have and deal
  with it.  Wishful thinking and dreaming about changing the human condition
  may be fun, but it is not productive.

| For example, the person who defines the ontology has motives for indexing
| something in the ontology.  Why does he/she do it?  What are the "economics"
| or "psychology" behind it?  This is relevant, as anyone who works with
| narketing will tell you.

  So you have at least discovered that all human knowledge is contextual.
  This is a good step up from the desire that human knowledge should be
  acontextual or absolute, a desire which has frustrated people for ages when
  they do not think things through.  Coupled with a "magical" weltanschauung
  where things become what we think about them, there can only be chaos.  But
  there is a different fundamental outlook on this: The world out there is the
  same for all people, and no matter which contorted approach you take to
  grasp it, you will, eventually, end up with the same knowledge as everybody
  else.  The real question is whether there you can find ways to approach this
  whole knowledge thing that would result in fewer blind alleys and false
  starts, and there is.  This is what philosophy is all about, or at least the
  branch of it called epistemology -- or the study of how we know what we
  know.  I know of no serious effort to study epistemology that has ended up
  with the same kind of "magical" weltanschauung that people who have not
  studied it, but have sort of adopted the pre-scientific model of religions,
  tend to hold.

| Another thing is the very meaning of a word.  How then, does he/she
| understand the meaning of the word?  Words change meaning over time, a fact
| any linguist will tell you...And, if that wasn't enough, they mean different
| things to different people.  I'm not talking about you defining that <zp>
| means <zip code>, but the very concept of zip code (ok, my example isn't so
| good.  But let me give you a *real* example: a sociologist here in Brazil
| set out to discover what percentage of the population understood the correct
| meaning of the concepts of "right" and "left" in politics...A total
| disaster...An amazing amount had no clue, and actually exchanged meaning.
| Now imagine a candidate for the the congress asking for get the
| picture...)

  No, on the contrary: I think you show a massive lack of insight into these
  issues, and thus react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt about issues that
  are not only taken well care of by professionals who know their business,
  but never actually arise in practice when the system is used by skilled
  users.  And believe me, if you are observant and wish to understand, instead
  of approaching a system with preconceived notions that how you have done
  things up until now is flawless and perfect and anything that deviates from
  it is bunk, it takes very little time to understand Dewey or the Universal
  decimal classification well enough to predict where you will find things.
  For the fine-grained classification of new works, however, it takes serious
  investment in studying it and discussing with other classifiers.  This is,
  after all, social engineering.  I think most of the problems you allude to
  actually come from the desire to see a system usable in a vacuum by one
  person with no prior exposure to the system.  I believe that novices should
  be willing to learn something rather than be willing to judge something they
  do not know.  I realize that I am in the minority in this modern world where
  many people think that not knowing something is superior to knowing it, at
  least morally, and that the only people you cannot ask if you want to know
  something are experts in the field.  This anti-rational, anti-intellectual,
  anti-knowledge stance is not usually conscious, however, and most people
  will deny that they have such attitudes, but still act on them and feel much
  "safer" if they ask some fellow ignorant than if they ask an expert.  It has
  puzzled me greatly for as far back as I can remember.  None of the experts I
  have asked have been able to give a good answer.  [Pause for effect...]  The
  people who tend to feel this way, however, are usually unable to argue for
  it, because as soon as they start to think, they move into the rational world
  where their attitudes are very different from their default non-thinking ones.

Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway

Act from reason, and failure makes you rethink and study harder.
Act from faith, and failure makes you blame someone and push harder.