Subject: Re: Bohr's way
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 07 Oct 2002 19:32:12 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Tim Bradshaw
| I assume that he meant that he considered himself lucky to have worked in
| environments where he could behave like that and not have to deal with
| spurious politeness issues.

  But this seems to imply that it is "luck" if you become competent at what
  you do, as all my experience with competent people, from carpenters to
  neurosurgeons have been a straight-forward language and no pretense about
  whether they know something or not -- they know they know what they know.
  (People who do not have a clue tend to mumble about beliefs and opinions.)

| One impression I got from his books is that he perhaps did not regard
| himself as terribly clever - even though he obviously was *terribly*
| clever - so he may have considered himself lucky to have been in the
| right place at the right time to do the work that got him the jobs that
| ...  Or alternatively that he was lucky to have been born as clever as he
| was.

  Such is perhaps luck, but if you want to be good at what you do, and you
  are willing to change fields in order to be good at what you do if you
  could not be good enough at it in your first and randomly chosen field
  that it made your self-esteem, you will probably get into such a position.

| Interestingly, long before I discovered cll (or in fact Lisp) I had come
| to the conclusion that this kind of non-sugar-coated behaviour is very
| much a characteristic of hard scientists (not scientists with very short
| haircuts and tattoos, but scientists who work in the hard sciences).

  It has been my experience that it is strongly related to competence, but
  competence is related to some method of measurement of your success at
  what you try to do.  If you work in a field where you cannot distinguish
  between good or bad, where everything is someone's "personal opinion" and
  nobody has any right answers, that just /has/ to be destructive for your
  self-confidence.  Incompetents and other approximators probably think it
  is good for them to work in fields where they can hide their incompetence
  in the statistical noise and rebel against those who want to measure the
  effectiveness of their work.

| When I was studying physics, and in my holiday jobs doing electronics,
| one of the delights was being able to simply say or be told `no, that's
| wrong, because ...' and to work in an environment where this was not
| treated as some personal insult, but as a statement.  This kind of
| emotional detachment from an argument is a really wonderful thing.

  I do not think of it as emotional detachment.  I think of it as emotions
  attached to actually accomplishing your goals.  You want to make things
  work, and that makes you feel well about things that help you reach that
  goal, and less well about things that detract you from your goals.

  Ever noticed how many of those nutjobs who go after me turn out to be
  dabblers and hobbyists who do not actually want to be good at programming
  in Common Lisp and therefore do not appreciate accurate information and
  quality advice relevant to that task?  Ever noticed how many of those who
  clamor about etiquette do not actually program in Common Lisp?

  One of the feel-good guys even says it should be /fun/ here, but I think
  it is fun to be good at things, I think it is fun and /entertaining/ and
  rewarding to /understand/ complex things.  I find my enjoyment in working
  hard on something for months and then I feel good about grasping things,
  they were fun to grasp for its own sake.  Like many people revel in their
  ability to accomplish physically hard tasks and enjoy their strength,
  some people actually find enjoyment in managing complex intellectual
  tasks.  Since we are talking about Richard Feynman, I bought a book for
  its title alone: «The Pleasure of Finding Things Out».  (DDC 500; ISBN
  0-7382-0108-1; LCCN 99064775)

| I should have stayed in physics depts, I guess...

  I think it is sufficient to work with competent people, and that starts
  with people who actually care about the work they do.  If you do not care
  about the work you do, you would obviously care more about something
  else, such as feeling good /despite/ not caring about the work you do.
  Really /caring/ about one's work is so foreign to some people that they
  become extremely defensive when one even /suggests/ that they should,
  directly or by implication, such as by asking for the expected results.

  I wonder how these feel-good guys react when they need the services of
  bankers, waiters, grocery store attendants, librarians, accountants,
  dentists, doctors, insurance agents, landlords, real estate agents, etc,
  but instead of doing their job like professionals and performing the
  services you expect from them, tell you about they /feel/ when you ask
  them politely to please get on with it.  Do they care when somebody does
  not do their job, whether they had a fight with their spouse that morning
  over who should leave work early to go to the pediatrician?  Do they care
  if the auto mechanic that promised their car that afternoon could not
  complete the job because his dog was run over?  Do they care if their
  stock broker fails to sell or buy when instructed to and they lose money
  because he was on the phone with his wife who threatened to leave him?
  Do they care about the plight of the roofer who was supposed to come fix
  their leaking roof but never showed even though it was the only day of
  the week you could be home to wait for him, because he did not feel like
  roofing that day?  Do they happily go hungry back to work when they spend
  their entire lunch hour waiting for the waiter to bring them their food
  and get no better explanation than that the chef did not like their suits?
  Do they return late from lunch and tell the people that had called them
  while they were gone to go stuff it because they were hungry?  Or to take
  an example I jotted down from «The Shipping News»: "We see the postman
  has landed in the clink for throwing the mail in Killick-Claw harbor.  He
  said he had too much to deliver, and folks could just take a dip and help
  themselves.  I guess it helps if you can swim."  Please note the "landed
  in the clink" part.  For some reason, that was an appropriate use of
  force against someone who did not do their job for "personal reasons".

  My impression is that the feel-good guys are incompetent and stupid and
  need others to be nice to them because if other people were fair and just
  to them, they would suffer tremendously, and therefore defend other
  incompetent and stupid people because they can identify with the sloppy
  bastards, but not with those who actually do their job well and have that
  as their primary motive and their reason both for asking questions and
  providing answers to problems from others who also want to do their job
  well and who find their enjoyment in their capacity to do just that.

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.