Return of Plato And The Nerd

At Castillo San Cristóbal do the old world 🚂  and the new world 🚝  collide and make overtures to each other to co-evolve in a virtuous cycle of complementarity 🍒

The Quotes 🍎

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 🐵 🐵 🐵 🐵  … 🐵 🐵
~ 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 💘
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Golden Heart) 

People don’t appreciate the substance of things. Objects in space. People miss out on what’s solid 📦
~ 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 🎡
~ Roy T. Fielding

Preamble 🎈

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 🌀

🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 
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?
🇺🇸  Here’s how you can help… 🇺🇸
🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸 

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 🔮

To that I had politely added how you all should stay tuned for more fun ahead 📺  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 😉

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 🍒

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 🍞 🍕 🍪

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! 👻

The Ties That Bind And Themes Which Rewind 🌒 🌝 

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 🚁

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 🎾 🎾 🎾 🎾

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 

🎾 🎾 🎾 🎾
~ 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” 🌎

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 😴

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 💁

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) 🔭 👓

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 🚢  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 🔭

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 👦 👧  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) 🌱 🌿 🌾 🍁

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 😙

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! 🚙

Your Blogger Finds Himself In A Predicament 😨

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 😰  Give yourself a minute to internalize what the following quote from noted linguist and Harvard University professor Steven Pinker is trying to intone 🔮

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?) 🌋
  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?) 🌀

Ah yes, the joys of naming things 💁 Yeah right, talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was a quandary there all right 🙉  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? 👀

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 🚶

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 💕 reassuring me that it’s perfectly fine to get an education and have fun at the same time 👍 Thank you, I needed that!

Okay, okay, you impatient souls out there 😖  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) 🎓

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 🏁

Growin’ up you don’t see the writing on the wall 🔔
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 🏆
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)) 🌋

The Collage That Follows Will Be The Essay (Proper) 😇

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 🎯 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” 😉

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” 🎩
  • Without missing a beat, the worldly-wise Lord Birkenhead replies: “We are the committee!” 😂

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? 😎

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) 🏈

A Word To The Wise, Sticky Notes Shall Arise 🎫

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? 💪

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 🐻 🐍 🐊 🐞 🐝 🐙 🐢 🐹 🐸

Ah, as for the menagerie of wild animals above, let’s flag them to make them the easier to locate them, shall we? 🚩 You may well be thinking, Wherefrom did all those beast come forth? Allow me to reintroduce the subtle topic of “leaky abstractions” 💧 💧💧

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) 🎨

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? 👺

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 🚳 🚸 🚯 🚱

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) 👻

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 🚀  Oops! So the author resorted to the artifice of strategically placing a STOP sign icon at the end of the article, like so: 🚫  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? 😂

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 💪

What, There Is No Essay?! 🎱

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 🎻  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 😰  My readers are the best, and I care for each one of you 🏆  And I kid you not 🙌

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? 🐧

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? 🎭

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 🙈  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 🚧

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 😂

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

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 🎨 In particular, when you visit that essay, look for a section toward the top of that essay 🎯 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? 🎈

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 💀  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 🐻 🐍 🐊 🐞 🐝 🐙 🐢 🐹 🐸, 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: 🚩

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 🚀

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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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.” 😇

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 🌱 🌿 🌽

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,, 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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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 Ω. Ω 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 Ω, 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 Ω… 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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the next vignette in our collage of a gallery 🎁

Don’t Be Too Surprised When Sticky Notes Do Arise 😮

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 🐻 🐍 🐊 🐞 🐝 🐙 🐢 🐹 🐸

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 😉  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, yay👏

There Arrive Pivotal Moments In Our Lives 🚁

Ponder if you will on this briefest of phrases: “And then it began…” 🐣
“…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. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Basic books) by Douglas R. Hofstadter

I was reminded of the message in the pages of Gödel, 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 Gödel, 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)

Gödel, 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 Gödel 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 Franzén (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 Gödel, Escher and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter (Hofstadter, 1979), which won a Pulitzer Prize. 

Instead of giving you more detail on Gödel’s theorems, I would like to consider their implications for modeling and software. In Gödel’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) 🔭 👓

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 Gödel 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 Gödel proved his theorem 😇

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 Gödel proved his theorem? Hey, I had even made the observation all italicized as a telltale clue, come to think of it 👻  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 👍 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 😎

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? 🎁

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 🍧

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) 🔭 👓

Moving on now to the final vignette—all good things sure come to an end—in our collage of a gallery 🎁

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 🎃

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? 😧 Hey, where’s the menagerie of wild animals, our fabled  beasts? Remember, their mug shots look like this?: 🐻  🐍  🐊 🐞 🐝 🐙 🐢 🐹 🐸

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 🎓  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?! 😭

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) 🔭 👓

With that, your tour guide for the fabled Programming Digressions gallery announces that we’re bringing our gallery tour to a graceful end 🚧

So please remember to stop reading now 🚷

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) 👻

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… 👞 👡

The magical fortress that is Castillo San Cristóbal, where the old world 🐉 meets the new 💼
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 🔏 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 👺 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 👣

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 🏆

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 🎩 👒

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 🏄 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 📞 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? 📬 Would you please? 🌈

A man sleeps heavily 😴
though something blazes in him like the sun,
like a magnificent fringe sewn up under the hem. 

He turns under the covers 🎭
Any image is a lie: 

A clear red stone tastes sweet 📕
You kiss a beautiful mouth, and a key
turns in the lock of your fear. 

A spoken sentence sharpens to a fine edge 🐥
A mother dove looks for her nest,
asking where, ku? Where, ku? 

Where the lion lies down 🐯
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 🌾
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 👶

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 💍

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… 💤

  • Do you find that your experience of reading Plato and the Nerd was different? 🐢 
  • 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? 🌎 
  • Did I leave out your favorite aspect of Plato and the Nerd perchance? 🚛 

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 🏀

Postscript Collage of Pics and Lyrics 🎻

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 🎧  Likewise, you simply won’t be able to comprehend the splendor of the tone of Plato and the Nerd without actually reading it 📖

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 😉

She was swinging by the bangles in a main street store 🎁
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 💍
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 🐞
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
I’d hold your Golden Heart
I’d hold your Golden Heart 

Nothing in the world prepared me for, your heart, your heart 💝
Nothing in the world that I love more, your heart, your heart
Your Golden Heart
~ Mark Knopfler (Lyrics from Golden Heart)


  1. – The author of Plato and the Nerd (Edward Ashford Lee) did find our Programming Digressions blog (a bit more on that in a sec) and in fact posted a link to these essays on the website for Plato and the Nerd 🙂

    – You, too, can now enjoy all that, and more, by visiting the following links:

    Various Reviews (including Programming Digressions) 

    Home page for Plato and the Nerd 

    – Ah, what I hinted at above (in saying that I had wished to add something) was simply that it's heartwarming to have an author—Edward in our case—graciously make the time to appreciate his audience. On behalf of the Programming Digressions community of readers, I thank you!

    – Now all we need is for Edward to give us hope perhaps by sending a signal or two—via semaphore or even a smoke signal—that he will go on to write at least as many book for a general audience as he has for a technical audience (which is quite a handful). By the way, don't worry about my geek humor above; Edward is a fellow nerd all right so he will be right at home here 🙂

    – So if you wish to lobby for a follow up book—I know that I will be lobbying—this forum would be a great place to start…

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