Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Dijkstra on the Middle Ages

Pioneering computer scientist E. W. Dijkstra writes:

"On the historical evidence I shall be short. Carl Friedrich Gauss, the Prince of Mathematicians but also somewhat of a coward, was certainly aware of the fate of Galileo... when he decided to suppress his discovery of non-Euclidean geometry, thus leaving it to Bolyai and Lobatchewsky to receive the flak. It is probably more illuminating to go a little bit further back, to the Middle Ages. One of its characteristics was that 'reasoning by analogy' was rampant; another characteristic was almost total intellectual stagnation, and we now see why the two go together. A reason for mentioning this is to point out that, by developing a keen ear for unwarranted analogies, one can detect a lot of medieval thinking today."

Similarly, we can go even "further back," to the 20th century. One of its characteristics was that 'doing history by making shit up' was rampant; another characteristic was almost total intellectual arrogance, and we now see why the two go together. I think we can still find a lot of this modern thinking today.

2 comments:

  1. I assume that "doing history by making shit up" refers to his describing the Middle Ages as an era of "almost total intellectual stagnation."

    ReplyDelete

Mathematics

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