Category Archives: The Spanish Prisoner Dilemma

48% of Americans Reject Darwinian Evolution

 

A new Newsweek poll reveals frightening data about the curious disjunct between faith and science among Americans.  Pundits have attributed these results to anything from poor science education in pre-K programs to global warming.  According to the poll, while 51% percent of Americans still ascribe to Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution through adaptation, an amazing 42% continue to cleave to Lamarkianism, while only 6% believe in Punctuated Equilibrium. 1% remain uncommitted and are waiting to hear more before they come to a final decision.

This has led me to wonder what else Americans believe:

The 2002 Roper Poll found that 48% of americans believe in UFO’s, while 37% believe that there has been first hand contact between aliens and humans.  25% of Americans believe in alien abductions, while approximately 33% believe that humans are the only intelligent life in the universe, and that all the UFO stuff is bunk.

The 33% of people who ascribe to the anthropocentric view of the universe corresponds numerically with the 33% of Americans who opposed the recent deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq (PEW Research center poll).   According to the Gallup poll, in 1996 33% of Americans thought they would become rich someday.  By 2003, this number had dropped to 31%.  According to a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll, 33% of the American public suspects that federal officials assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East.  A Harris poll discovered that in 2004, 33% of adult Americans considered themselves Democrats.

PEW says that as of 2004, 33 million American internet users had reviewed or rated something as part of an online rating system.  33 million Americans were living in povery in 2001, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  According to PEW, in 2006 33 million Americans had heard of VOIP.  Each year, 33 million Americans use mental health services or services to treat their problems and illnesses resluting from alcohol, inappropirate use of prescription medications, or illegal drugs.  The New York Times says that out of 33 countries, Americans are least likely to believe in evolution.  Researchers estimate that 33% of Americans born in 2000 will develop diabetes.  In the same year, 33 million Americans lost their jobs.

CBS pollsters discovered that 22% of Americans have seen or felt the presence of a ghost.  48% believe in ghosts.  ICR says 48% of Americans oppose embryonic stem-cell research.  CBS finds that 61% support embryonic stem-cell research.  There is no poll data available on whether they believe that embryos used for stem-cell research will one day become ghosts themselves.

82% of Americans believe that global warming is occuring, according to Fox News/Opinion Dynamics.  79% believe people’s behavior has contributed to global warming.  89% do not believe the U.S. government staged or faked the Apollo moon landing, according to Gallup.  Gallup also found that 41% of Americans believe in ESP, 25% believe in Astrology, 20% believe in reincarnation, while only 9% believe in channeling.  A USA TODAY/ABC News/Stanford University Medical Center poll found that 5% of American adults have turned to acupuncture for pain relief.

According to Gallup, 44% of Americans go out of their way to see movies starring Tom Hanks.  34% go out of their way to avoid movies starring Tom Cruise.  Only 18% go out of their way to avoid Angelina Jolie.

philosophia perennis

In the Valentine’s edition of The New Yorker, there was a rather nice portrait by Larissa MacFarquhar of Paul and Pat Churchland, connubial philosophers of the mind-body problem at UC San Diego.  For years they have been basically decrying in the wilderness against the way that philosophy of mind was being done without any regard for the experimental data being produced by studies in neurophysiology.  In the article, Pat Churchland says this prevalent approach was the result of Anglo-American common language philosophy, which holds that the object of philosophy is to clarify our ideas by analyizing language. The problem, as she sees it, is that clarifying incorrect notions about the relationship between mind and body does not get us to truth, but rather leads us simply to have sophisticated bad ideas.  The mind-body problem had become a problematic (to borrow from Foucault), when the evidence from neurophysiology was very clear — there is the brain and that’s it.  Everything else is language games.

The article continues on a disappointed note:

These days, many philosophers give Pat credit for admonishing them that a person who wants to think seriously about the mind-body problem has to pay attention to the brain.  But this acknowledgment is not always extended to Pat herself, or to the work she does now.

 

The common language philosophy that Pat Churchland critisizes has its roots in german philosophy and the general post-Kantian diminishing of the relevance of Metaphysics.  The deathknell for metaphysics in the 20th century may have arrived with Wittgenstein’s pronouncement in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that  “[w]ovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen.”  There are different ways to take this, of course, one of which is to say that, as with the dove-tailing of Kant’s first and second critiques, it delimits metaphysics in order to make room for faith (or occultism, or theosophy, or whatever).

The other is that it states what is already well known, that Metaphysic is dead, and there is nothing more to say about her.  But if philosophers can no longer talk about metaphysics, then what shall they talk about?  For years in Anglo-American philosophy, they talked about language.  Instead of the relation between appearance and reality in the world, they talked about appearance and meaning in language instead.  What the Churchlands found disturbing about this was that this seemed simply to be a way to practice metaphysics underground.  Philosophers could dismiss metaphysics on the one hand, but then reintroduce it in their conversations about language instead — though insisting that all they were doing was discussing how we talk about metaphysical notions, not metaphysics itself.  Like vampire hunters to the rescue (though under-appreciated, as indicated above) the Churchlands moved in and reapplied Wittgenstein’s dictum to this underground metaphysics.  I like to think of them as latter day versions of Maximus the Confessor, pointing out that the compromise monothelite christology was in fact simply the monophysite heresy under a new guise.  Claiming that Christ has two natures but one will is no better than claiming that he has one nature.  Claiming that mind and body are the same in the world but separated in language is no better than claiming that they are different in the world, also.

The natural endpoint for the Churchlands is, then, to make our language conform to the world, in order to remove these errors of thought.

One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. “She said, ‘Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home.  My dopamine levels need lifting.  Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.'”  Paul and Pat have noticed that it is not just they who talk this way — their students now talk of psychopharmacology as comfortably as of food.

 

But if we cannot do metaphysics, and we should not even talk of it anymore, what should philosophers do with themselves?  Open Court Press may have found an answer with their Popular Culture and Philosophy series.  Not all the books listed below are from their press, but they do emphasize the point that if we cannot speak of metaphysics, that is if we cannot use philosophy to go beyond what we already know, then we ought to use her instead to explore those things that we are familiar with.  We should practice the perennial philosophy.

  1. The Beatles and Philosophy
  2. Monty Python and Philosophy
  3. U2 and Philosophy
  4. Undead and Philosophy
  5. Bob Dylan and Philosophy
  6. The Simpsons and Philosophy
  7. Harry Potter and Philosophy
  8. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy
  9. James Bond and Philosophy
  10. The Sopranos and Philosophy
  11. Star Wars and Philosophy
  12. Baseball and Philosophy
  13. The Matrix and Philosophy
  14. More Matrix and Philosophy
  15. Woody Allen and Philosophy
  16. South Park and Philosophy
  17. The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy
  18. Poker and Philosophy
  19. Hip-Hop and Philosophy
  20. Basketball and Philosophy
  21. Hitchcock and Philosophy
  22. The Atkins Diet and Philosophy
  23. Superheroes and Philosophy
  24. Harley-Davidson and Philosophy
  25. The Grateful Dead and Philosophy
  26. Seinfeld and Philosophy
  27. Mel Gibson’s Passion and Philosophy
  28. The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy
  29. Bullshit and Philosophy
  30. Johnny Cash and Philosophy

Methodology and Methodism


This is simply a side by side pastiche of the history of Extreme Programming and the history of Methodism.  It is less a commentary or argument than simply an experiment to see if I can format this correctly in HTML.  The history of XP is drawn from Wikipedia.  The history of Methodism is drawn from John Wesley’s A Short History of Methodism.


 








Software development in the 1990s was shaped by two major influences: internally, object-oriented programming replaced procedural programming as the programming paradigm favored by some in the industry; externally, the rise of the Internet and the dot-com boom emphasized speed-to-market and company-growth as competitive business factors. Rapidly-changing requirements demanded shorter product life-cycles, and were often incompatible with traditional methods of software development.


The Chrysler Comprehensive Compensation project was started in order to determine the best way to use object technologies, using the payroll systems at Chrysler as the object of research, with Smalltalk as the language and GemStone as the persistence layer. They brought in Kent Beck, a prominent Smalltalk practitioner, to do performance tuning on the system, but his role expanded as he noted several issues they were having with their development process. He took this opportunity to propose and implement some changes in their practices based on his work with his frequent collaborator, Ward Cunningham.


The first time I was asked to lead a team, I asked them to do a little bit of the things I thought were sensible, like testing and reviews. The second time there was a lot more on the line. I thought, “Damn the torpedoes, at least this will make a good article,” [and] asked the team to crank up all the knobs to 10 on the things I thought were essential and leave out everything else. —Kent Beck


Beck invited Ron Jeffries to the project to help develop and refine these methods. Jeffries thereafter acted as a kind of coach to instill the practices as habits in the C3 team. Information about the principles and practices behind XP was disseminated to the wider world through discussions on the original Wiki, Cunningham’s WikiWikiWeb. Various contributors discussed and expanded upon the ideas, and some spin-off methodologies resulted (see agile software development). Also, XP concepts have been explained, for several years, using a hyper-text system map on the XP website at “www.extremeprogramming.org” circa 1999.


Beck edited a series of books on XP, beginning with his own Extreme Programming Explained (1999, ISBN 0-201-61641-6), spreading his ideas to a much larger, yet very receptive, audience. Authors in the series went through various aspects attending XP and its practices, even a book critical of the practices. Current state XP created quite a buzz in the late 1990s and early 2000s, seeing adoption in a number of environments radically different from its origins.


Extreme Programming Explained describes Extreme Programming as being:



  • An attempt to reconcile humanity and productivity
  • A mechanism for social change
  • A path to improvement
  • A style of development
  • A software development discipline

The advocates of XP argue that the only truly important product of the system development process is code (a concept to which they give a somewhat broader definition than might be given by others). Without code you have nothing.

Coding can also help to communicate thoughts about programming problems. A programmer dealing with a complex programming problem and finding it hard to explain the solution to fellow programmers might code it and use the code to demonstrate what he or she means. Code, say the exponents of this position, is always clear and concise and cannot be interpreted in more than one way. Other programmers can give feedback on this code by also coding their thoughts.

 The high discipline required by the original practices often went by the wayside, causing certain practices to be deprecated or left undone on individual sites.


Agile development practices have not stood still, and XP is still evolving, assimilating more lessons from experiences in the field. In the second edition of Extreme Programming Explained, Beck added more values and practices and differentiated between primary and corollary practices.


In November, 1729, four young gentlemen of Oxford — Mr. John Wesley, Fellow of Lincoln College; Mr. Charles Wesley, Student of Christ Church; Mr. Morgan, Commoner of Christ Church; and Mr. Kirkham, of Merton College — began to spend some evenings in a week together, in reading, chiefly, the Greek Testament. The next year two or three of Mr. John Wesley’s pupils desired the liberty of meeting with them; and afterwards one of Mr. Charles Wesley’s pupils. It was in 1732, that Mr. Ingham, of Queen’s College, and Mr. Broughton, of Exeter, were added to their number. To these, in April, was joined Mr. Clayton, of Brazen-nose, with two or three of his pupils. About the same time Mr. James Hervey was permitted to meet with them; and in 1735, Mr. Whitefield.


The exact regularity of their lives, as well as studies, occasioned a young gentleman of Christ Church to say, “Here is a new set of Methodists sprung up;” alluding to some ancient Physicians who were so called. The name was new and quaint; so it took immediately, and the Methodists were known all over the University.


They were all zealous members of the Church of England; not only tenacious of all her doctrines, so far as they knew them, but of all her discipline, to the minutest circumstance. They were likewise zealous observers of all the University Statutes, and that for conscience’ sake. But they observed neither these nor anything else any further than they conceived it was bound upon them by their one book, the Bible; it being their one desire and design to be downright Bible-Christians; taking the Bible, as interpreted by the primitive Church and our own, for their whole and sole rule.


The one charge then advanced against them was, that they were “righteous overmuch;” that they were abundantly too scrupulous, and too strict, carrying things to great extremes: In particular, that they laid too much stress upon the Rubrics and Canons of the Church; that they insisted too much on observing the Statutes of the University; and that they took the Scriptures in too strict and literal a sense; so that if they were right, few indeed would be saved.


In October, 1735, Mr. John and Charles Wesley, and Mr. Ingham, left England, with a design to go and preach to the Indians in Georgia: But the rest of the gentlemen continued to meet, till one and another was ordained and left the University. By which means, in about two years’ time, scarce any of them were left.


In February, 1738, Mr. Whitefield went over to Georgia with a design to assist Mr. John Wesley; but Mr. Wesley just then returned to England. Soon after he had a meeting with Messrs, Ingham, Stonehouse, Hall, Hutchings, Kinchin, and a few other Clergymen, who all appeared to be of one heart, as well as of one judgment, resolved to be Bible-Christians at all events; and, wherever they were, to preach with all their might plain, old, Bible Christianity.


They were hitherto perfectly regular in all things, and zealously attached to the Church of England. Meantime, they began to be convinced, that “by grace we are saved through faith;” that justification by faith was the doctrine of the Church, as well as of the Bible. As soon as they believed, they spake; salvation by faith being now their standing topic. Indeed this implied three things: (1) That men are all, by nature, “dead in sin,” and, consequently, “children of wrath.” (2) That they are “justified by faith alone.” (3) That faith produces inward and outward holiness: And these points they insisted on day and night. In a short time they became popular Preachers. The congregations were large wherever they preached. The former name was then revived; and all these gentlemen, with their followers, were entitled Methodists.


In March, 1741, Mr. Whitefield, being returned to England, entirely separated from Mr. Wesley and his friends, because he did not hold the decrees. Here was the first breach, which warm men persuaded Mr. Whitefield to make merely for a difference of opinion. Those, indeed, who believed universal redemption had no desire at all to separate; but those who held particular redemption would not hear of any accommodation, being determined to have no fellowship with men that “were in so dangerous errors.” So there were now two sorts of Methodists, so called; those for particular, and those for general, redemption.

Methodology and its Discontents


A difficult aspect of software programming is that it is always changing.  This is no doubt true in other fields, also, but there is no tenure system in software development.  Whereas in academe, it is quite plausible to reach a certain point in your discipline and then kick the ladder out behind you, as Richard Rorty was at one point accused of doing, this isn’t so in technology.  In technology, it is the young who set the pace, and the old who must keep up.


The rapid changes in technology, with which the weary developer must constantly attempt to stay current, can be broken down into two types: there are advances in tools and advances in methodologies.  While there is always a certain amount of fashion determining which tools get used — for instance which is the better language, VB.Net or C#? –, for the most part development tools are judged based upon their effectiveness. This is not necessarily true concerning the methodologies of software development.  Which is odd since one would suppose that the whole point of a method is that it is a way of guaranteeing certain results — use method A, and B (fame, fortune, happiness) will follow.


There is even something of a backlash against methodism (or, more specifically, certain kinds of methodism) being led, interestingly enough, by tool builders.  For instance, Rocky Lhotka, the creator of the CSLA framework says:



I am a strong believer in responsibility-driven, behavioral, CRC OO design – and that is very compatible with the concepts of Agile. So how can I believe so firmly in organic OO design, and yet find Agile/XP/SCRUM to be so…wrong…?


I think it is because the idea of taking a set of practices developed by very high-functioning people, and cramming them into a Methodology (notice the capital M!), virtually guarantees mediocrity. That, and some of the Agile practices really are just plain silly in many contexts.


Joel Spolsky, the early Microsoft Excel Product Manager and software entrepreneur, has also entered the fray a few times.  Most recently, an blog post by Steve Yegge (a developer at Google) set the technology community on fire:



Up until maybe a year ago, I had a pretty one-dimensional view of so-called “Agile” programming, namely that it’s an idiotic fad-diet of a marketing scam making the rounds as yet another technological virus implanting itself in naive programmers who’ve never read “No Silver Bullet”, the kinds of programmers who buy extended warranties and self-help books and believe their bosses genuinely care about them as people, the kinds of programmers who attend conferences to make friends and who don’t know how to avoid eye contact with leaflet-waving fanatics in airports and who believe writing shit on index cards will suddenly make software development easier.
You know. Chumps.


The general tenor of these skeptical treatments is that Extreme Programming (and its umbrella methodology, Agile) is at best a put-on, and at worst a bit of a cult.  What is lacking in these analyses, however, is an explication of why programming methodologies like Extreme Programming are so appealing.  Software development is a complex endeavor, and its practitioners are always left with a sense that they are being left behind.  Each tool that comes along in order to make development easier always ends up making it actually more difficult and error prone (though also more powerful).  The general trend of software devlopment has consistently been not less complexity, but greater complexity.  This leads to an indemic sense of insecurity among developers, as well as a sense that standing still is tantamount to falling behind.  Developers are, of course, generally well compensated for this burden (unlike, for instance, untenured academics who suffer from the same constraints) so there is no sense in feeling sorry for them, but it should be clear, given this, why there is so much appeal in the notion that there is a secret method which, if they follow it correctly, will grant them admission into the kingdom and relieve them of their anxieties and doubts.


One of the strangest aspects of these methodologies is the notion that methods need evangelists, yet this is what proponents of these concepts self-consciously call themselves.  There are Extreme Programming evangelists, SCRUM evangelists, Rational evangelists, and so on who write books and tour the country giving multimedia presentations, for a price, about why you should be using their methodology and how it will transform you and your software projects. 


So are software methodologies the secular equivalent of evangelical revival meetings?  It would depend, I suppose, on whether the purpose of these methodologies is to make money or to save souls.  Let us hope it is the former, and that lots of people are simply making lots of money by advocating the use of these methodologies.