Thursday, January 19, 2006

Things versus the attributes of things (and a picture of a cow) - LONG

I am mulling some philosophical stuff about objects, duck typing and so on. Having one of my recurring bouts of ontological angst you could say. In my defence, if you spend time with dynamically typed programming languages, the (non)differences between classes and objects-with-certain-attributes has a way of being 'in your face' quite a lot. Especially if you delve into meta-programming a bit and start creating classes - as distinct from objects - on the fly.

Anyway, as part of this effort I am reading Steve Hagen's Buddhism Plain and Simple.

Here is what I'm thinking. If "religion" was a base class in some OO programming language, what would it look like? What would be in the base class as opposed to in one of the derived classes and why? What would a class hierarchy that spanned say, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism etc. look like? Would you be stuck at stage one on the basis that - in one view - Buddhism for example is not a religion per se?

I suspect that you would find that there is no generally acceptable way of capturing a concept like "religion" or "moral" or "beautiful" in a hierarchical ontology. They key I think is the phrase "generally acceptable".

I'm a big fan of the concept of software as language that is written primarily for other humans to read and secondally for computers to execute. On this analysis, software must be a human language as well as a computer language. It must therefore be based on a set of generally accepted conceptualisations in order to function as human language. If no such shared conceptualisations are possible in a particular domain, is software even possible in that domain?

Is the only viable route to "pitch" software at clusters of shared conceptualisations which are, in OO speak, always base classes. Base classes
which cannot be assembled so as to be derived classes of the more general concept - such as Religion or BeautifulThings or LifeForm or ... even though we seem to have shared conceptualisions of those very concepts? Or do we?

Oh yes, the picture of a cow...

In Hagen's book there is a black and white image that looks vaguely like a man lying down but only vaguely. Apparently, it is a picture of a cow which, if you start at the image long enough, becomes self evident.

Well, I have stared at the picture and it is not self evident to me :-)

If anyone out there has it sussed, I'd love to hear from you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, it's been a couple years since you were trying to figure out that cow... but maybe this link will help you, there is a similar image there with an outline painted on it.... (I needed the help too, and it nearly made me stop reading the book because he suggests that you can't go on until you've seen the darn cow! Took me 3 weeks to give up and look online).