With ten minutes to spare before a meeting this morning, I wandered into a medium-sized research library down the hall. On the shelves near the beginning of the "QA" section (math) I happened to see Logic and Information by Keith Devlin (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1991). The title sounded interesting; Devlin writes well; I pulled the book down and opened it. Some quotes that leaped out from the up-front material:

It is therefore quite possible that we are not too far from the limits which can be achieved in artificial automata without really fundamental insights into a theory of information, although one should be very careful with such statements because they can sound awfully silly in five years. - John von Neumann, 1949

Should it ever come about (and I think it will) that some of the ideas developed in these pages turn out to be of real 'use', I would hope that this book serves as a testament to the stupidity, even in those very terms of 'usefulness' that were foisted on the British university system, of judging any intellectual pursuit in terms of its immediate cash value. - Keith Devlin, 1991

Of some fields it is difficult to tell whether they are sound or phony. Perhaps they are both. Perhaps the decision depends on the circumstances, and it changes with time. At any rate, it is not an objective fact, like 'the moon is made of green cheese'. Some subjects start out with impeccable credentials, catastrophe theory, for instance, and then turn out to resemble a three-dollar bill. Others, like dynamic programming, have to overcome a questionable background before they are reluctantly recognized to be substantial and useful. It's a tough world, even for the judgement pronouncers. - Gian-Carlo Rota, 1985

TopicScience - TopicThinking


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