Jan 232011

A previous post on Sherry Turkle discussed her views on the ‘subjective’ aspect of our relation to technology. Her most recent writing expresses misgivings about the health of this relationship. This is noticeable in Programmed for Love, an interview from the Chronicle Review, in which Turkle describes how internet usage and social networks can mask the need to cultivate real human relation­ships and real human com­mun­ity. “Be­cause we grew up with the Net,” she says, “we assume that the Net is grown up.”

The occasion for the Chronicle interview is Sherry Turkle’s new book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, which remarks that “we talk about ‘spending’ hours on e-mail, but we too are being spent.” I also enjoyed the observation by Turkle’s daughter, that instead of a robot caretaker the professor “would rather have the com­plete works of Jane Austen played continu­ously.”  Me too.


Jan 242010

turkle2Sherry Turkle is the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, and is the director of the MIT Initiative on Tech­nology and Self. She earned her doctorate in sociology and per­son­ality psychology from Harvard University, and is a licensed clinical psycho­logist. She writes about the “subjective side” of the relationship between people and technology.

I first read The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit nearly twenty years ago and have often assigned it to students. Turkle describes how children use com­puters as evocative objects — “things to think with” — which assist them in understanding their own capa­ci­ties and limi­tations. Thus, the sense of self that emerges in children who have grown up with computers can differ from that in children who have grown up with, say, animals and pets — the experience of the former suggesting the spe­ci­fic difference and genus feeling machine, rather than the traditional Aristotelian rational animal. This kind of revision in our understanding of who we are, it seems to me, marks a profound cultural transition — and it is important that we con­sider the pos­si­bility that our technology can induce deep changes.

I found equally provocative Turkle’s next book, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. It is a perceptive look at how the roles that we assume on-line affect us in real life. Dr. Turkle is also the author of Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution, and MIT Press has recently published four sets of essays edited by Turkle:

Evocative Objects: Things We Think With
Falling for Science: Objects in Mind
The Inner History of Devices
Simulation and Its Discontents.

Every year Edge poses its annual question. For 2010 it is this: How has the internet changed the way you think? In her response, Turkle talks about our need to protect a zone of private action and reflection. “To me,” she says, “opening up a conversation about rethinking the Net, privacy, and civil society is not backward-looking nostalgia or Luddite in the least. It seems like part of a healthy process of democracy defining its sacred spaces.”


Feb 262009

Peter Smith, of Logic Matters, has noticed a new Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry, Set Theory: Constructive and Intuitionistic ZF.  Constructive and intuitionistic set theories result from the rejection of the law of excluded middle, and effectively restrict set theoretical ontology to poten­tially infinite sets:

The shift from classical to intuitionistic logic, as well as the requirement of predicativity, reflects a conflict between the classical and the constructive view of the universe of sets. This also relates to the time-honoured distinction between actual and potential infinity. According to one view often associated to classical set theory, our mathematical activity can be seen as a gradual disclosure of properties of the universe of sets, whose existence is independent of us. This tenet is bound up with the assumed validity of classical logic on that universe. Brouwer abandoned classical logic and embarked on an ambitious programme to renovate the whole mathematical landscape. He denounced that classical logic had wrongly been extrapolated from the mathematics of finite sets, had been made independent from mathematics, and illicitly applied to infinite totalities.

In a constructive context, where the rejection of classical logic meets the requirement of predicativity, the universe is an open concept, a universe “in fieri”. This coheres with the constructive rejection of actual infinity (Dummett 2000, Fletcher 2007). Intuitionism stressed the dependency of mathematical objects on the thinking subject. Following this line of thought, predicativity appears as a natural and fundamental component of the constructive view. If we construct mathematical objects, then resorting to impredicative definitions would produce an undesirable form of circularity. We can thus view the universe of constructive sets as built up in stages by our own mathematical activity and thus open-ended. [SEP]

This article might interest our BA Seminar students, as well as students in Programming Languages who have recently encountered Curry-Howard Isomorphism — the correspondence between intuitionistic logic and CLK.


Aug 152008

Raymond Smullyan is 89 years old, and lives across the Hudson in the Catskill mountains. A distinguished mathematician, logician, and philosopher, he has written over 20 books which have been translated into more than 17 languages. Smullyan is the Oscar Ewing Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Indiana University and played a prominent role in the history of modern logic. In 1957 he wrote an influential paper for the Journal of Symbolic Logic, called “Languages in Which Self-Reference is Possible,” showing that Gödel incom­pleteness holds for many formal systems more elementary than those considered by Gödel. Georg Kreisel described Smullyan’s Theory of Formal Systems as “the most elegant exposition of the theory of recursively enumerable (r.e.) sets in existence.” Smullyan is probably best-known, though, for his popular collections of logic puzzles. When my children were growing up, they spent many hours with The Lady or the Tiger. My own favorite is To Mock a Mockingbird, which is about combinatory logic and the lambda calculus, one of the foundations of computer science.

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