Setzer's "laws" and aphorisms

Valdemar W. Setzer
www.ime.usp.br/~vwsetzer
Last version (with many additions): May 3, 2015
(This is a translation of the original in Portuguese)

On computers and computing

  • With a computer it is possible to produce badly made things (programs, systems) which work.
    Comparison: Try using a power lathe in the same way.

  • The development of a well-designed and well-documented system takes 10 times longer and costs 10 times more.
    Corolary: If a software company honestly participates in a disputation for the development of a system and proposes to develop a well-designed and well-documented system, it's going to lose the disputation.

  • The origin of the problems of a program that does not function properly is that it was programmed.
    Corolary: Only use program/application generators.

  • In data processing, whenever you re-invent the wheel, it will come out squared.
    Classical examples: The old IBM /360, /370, etc. OSs; MS DOS, Windows; the C language, UML (as far as data modeling is concerned).

  • Only idiots need a definition of intelligence.
    Corolary: Computers are idiots.
  • In data processing, if the market likes a product it certainly could be much better at the present state of the art.
  • A program which simulates some human behaviour is a demonstration that humans do not "function" that way.
  • A computer (or any other type of machine) should only replace some human work when this work degrades the worker, and should not replace the work that elevates the human being.
    Restriction: The aforementioned work should only be replaced if the person who is being substituted can exercise some less degrading work.
    Problem: How to correctly characterize "degrading" and "elevating" a human.
    Citation: "Education is the activity which mostly elevates the human being" (Ruy Barbosa). Corolary: computers should not replace teachers and professors, not even partially.
  • To make a computer attractive, everything must be presented by it as a show or an electronic game.
    (Inspired by "TV has transformed everything in a show" – Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death)
  • Computers induce lack of discipline.
    Comment: It's the worst kind of lack of discipline, the mental one.
    Examples: In general, the way computer programmers work (this can be seen in almost all programs, because they have almost no documentation, or inadequate or obsolete documentation), or as texts are typed into a computer using a text editor (compare with the enormous inner discipline required to write a text by hand without making corrections).
  • Artistic activity is the best antidote against "computational thinking".
    Corolary: Every programmer or a person who unfortunately is forced to work with a computer many hours in a row, every day, should practice some artistic activity (see my essay "An antidote against computer thinking").

  • Chess is a stupid game, because even computers play it well.
    Comment:
    Attention, chess players, this is a joke!

On electronic media

    A TV viewer is a person who knows less and less about more and more, until s/he knows nothing about everything.
    Comment: inspired by "A specialist is a person who knows more and more about less and less, until s/he knows everything about nothing", attributed to G.B. Shaw.

    TV anesthesized boredom.
    Comment: Inspireb by Chekhov's Uncle Vania

On science

  • Statistics relates to science as surgery to medicine.
    Comment: The former declares the latter bankrupt.
  • Darwinism induces people to think that humans are animals; Artificial Intelligence, that humans are machines.
    Comment:
    It is linguistically wrong to say that humans are machines, because every machine has been designed and constructed by humans (with the eventual help of other machines); on the other hand, no human was designed and constructed by another human. The proper expression is "humans are purely physical systems" (see the CDCS below and my paper on Artificial Intelligence).
    Comment: Humans are humans, animals are animals. The fact that there are some things and functions in common between them does not justify identifying one with the other. This degrades the view one should have of the human being. Nobody calls animals "moving plants", why should humans be called "rational animals"?
  • (New! 5/3/15) Chance is a physical illusion.
    Comment 1: Observing physical phenomena and their physical and/or nonphysical causes, chance disappears.
    Comment 2: It is possible to observe objectively non-physical phenomena by means of latent supersensible organs of perception present in all human beings.
    Examples: thinking, feeling, willing, memory, sleep, dreams, consciousness, growth in living beings, and many others, are not physical phenomena, but which have physical consequences. Intuition is a perception of something not physical. Concepts are not physical. Thought is an organ of perception of concepts (cf. Rudolf Steiner's The Philosophy of Freedom).
    Comment 3: One of the excuses used to justify the hypothesis of the existence of chance is the inability to detect all physical causes and effects due to the complexity of physical systems, i.e, the number of variables or factors involved and the interactions between them.

  • (New! 5/3/15) Examining physically the causes of any physical phenomenon, the causes of these causes, and so on, one always reaches a dead end, that is, something for which there is no explanation.
    Example: That's absolutely clear concerning any internal phenomenon of a living being. E.g., move an arm, and try to look up the sequence of physical causes that led to this movement.

  • (New! 5/3/15) Every physical theory is incomplete.

  • (New! 5/3/15) Physics is not in the business of explaining nature. Its business is to deduce models, mathematical formulas involving variables that assume physical quantities measured by instruments. From these models, the other part of its business is about foreseeing the future.
    Comment: These variables and their values are not nature itself; They represent a tiny shadow of the latter.
    Trivial example: Newton's formula for the gravitational force of attraction between two bodies f = g*(m1 x m2)/d2 involves measures of the masses m1 and m2, the distance between the centers of gravity of the two bodies d and the acceleration of gravity g. It absolutely does not explain anything about the origin of gravitation, it does not explain why the bodies attract themselves. Nevertheless, it is useful: it explains why the orbits of the planets are approximately ellipses, it makes it possible to design rockets and satellites etc.

  • Mistrust any simple explanation of a natural phenomenon.
    Comment: Even a stone is of an infinite complexity; imagine the millions of years and processes that were needed to form it.
    Counter-examples: 1. The theory that the blood circulates in the body because it is pushed by the heart as a pump. Just image the power required by this pump to make a viscous fluid as the blood through thousands of kilometers of blood vases, taking into consideration that most of them are capilary. There is no explanation for the blood circulation. 2. The idea that the atom is a planetary system (Rutherford's model of 1909): the electron is not a tiny ball and does not circulate around the atom nucleous. 3. Tides are justdue to the gravitational attraction of moon and sun. They are due to an enourmously complex system of forces and movements which interact with the ocean basin, leading to a resonance effect. Tides rotate around a point without tide (amphidromic point or tidal node). 4. The Neo Darwinian theory of evolution (random gene mutations plus random encounters leading to natural selection). Scietific evidences are appearing showing that mutations leading to new, viable anatomic forms are fantastically improbable. For instance, according to recent calculations, just a pair of mutations in hominids producing a viable functional change should occur in the average only about every 200 million years.

  • A machine will never have feelings.
    Justification: Every machine is universal; this is absolutely clear with programmable digital machines: anyone may simulate any other one, given enough capacity (Turing Machines are universal machines). All analog machines (as, for instance, refrigerators) are also universal, because their design and construction is the same for the same series of similar ones. On the other hand, feelings are absolutely individual: nobody can feel someone's else's feelings (but may think the same thoughts; this is clear, e.g., in the case of mathematical concepts). See details in my paper on Artificial Intelligence.

  • A machine will never think as humans do.
    Justification: Everyone may make the mental observation that s/he is able to determine her/his next thought. For this, it suffices, for example, to think on two different numbers which do not evoke any memory and then concentrate the thought on only one of them. This choice and the following mental concentration is a self-determination; machines are either deterministic or random, thus they have no self-determination. In other words, anyone may observe, through one's own thinking, that s/he may exercise free will (the decision of thinking on one or the other number). This means that thinking transcends matter, because the latter is inexorably subjected to the physical "laws" and conditions. Obviously, a coherent materialist will say that free will is an illusion. Fortunately, few materialists are coherent, because without freedom there is no human responsibility, dignity, and there is only egotism, which is naturally destructive (see my paper "Consequences of materialism". I consider materialism to be the conception that there are only matter, and material and physical processes in the universe.

  • The human experience of time relates to physics as the human experience of matter relates to an elementary matter in physics: one has nothing to do with the other.
    Justification: 1. We have a precise experience of the present moment, which makes no sense to physics. On the other hand, to the latter, the "arrow of time" has only some meaning in terms of the 2nd thermodynamic law, about the increase of entropy (nobody has seen a spilled milk return to its bottle); nonetheless, our experience of past and future makes an absolute distinction between them. 2. The atomic particles of physics are totally incomprehensible. Examples: the electron is not a tiny ball and it does not rotate around the nucleous; the spin of atomic particles cannot be understood, because it has no classic limit, which is the realm of matter as we observe it.
    (New! 5/4/15) Corolary: Physics has destroyed matter, both at the microcosmic as well as at the macrocosmic levels.
    Comment: As for the macrocosmic level, present physical theories state that the universe is formed of 70% dark energy (to account for the accelerated expansion) and 25% dark matter (to account for the gallaxies maitaining their aggregation), but nobody knows what they are.

On education

  • Teaching is not a science, nor a technique, industry or commerce: it's an art.
    Comment: inspired by Waldorf Education.
  • A good teacher or professor is the one who is able to instill enthusiasm in his/her students for the subject matter being taught and, from that enthusiasm, provides for the adequate and necessary development of his students.

  • There are two basic attitudes of a good teacher or professor: loving and understanding his/her students. Moreover, s/he should know the subject matter.

  • Teaching is presently so bad, but so bad, that even a computer or distance learning may teach better.
    Comment:
    this applies in general to public schools im Brazil.

  • (New! 5/3/15) The more education is technological, the less it is humane.
    Comment:
    What we need is a more humane education, and not a more technological one.

On mankind and society

  • The reality of the misery produced by humans is beyond the most pessimistic imagination.
  • (New! 5/3/15) There is no limit to the bottom in which mankind can fall.

  • Making an unconscious mistake does not degrade a human being; what degrades him/her is not recognizing it and not correcting or compensating for it.

  • Any competition is in general anti-social, because the winner becomes happy at the expense of the loser's frustration.
    Corolary: Sports should be practiced (ideally, each day) without competition.
    Examples:
    playing tennis without counting points, games and sets, playing soccer mixing the teams after every goal, practising individual sports, etc.
    Corolary: Competitive games shoud be banished from homes and schools, replaced by cooperative games.
    Comment:
    It is not necessary to teach a child or adolescent how to be competitive; adult life will teach her/him how to be competitive when (and unfortunately while) this will be needed. (Educating for competition is so much rooted in some countries that probably few of their people will understand these words...)

  • Advertising is the science, the technique and the art of influencing people to do what they would not do without such an influence.
    Corolary:
    advertising attempts against freedom, that is, against humanity.
    Comment: what is correct is to promote ideas and products, that is, objectively showing their characteristics and eventual price.

  • Subliminal propaganda is the advertising directed to the sub- or unconscious mind, that is, kept by them and not by the conscious mind.
    Example: adds exhibited at the right side of each opened gmail, for someone who does read them; but this is just one of many cases of subliminal propaganda on the Internet (another example: a "modern" page with lots of boxes with texts, figures and animation).
    Comment: I never read gmail's adds, thus they work subliminarly to me. What is their influence upon me?

  • (New! 5/3/15) One should not judge a person by his/her environment.
    Comment: Inspired by the Randi Crott and Lillian Crott Berthung's book Erzähl es niemandem! Die Liebesgeschichte meiner Eltern ("Don't tell anybody: the love story of my parents"), Köln: DuMont 2012. The book tells the saga of the second author, who fell in love with a German soldier during the Nazi invasion of Norway.

  • (New! 5/3/15) An activity that demands excellence and can only be done successfully by teenagers or young adults does not have deep human substance.
    Example: Sports competitions that require strength or dexterity.

  • (New! 5/3/15) Every decision should be made taking into account the conditions of the present moment.
    Justification: The whole world and every person are in constant change.
    Corollary 1: Every planning should give way to some improvising. Otherwise, one treats nature, humans and institutions as machines, and degrades them.
    Corollary 2: Every class should be partly improvised.

  • (New! 5/3/15) There is only one way to fix Brazil: start all over again, in another manner.

On spirituality

  • The worse kind of materialism is the one that disguises itself as spirituality.

  • Who does not recognize the unique spiritual essence of the human individuality, tends to unduly anthropomorphize.
  • Examples: considering that cells and animals "negotiate", calling "memory" the central storage unit of a computer, saying that "a thermostat has beliefs" (John McCarthy), and the worst of all, "Artificial Intelligence" (expression coined also by McCarthy – see my paper on it).

  • The fundamental hypothesis of any religion or religiosity should be that human life has some meaning.
    Corolary: Birth and death, the most decisive moments in each life, must have a meaning (that is, they are not caused and do not happen by chance).
    Corolary: All life, earth and the universe must have a meaning.
  • A meaning for life cannot follow from matter, nor does human free will, dignity, self-consciousness, higher individuality and responsibility.

  • (New! 5/3/15) From a physical point of view, nature is a miracle.
    Comment: Inspired by the view of a mushroom about 30 cm with an unopened corolla.

  • The world's biggest prejudice is that there exist only material (physical) processes.
    Comment: This is the Central Dogma of Contemporary Science (CDCS).

  • Most religious people are in fact materialists.
    Examples. Visiting Auschwitz, a religious leader said: "Where was God to permit those horrors to be commited here?" Another religious leader gave a partial, albeit adequate answer: "God was where He should have been: waiting for humans to take some attitude." The latter did not justify why God entrusted responsibility to humans and, even in this case, why He did not interfere. Both showed that they were not understanding what is the divinity's role nowadays – or both have a materialistic view of it.

  • Almost every scientist is a materialist.

    Corolaries to the three last "laws":

    • The biggest sources of prejudices are the academic, scientific and religious worlds.

    • The majority of universities, research institutions and worship centers are in general museums of prejudices.
      Comentary:
      Universities generally receive their students, show them during some years a bunch of rusted specialized abstract theories and practices, and believe that they have thus given them a real education whereas, in fact, from a holistic point of view, what happened was a mis-education (highly appreciated by our degenerated societies).

  • See also Fang's laws (in Portuguese).

  • See also the laws of data processing (in Portuguese).