Setzer's "laws" and aphorisms
Valdemar W. Setzer
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
- 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
- Artistic activity is the best antidote against "computational
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.
- 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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
(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
- 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
- There are two basic attitudes of a good teacher or professor: loving
and understanding his/her students. Moreover, s/he should know the subject
- 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
- (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
- 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
Examples: playing tennis without counting points, games and
sets, playing soccer mixing the teams after every goal, practising individual
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
Comment: what is correct is to promote ideas and
products, that is, objectively showing their characteristics and eventual
- 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
(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.
- The worse kind of materialism is the one that disguises itself
- 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.
- 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
- See also Fang's laws (in Portuguese).
- See also the laws of data processing (in