It’s been a long day…

The story starts yesterday evening when I, with my father, visited the Helsinki-Vantaa airport to check in. I was flying with an exst (extra seat) reservation due to my physical size, and none of the self-service options worked. The upside was, I got to bypass all the long lines to the baggage drop desks and take the short queue to the service desk. With a boarding pass in hand, it was time for one last sauna in Finland, a short night’s sleep, and an early morning plane trip.

Things went well in Finland. We had lots of snow; this was no problem. We left the gate about on time, taxied to a deicing station and then took off without much of a fuss.

Deicing at EFHK
Barely above the clouds
Barely above the clouds

The fish salad I had ordered online was delicious. I seemed to get jealous looks from fellow passengers.

Finnair fish salad
Finnair fish salad

En route I saw a lovely cumulus (cumulonimbus?) cloud towering from the rest of the cloud cover.

Clouds
Clouds

The trouble began on approach to Düsseldorf. First, it seemed like we were given a long route, and indeed, we landed somewhat behind schedule.

On short final to DUS
On short final to DUS

And then we stopped, on the taxiway. The flight crew told us that our parking space was not ready, and no estimated time of readiness had been offered by the ground controller. It appears a little bit of snow put the whole airport into chaos. To a Finn, it looked ludicrous.

Waiting to park at DUS
Waiting to park at DUS

Eventually, we were allowed to disembark. Then, we were left waiting for a full hour for our checked baggage. How the heck does it take an hour to unload some bags from a plane?

Finally, I was able to take the nice Sky Train from Düsseldorf Airport to the airport’s train station. Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the Sky Train in operation, but here’s one of the terminus at the train station and a part of the overhead track:

Sky Train terminus at the Airport Train Station
Sky Train terminus at the Airport Train Station

I then took the S1 train to Essen main railway station, where I had an hour to kill. I spent that time walking around the station, with my bags stowed in an expensive locker at the station.

Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf
Essen Hbf

I then went and collected my guesthouse apartment key, figured out how to get online there, and finally went to see my host at the University. Afterward, I spent an eternity looking for a simple grocery supermarket in the Essen downtown. It was hard to find, but I eventually chanced into a Real from where I was able to buy some essentials; but it is really hard to figure out what to buy when most of the brands are totally different from what I am used to.

This has been a very rough day, and I am glad it’s nearly over. Tomorrow, my three-month research visit to the University of Duisburg-Essen starts in earnest.

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Plan B

“Other people,” she said, apparently to the room at large, “give their wives flowers.”

Plan B is a rather different book from those published earlier in the Liaden series. First of all, it was first published about a decade after the previous book, due to commercial issues not under the authors’ control. Second, it is a plot-driven story with good solid existing characters instead of being a character-driven book with a plot to keep the characters active.

Some reviewers have placed the Liaden series under the category of military science fiction. In my opinion, Plan B is the only one that truly fits that label. The action takes place on a Liaden planet that comes early in the book under attack by the Yxtrang, with the invasion continuing until the end of the book. Military units, particularly the impromptu defense force formed of mercenary units that happened to be on-planet at the time of the attack as well as local volunteers, feature prominently; the familiar characters take on military roles if the already did not have it; and military action (involving land forces and air forces as well as space combat) is central to the plot.

This change of pace is well justified by the story arch of the Agent of Change sequence, of which this is the penultimate volume; after all, at this point, the characters have been introduced, the chess pieces have been placed on the board and all the initial moves have been completed. All that remains is actually seeing who comes on top in the fight.

Below the fold, I will discuss the book in a bit more detail; the discussion contains SPOILERS for Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, and Carpe Diem.

Continue reading “Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Plan B”

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Carpe Diem and Prodigal Son

Normally, it takes me two to four weeks to listen to an audiobook from beginning to end, depending on the narrator’s speed, the length of the book and how much I invest daily in it. You see, normally I only listen for no more than an hour, often no more than 30 minutes, a day, while getting ready to sleep in the evening. Sometimes I manage a book in one week, if I have been having difficulty catching sleep and thus ending up listening for two hours or more an evening.

This week has been unusual. I’ve been at home due to a stomach bug since Wednesday, with not much energy to do anything. Listening to an audiobook is an easy way to spend time in bed, or in the bathroom, and takes less energy than actually reading myself, or even watching television. And if I happen to drift off (which happened often in Wednesday when I had a moderate fever), the Audible player’s automatic timer stops playing after 30 minutes or so (annoyingly, I must remember to set it up that way each time), and rewinding allows me to find a place I still remember having heard. Spending 12 hours listening to a book a day is not unusual in these circumstances. Thus, it is not surprising that I finished the 15-hour book Carpe Diem a little more than a day after I had finished Agent of Change. I capped it by reading (from an ebook, not an audiobook) the short story Prodigal Son, which revisits the key setting and characters of the novel I had just completed.

Carpe Diem continues directly from where Agent of Change left off, in fact overlapping by a chapter. Given that, this review will necessarily contain spoilers for Agent of Change. The book also picks up characters and worldbuilding from Conflict of Honors, which is a loosely connected prequel published between these two books; while Carpe Diem can perfectly well be read without that background, it does (like this review) contain some spoilers for Conflict of Honors.

Prodigal Son additionally contains significant spoilers for Plan B and I Dare, since it’s set after the events of those books. I will avoid those spoilers in this review.

Continue reading “Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Carpe Diem and Prodigal Son

Sharon Lee & Steve Miller: Agent of Change

Since it was first recommended to me, the Liaden series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller has been on my regular re-reading list as one of my all-time favorite series. I’ve just started another reread – well, actually, I’m listening for the second time to the Audible audiobooks. Earlier today, I finished Agent of Change.

This is one of the most logical places to start the series; after all, it is the first book written and published. It is, however, not the earliest in chronological order, and there are good arguments for starting from, for example Conflict of Honors, or from several other portal books in the series. I am, however, drawn always first and foremost to Val Con and Miri, whose story starts here.

Here we have two relatively young people, both in perilous trouble when the story starts, who against their better judgment team up as they run one step ahead of their pursuers. Along the way, they set a room on fire, dine with large intelligent turtles, start a firefight between two factions of their pursuers, drink with mercenaries, and ride a psychedelic starship made of rock. Despite all these fireworks, the plot is fairly simple, with obstacles thrown in and evaded in entertaining but a bit too easy manner. Instead, the focus of the story is firmly in these two characters and their developing relationship, dealing with one’s low self-esteem and the other’s deadly mind programming, each helping the other.

Something that has bothered me over several rereads is whether Val Con deliberately mislead the turtles to interpret certain of his actions as taking Miri as his wife. As Miri later comments, it is usual to let the bride, at least, know before conducting a wedding ceremony (not to mention the huge issue of consent that is just waved away). Given that a turtle is an unimpeachable witness of such things, that could potentially lead to all kinds of nasty business. The issue is never directly confronted in the books, although the consequences are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

This book introduces us to the key aspects of the setting. There’s Val Con’s (so far unnamed) employer, whose unsavory methods (if not its goals) are made clear; there’s the Juntavas, on whose black list Miri had ended up; there are the four major power factions in the galaxy (Terrans, Liadens, and Yxtrang, which are all variants of human, and the larger-than-life Clutch Turtles) with their main relations clearly specified; and there is the surprisingly well-established role of independent mercenary companies in warfare. Val Con’s Clan Korval is mentioned but not developed much, and so is Clan Erob, which will feature significantly in several later books. The setting hinted at is richer than it first seems, but that is not surprising considering that (I believe) Sharon Lee had been working in this setting for a long time before anything was published about it. (I sometimes wonder why nobody ever comments about the name of Clan Erob.)

There are aspects of the detailed setting that betray the books’ 1980s vintage. Nobody carries comms on their person; instead, communications terminals are always bulky enough to require a desk, with public comm booths everywhere. Messages are frequently carried in printouts instead read from screens. There is no ubiquitous information network. These are, however, forgiveable. However, the larger setting contains aspects that have fallen mostly out of sf favour (psi being the most notable); I don’t mind, but others may.

Val Con’s survival loop is introduced very early on. It is an interesting idea, a device that computes a (presumably Bayesian) probability of mission success and personal survival for the situation at hand and allows its user to compute probabilities for many contemplated courses of action. Many specific probabilities are mentioned in this book, and most of them seem unnaturally low. If an agent has 70 % probability of survival, then it shouldn’t take many similar missions for them to get killed. But then again, as Val Con notes, he was not expected to survive even this long.

It is a beautiful book; Lee and Miller certainly have the gift and skill to use the English language in masterful ways. The book contains several languages in dialogue (Terran, High Liaden, Low Liaden, Trade, Clutch, and Yxtrang), which are indicated by differences in the style of English. Of all the authors and series I like a lot, Lee and Miller certainly take the top slot in English usage.

The audiobook is narrated by Andy Caploe. He reads very clearly, to the point of annoyance, but I at least get used to his style fairly fast. His character voices are recognizable but far from the best I have heard in audiobooks. The narration is serviceable.

Agent of Change is available in several formats: a Baen Free Library e-book, as part of the omnibus The Agent Gambit (ebook and paperback), and Audible ebook.

The social construction of chairs

No, I’m not writing about several people getting together in a wood shop to chat and make single-seat furniture.

Last July I started a series of blog posts about epistemology (that is, the philosophical theory of knowledge). In that opening post, I made the following claim:

How can I decide the (correspondence-theory) truth of the simple theory “there is a chair that I sit upon as I write this”, a statement I expect any competent theory of truth to evaluate as true? Under the correspondence theory of truth, my theory says (among other things) that there is some single thing having chair-ness and located directly under me. For simplicity, I will assume arguendo that there are eight pieces of wood: four roughly cylindrical pieces placed upright; three placed horizontally between some of the upright ones (physically connected to prevent movement); and one flat horizontal piece placed upon the upright ones, physically connected to them to prevent movement, and located directly below my bottom. I have to assume these things, and cannot take them as established facts, because this same argument I am making applies to them as well, recursively. Now, given the existence and mutual relationships of these eight pieces of wood, how can I tell that there is a real thing they make up that has the chair-ness property, instead of the eight pieces merely cooperating but not making a real whole?

Recall that the correspondence theory of truth says that a theory is true if every thing that it says exists does actually exist, every thing it says doesn’t exist actually doesn’t exist, the relationships it says exist between things actually exist, and the relationships that it says don’t exist actually don’t exist.

That argument almost screams for the following two rejoinders: the pieces of wood make up the chair, or, in other words, once you have the pieces wood in the correct configuration, the chair necessarily exists; and, it’s splitting hairs to wonder whether there is a chair that is distinguishable from the pieces of wood it consists of.

But both rejoinders fail. The first rejoinder says that eight pieces of wood automatically become a single thing when they are arranged in a chair-like configuration; but that is a claim about the reality, which itself needs to be evaluated under the correspondence theory of truth, and we are back where we started (albeit with a much more difficult question). The second rejoinder says that it doesn’t matter whether there is an existent called “chair” that is separate from its constituent pieces of wood; but that’s either a misunderstanding of the correspondence theory (it most assuredly does matter to it whether a thing exists) or an expression of frustration about the whole problem, effectively a surrender that masquerades as a victory.

As I mentioned in the original post, most scientists prefer to adopt a modeling appropach instead of the correspondence theory; the attitude is that we don’t care about whether a chair exists, because even if a chair does not exist, there still are the eight pieces of wood that carry my weight and we can pretend they make up a chair. Another way to say this is that a chair is a social construct.

The concept of social construction seems to have begun from a 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann. I must confess right now that I haven’t yet finished the book. However, if I understand their central claim correctly, it’s this: a social institution is always originally created as a convenient (or sometimes even accidental) set of customs by people who find it useful, but as its original creators leave (usually by dying) and stewardship passes to a new generation who did not participate in its creation (and as stewardship is passed many times over generations), the institution becomes an inevitable part of reality as people perceive it; in this sense, Berger and Luckmann (I think) hold that social reality is a social construct.

Ancient Egyptian woodworking via Wikipedia
Ancient Egyptian woodworking via Wikipedia

In the case of my chair, way back in the mist of prehistory, it presumably became a custom to arrange wood or other materials in configurations that supported a person’s weight. The generation that invented this practice probably just were glad to have places to sit. Their descendants, to the umpteenth generation, were each taught this skill; it became useful to refer to the skill not in terms of arranging materials but in terms of making things to sit on; further, some people never learned the skill but purchased the end result of another people’s skill; especially for these unskilled-in-wood-arrangement-for-sitting people, a chair was a real thing, and they often weren’t even aware that there were pieces of wood involved. I am one of those people: I had to specifically examine my chair in order to write the description in my quote.

In a 1999 book, The Social Construction of What?, philosopher Ian Hacking looked back at the pile of literature that had grown over the three decades since Berger and Luckmann’s book, and tried to make sense of the whole buzzword “social construction”. This is another book I haven’t finished yet, but I have found those parts I have read very enlightening. No-one who has read scholarly literature in the so-called soft sciences can have missed the tremendous impact social constructionism has had on it, and it’s hard not to be aware that there is a large gulf between many hard scientists and social constructionists evoking strong feelings on both sides. A big theme in Hacking’s book is the examination of whether (and if so, in what sense) there is an actual incompatibility between something being a social construct and an objectively real thing.

For me, however, it suffices to acknowledge that whether or not chairs exist in the objective world, they do indeed exist in the social world. Thus, once I have eight pieces of wood configured in a particular way, I indeed have a chair.

Hacking points out, however, that claiming an idea (call it X) to be a social construct is conventionally taken to mean several possible claims. First, that someone bothers to claim X a social construct implies that X is generally taken to be an inevitable idea. Second, claiming X a social construct is tantamount to claiming that X is not, in fact, inevitable. Third, many writers also mean that X is a bad thing, and that the world would be a better place if X were changed or eliminated. He classifies social constructionist claims in six “grades”: historical, ironic, reformist, unmasking, rebellious, and revolutionary. Of these, reformist and unmasking are parallel grades, while in other respects the list is in increasing order of radicality. Historical and ironic constructionism merely claim that X seems inevitable but actually is not; they differ in their attitude to X. Reformist and unmasking constructionism add the claim that X is a bad thing but neither actively seek change; they differ in how they regard the possibility of change. Rebellious and revolutionary constructionism additionally call for and attempt to effect change, respectively.

With respect to chairs, I am clearly an ironic social constructionist. I point out that we think chairs are inevitable but they, actually, are not; but I do not regard chairs as a bad thing. However, given current claims about the ill effects on health of sitting, I might eventually become even revolutionary.

Where do you stand?

Planet Haskell email is broken (UPDATE: fixed)

I became aware about a week ago that Planet Haskell’s email address had not received any traffic for a while. It turns out the community.haskell.org email servers are misconfigured. The issue remains unfixed as of this writing. Update: this issue has been fixed.

Please direct your Planet Haskell related mail directly to me (antti-juhani@kaijanaho.fi) for the duration of the problem.

About to retire from Debian

I got involved with Debian development in, I think, 1998. In early 1999, I was accepted as a Debian developer. The next two or three years were a formative experience for me. I learned both software engineering and massively international collaboration; I also made two major contributions to Debian that are still around (of this, I am very proud). In consequence, being a Debian developer became a part of my identity. Even after my activity lessened more than a decade ago, after I no longer was a carefree student, it was very hard for me to let go. So I’ve hung on.

Until now. I created my 4096-bit GPG key (B00B474C) in 2010, but never got around to collecting signatures to it. I’ve seen other people send me their key transition statements, but I have not signed any keys based on them. It just troubles me to endorse a better secured key based on the fact that I once verified a less secure key and I have a key signature chain to it. For this reason, I have not made any transition statements of my own. I’ve been meaning to set up key signing meetings with Debian people in Finland. I never got around to that, either.

That, my friends, was my wakeup call. If I can’t be bothered to do that, what business do I have clinging on to my Debian identity? My conclusion is that there is none.

Therefore, I will be retiring from Debian. This is not a formal notice; I will be doing the formal stuff (including disposing of my packages) separately in the appropriate forums in the near future.

I agree with the sentiment that Joey Hess wrote elsewhere: “It’s become abundantly clear that this is no longer the project I originally joined”. Unlike Joey, I think that is a good thing. Debian has grown, a lot. It’s not perfect, but like my elementary-school teacher once said: “A thing that is perfect was not made by people.” Just remember to continue growing and getting better.

And keep making the Universal Operating System.

Thank you, all.

Licentiate Thesis is now publicly available

My recently accepted Licentiate Thesis, which I posted about a couple of days ago, is now available in JyX.

Here is the abstract again for reference:

Kaijanaho, Antti-Juhani
The extent of empirical evidence that could inform evidence-based design of programming languages. A systematic mapping study.
Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, 2014, 243 p.
(Jyväskylä Licentiate Theses in Computing,
ISSN 1795-9713; 18)
ISBN 978-951-39-5790-2 (nid.)
ISBN 978-951-39-5791-9 (PDF)
Finnish summary

Background: Programming language design is not usually informed by empirical studies. In other fields similar problems have inspired an evidence-based paradigm of practice. Central to it are secondary studies summarizing and consolidating the research literature. Aims: This systematic mapping study looks for empirical research that could inform evidence-based design of programming languages. Method: Manual and keyword-based searches were performed, as was a single round of snowballing. There were 2056 potentially relevant publications, of which 180 were selected for inclusion, because they reported empirical evidence on the efficacy of potential design decisions and were published on or before 2012. A thematic synthesis was created. Results: Included studies span four decades, but activity has been sparse until the last five years or so. The form of conditional statements and loops, as well as the choice between static and dynamic typing have all been studied empirically for efficacy in at least five studies each. Error proneness, programming comprehension, and human effort are the most common forms of efficacy studied. Experimenting with programmer participants is the most popular method. Conclusions: There clearly are language design decisions for which empirical evidence regarding efficacy exists; they may be of some use to language designers, and several of them may be ripe for systematic reviewing. There is concern that the lack of interest generated by studies in this topic area until the recent surge of activity may indicate serious issues in their research approach.

Keywords: programming languages, programming language design, evidence-based paradigm, efficacy, research methods, systematic mapping study, thematic synthesis

A milestone toward a doctorate

Yesterday I received my official diploma for the degree of Licentiate of Philosophy. The degree lies between a Master’s degree and a doctorate, and is not required; it consists of the coursework required for a doctorate, and a Licentiate Thesis, “in which the student demonstrates good conversance with the field of research and the capability of independently and critically applying scientific research methods” (official translation of the Government decree on university degrees 794/2004, Section 23 Paragraph 2).

The title and abstract of my Licentiate Thesis follow:

Kaijanaho, Antti-Juhani
The extent of empirical evidence that could inform evidence-based design of programming languages. A systematic mapping study.
Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, 2014, 243 p.
(Jyväskylä Licentiate Theses in Computing,
ISSN 1795-9713; 18)
ISBN 978-951-39-5790-2 (nid.)
ISBN 978-951-39-5791-9 (PDF)
Finnish summary

Background: Programming language design is not usually informed by empirical studies. In other fields similar problems have inspired an evidence-based paradigm of practice. Central to it are secondary studies summarizing and consolidating the research literature. Aims: This systematic mapping study looks for empirical research that could inform evidence-based design of programming languages. Method: Manual and keyword-based searches were performed, as was a single round of snowballing. There were 2056 potentially relevant publications, of which 180 were selected for inclusion, because they reported empirical evidence on the efficacy of potential design decisions and were published on or before 2012. A thematic synthesis was created. Results: Included studies span four decades, but activity has been sparse until the last five years or so. The form of conditional statements and loops, as well as the choice between static and dynamic typing have all been studied empirically for efficacy in at least five studies each. Error proneness, programming comprehension, and human effort are the most common forms of efficacy studied. Experimenting with programmer participants is the most popular method. Conclusions: There clearly are language design decisions for which empirical evidence regarding efficacy exists; they may be of some use to language designers, and several of them may be ripe for systematic reviewing. There is concern that the lack of interest generated by studies in this topic area until the recent surge of activity may indicate serious issues in their research approach.

Keywords: programming languages, programming language design, evidence-based paradigm, efficacy, research methods, systematic mapping study, thematic synthesis

A Licentiate Thesis is assessed by two examiners, usually drawn from outside of the home university; they write (either jointly or separately) a substantiated statement about the thesis, in which they suggest a grade. The final grade is almost always the one suggested by the examiners. I was very fortunate to have such prominent scientists as Dr. Stefan Hanenberg and Prof. Stein Krogdahl as the examiners of my thesis. They recommended, and I received, the grade “very good” (4 on a scale of 1–5).

The thesis has been accepted for publication published in our faculty’s licentiate thesis series and will in due course appear has appeared in our university’s electronic database (along with a very small number of printed copies). In the mean time, if anyone wants an electronic preprint, send me email at antti-juhani.kaijanaho@jyu.fi.

Figure 1 of the thesis: an overview of the mapping process
Figure 1 of the thesis: an overview of the mapping process

As you can imagine, the last couple of months in the spring were very stressful for me, as I pressed on to submit this thesis. After submission, it took me nearly two months to recover (which certain people who emailed me on Planet Haskell business during that period certainly noticed). It represents the fruit of almost four years of work (way more than normally is taken to complete a Licentiate Thesis, but never mind that), as I designed this study in Fall 2010.

Figure 8 of the thesis: Core studies per publication year
Figure 8 of the thesis: Core studies per publication year

Recently, I have been writing in my blog a series of posts in which I have been trying to clear my head about certain foundational issues that irritated me during the writing of the thesis. The thesis contains some of that, but that part of it is not very strong, as my examiners put it, for various reasons. The posts have been a deliberately non-academic attempt to shape the thoughts into words, to see what they look like fixed into a tangible form. (If you go read them, be warned: many of them are deliberately provocative, and many of them are intended as tentative in fact if not in phrasing; the series also is very incomplete at this time.)

I closed my previous post, the latest post in that series, as follows:

In fact, the whole of 20th Century philosophy of science is a big pile of failed attempts to explain science; not one explanation is fully satisfactory. […] Most scientists enjoy not pondering it, for it’s a bit like being a cartoon character: so long as you don’t look down, you can walk on air.

I wrote my Master’s Thesis (PDF) in 2002. It was about the formal method called “B”; but I took a lot of time and pages to examine the history and content of formal logic. My supervisor was, understandably, exasperated, but I did receive the highest possible grade for it (which I never have fully accepted I deserved). The main reason for that digression: I looked down, and I just had to go poke the bridge I was standing on to make sure I was not, in fact, walking on air. In the many years since, I’ve taken a lot of time to study foundations, first of mathematics, and more recently of science. It is one reason it took me about eight years to come up with a doable doctoral project (and I am still amazed that my department kept employing me; but I suppose they like my teaching, as do I). The other reason was, it took me that long to realize how to study the design of programming languages without going where everyone has gone before.

Debian people, if any are still reading, may find it interesting that I found significant use for the dctrl-tools toolset I have been writing for Debian for about fifteen years: I stored my data collection as a big pile of dctrl-format files. I ended up making some changes to the existing tools (I should upload the new version soon, I suppose), and I wrote another toolset (unfortunately one that is not general purpose, like the dctrl-tools are) in the process.

For the Haskell people, I mainly have an apology for not attending to Planet Haskell duties in the summer; but I am back in business now. I also note, somewhat to my regret, that I found very few studies dealing with Haskell. I just checked; I mention Haskell several times in the background chapter, but it is not mentioned in the results chapter (because there were not studies worthy of special notice).

I am already working on extending this work into a doctoral thesis. I expect, and hope, to complete that one faster.

Philosophy matters

What we now know as physics and mathematics, and as many other disciplines of science, originated in philosophy and eventually split from it when the training of a physicist (or mathematician, or…) became sufficiently different from the training of a philosopher that they became essentially different traditions and skill sets. Thus, it may be said (correctly) that the legitimate domain of philosophy has shrunk considerably from the days of Socrates to the present day. Some people have claimed that it has shrunk so much as to make legitimate philosophy trivial or, at least, irrelevant. That is a gross misjudgment.

Consider science (as I have in my past couple of posts). Science generally delivers sound results, I (and a lot of other people) believe. Why does it? This is a question of philosophy; in fact, it is the central question of the philosophy of science. It is also a question that science itself cannot answer, for that would be impermissible circular reasoning (science works because science works). It is therefore a question of legitimate philosophy. It is not trivial, for once one gets past the knee-jerk reactions, which amount to “science works because it’s science”, there are no easy answers.

In fact, the whole of 20th Century philosophy of science is a big pile of failed attempts to explain science; not one explanation is fully satisfactory. Absent a common convincing philosophical grounding, there is room for the development of competing schools of thought even within a single discipline, and this, in fact, did happen (and still causes strong feelings). Fundamental disagreements about what can be known, what should be known, and how one goes about establishing knowledge are still unresolved.

Most scientists enjoy not pondering it, for it’s a bit like being a cartoon character: so long as you don’t look down, you can walk on air.

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