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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Quote of the Day

Generality is, indeed, an indispensable ingredient of reality; for mere individual existence or actuality without any regularity whatever is a nullity. Chaos is pure nothing. - Charles Sanders Peirce
I am not particularly keen on this quote: at first reading it doesn't appear to make much sense, but if you allow for some freedom of expression (this quote is at least a hundred years old), then maybe it is okay.

For instance, much of our expectations for our day-to-day lives depend on practical generalisations: we expect most people to behave in expected ways most of the time. If we had no rules to explain to ourselves how things work, our world would appear chaotic, you could make no useful predictions, and there is no telling what would happen. I think that's what he's saying.

However, the person being quoted, Charles Sanders Peirce, is kind of interesting. First off is the spelling of his name. I am a pretty good speller, not great, I still screw up any number of largish words, but PEIRCE hit me as all wrong. At first I thought my correspondent had screwed it up, but no, Wikipedia confirms the spelling. Just for grins I ran searches for both spellings. Google reported 2 million hits for PEIRCE, 34 million for PIERCE, which explains why I thought PEIRCE was wrong.

This Charles Sanders Peirce guy was something of a smarty pants: he figured out some of the underpinnings of digital computers a long time before anyone else did:
In 1886 he saw that Boolean calculations could be carried out via electrical switches,[8] anticipating Claude Shannon by more than 50 years.
Via Ned.

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