tom thinks

Tonight the dead walk
In laughing children's guise
Turning fearful darkness
Into giggles of delight
date 2000-10-31:14:53
Humans The enduring appeal of aliens in fiction is due to the feeling we all have from time to time that we are not human. We're waiting for a beacon from the alien mothership to call us home, to take us away from this world of creatures who don't make any sense. And sometimes the call comes: we meet someone who makes us feel less alone, more understood, less weird than we used to.

I'm assuming that we all feel this way, because despite being continually bemused by how weird people are, I do believe in the Law of Common Humanity: We are just like Them.

I formulated this law in response to the pervasive belief amongst software developers that while process, coding standards and other good practices were necessary for other developers, every individual seemed to believe that it was only other developers who needed them. "We" don't need things like that, I was told -- we're smarter, faster, better.

Here's news: we aren't.

This is not to say that we're as dumb as they are. I think that mostly they are -- at least potentially -- as smart as we are.

But the difference between smart and dumb is not so simple. In particular, it's much more a matter of skill and policy than talent.

For instance, I don't have a great deal of talent as a software developer. It took me a long time to learn how to code, and I did it very badly for many, many years. But I finally learned to adopt all the good practices I could get my hands on, fortunately found myself in an environment where code quality and good practices were taken seriously and learned from my co-workers, and read and learned from books like Rapid Development and implemented their recommendations where-ever practical. Doing so made me a much better developer than average, despite my lack of talent.

I've been learning a great deal about method in philosophy in the past year from Carolyn, and it reinforces these beliefs. The thing that distinguishes her work is her method, and her method is learnable. The thing that prevents people from learning methods is that good methods produce conclusions that are likely to be true, rather than conclusions people are comfortable with.

Intelligence -- native ability, a high IQ, however you want to characterize it -- is still valuable. Being able to learn new techniques quickly and remember facts easily are things that some people are better at than others. But I don't believe variations in those things account for most of the variation we see in how effective people are at thinking about and dealing with the world, any more than genetic variations in athletic potential account for most of the variation we see between athletes and couch potatoes. Training -- practice, method -- is by far the most important factor.

So long as we look at smart and dumb as primarily a matter of talent (or genetics) we'll fail to see opportunities for improvement, for growth, for change, and that is really dumb.
Creatures The deer come out of the woods around this time of year. Their summer range is further north, away from the river, but in the spring and fall they haunt the fields around the house, cropping the last leaves from withered gardens.

I haven't seen the lame one this year -- an older doe with a broken leg who doesn't seem much discommoded by it. Last year she had twins, and when we first saw her Jan called the animal control people, thinking she had been hit by a car, and they said, O yes, that one's been around for years.

When you live close to wild animals they become individuals to you -- this year we've seen a lot of a big doe with a single fawn, and a young, two-point buck with asymmetric antlers. His left antler is about half the size of the right, although perhaps it'll catch up as they grow.

Last night, driving home in the early dark of standard time, the doe and fawn were standing in the ditch at the side of the road. My headlights caught their eyes from far off, but in the distance I couldn't tell if they were deer standing in the ditch, or foxes on the edge of the road. Foxes have been scarce this year, which is weird because bunnies have been prolific. In any case, it wasn't foxes, but two deer, unsure if they would be safer keeping low in the ditch or running for it. Running would be tricky because there's a high wooden fence between the ditch and the bush there, and they'd have to jump it, so they opted to stay put, eyeing the car with that high-strung nervousness herbivors whose only defense is flight get when a potential predator is nearby.
Poem Christianity has created a horror of the dead -- presumably because most of the dead are languishing in hell, so if they appear to us they're likely to be bringing pretty unhappy tidings. This horror isn't shared by all other cultures. The modern trend in Halloween is toward a healthier view of life and death. The dead still walk -- at least in our minds -- but we needn't fear them any more.

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