Quora answer: What is the single most influential book every programmer should read?

Feb 18 2014

Writing and Difference by Derrida along with Speech and Phenomena. Those are of course extensions of Being and Time by Heidegger. After studying philosophy in England I returned to the US to become a Software Engineer. It took me several years before I realized how Continental Philosophy related to Software Engineering part of which is computer programming which is just a euphemism for hacking. I wrote down my discovery in Wild Software Meta-systems. See http://works.bepress.com/kent_palmer/1/ The upshot of this is that what Heidegger talks about as present-at-hand and ready-to-hand modalities of Being in Being and Time are the pointers and accumulators in the hardware of the Von Neumann machines on which we program. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Von_Neumann_machine But Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty separately discovered a third kind of Being which is called Hyper Being by MP, Differance by Derrida and Being crossed out by Heidegger. Programming Code is the only artifact in our culture that embodies Hyper Being. So basically no one understands the nature of the Code we write, and that it is actually a manifestation within a cultural artifact of this higher and very strange meta-level of Being that is always as Paul Simon says slip sliding away from us and from itself. If you do not understand the nature of programming code that you write and how it transforms the world, then ultimately you will never really know what you are doing. And these programming books mentioned do not tell you that because ultimately they are concerned with how to do it, and not what it actually is in its essence. But what is most interesting is that there are two other deeper kinds of Being called Wild Being and Ultra Being. Wild Being is the dual of Hyper Being, and where code that is the object of Software Engineering has the nature of Hyper Being the code that is object of Artificial Intelligence, Artificial Life, and Artificial Societies has this deeper nature of Wild Being. There is the idea that the singularity is going to occur sold as snake oil by Ray Kurzweil http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity. The truth that underlies that which is not known is that there is a kind of Being called Ultra Being that is at the core of software that is a singularity. Software is Hyper Being as automated writing. When it refers to itself it opens up Wild Being and when it points beyond itself it indicates Ultra Being. Programming is playing on the edge of this ocean which is the transformation of Being in our culture opening up these deeper levels and embodying them. In Continental Philosophy Deleuze opens up our understanding of Hyper Being. Delluze goes beyond this into Wild Being. And now Zizek and Badiou are wrestling with Ultra Being. All the while the Continental Philosophers are exploring these depths opened up by Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, the Analytic philosophers are playing Legos in the corner by themselves not knowing what is really going on as the culture transforms itself globally by entering the age of software. The key point is that the singularity has already occurred. Giving an apocalyptic vision of it is just silly. It is not that computers are going to become smarter than us and take over the world as in old Science fiction movies. Rather the kinds of Being that have always been there latent in the culture are being realized in cultural artifacts in the technological age in which we live. Software is merely code that we think we can control. But Hackers and AI researchers know that code can take on a life of its own that we cannot control and then we see how Hyper Being transforms quickly into Wild Being. AI techniques are all obscure, we do not understand them and how they work. When we understand them then they just become other Software Engineering techniques. As long as we don’t understand them and the give unexpected results then they are AI techniques and what they do expresses Wild Being. But occasionally we get a glimpse of conceptual and cognitive singularities indicated by AI systems which are not just obscure but impossible to understand, and those are the advent of what Badiou calls the Ultra One in which the Multiple appears as an Event. Those singularities that Cantor was the first to encounter in a precise way and which we blithely use in our calculations as transcendental numbers that are meaningful such as PI, have always been there and are the representations of the Multiple, i.e. true heterogeneity. We now know that there are more transcendental numbers than any other kind. But we only know the meaning of a few of them. It is uncovering the meaning of these limits that are indicated by our computations that is the next step in the evolution of our understanding of Code and its impact on our world as it becomes ubiquitous. The Multiple which is the source of all the singularities are just now starting to dawn on us, and are just now starting to have an impact as we create global systems of hardware/software networks and enter a virtual world, or a mirror world as Gelertner was the first to understand. One way into this understanding of things is via De Landa’s interpretations of Deleuze.

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