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Power of Academic Secretaries

Daydream: Independence-Day-movie-esque alien spaceships hovering above a city, all is lost as they circle the capital building, buildings melting under laser onslaught. A scientist farmer runs up from the basement and screams in a mad scientist voice, "The secret weapon! It is ready!", and pulls a lidded serving tray from behind his back. The gathered politicians look puzzled. He lifts the lid, the ships shudder, and begin to burn as they fall to the ground, and the camera pulls back to a wedge of cheese on the tray. "Behold! The power of cheese!"

On the topic of cheese, I had some of the nastiest cheese I've ever had this morning. Occasional adventures in food have their pitfalls.

Academic secretaries are often amazing. The CS department's main office's secretary (who has a name, but I don't particularly want google to glue this entry to her) knows my name, the department I came from, when I have mail (offhand), and plenty of other details about me (and presumably everyone else in the department - I doubt I'm special). If I had that job, I'm sure people would get kind of tired of "who are you again?" the first 30 times they saw me. I suppose I can understand it by way of analogy of people not understanding how geeks can cuddle up in bed with ORA's Sendmail book or political philosophy geeks with Rawls' Theory of Justice, but it's still amazing. Tangent:

Computer Science has, more or less, a canon of classic works that people should theoretically know and have read to be well-versed in the field. Donald Knuth of Stanford has the distinction of having written what is probably the most-accepted part of that canon.

My primary education, despite numerous other interests and fields I've picked up parts of, was in Computer Science - I'm wondering what the canon-cloud is for other fields - for Maths, would Principia Mathematica (Bertrand Russel's) still be part of it or would the work on rebasing maths on new foundations have "obsoleted" it? Similarly, is the actual Principia Mathematica (Newton's) still canon for classic physics? It might be that we no longer need a canon for some fields, or perhaps we're between canons and new ones will emerge out of the growing embrace of managed-wikis by the educational sector. How much are canons about emotional security/tradition?

"Secant and you shall receive" would make a nice T-shirt.


Nobody, except perhaps for philosophical logicians or those who study the history of ideas, should feel compelled to read Russell & Whitehead's "Principia Mathematica".

Mathematicians don't have a canon.
tut tut... If you don't familiarise yourself with the philosophy of something, you don't really know what you're doing[1][2] :)

[1] To actually state this well would require a lot of qualifiers and nuances
[2] Even though good work can result from people who don't understand the big picture, e.g. scientists who never study the classic positions/debates in philosophy of science. They're still ignorant of something they should know though.
you seem to be equating "philosophy of X" with "the big picture of X". But in many cases (and this is one) philosophy of math is about the small picture.

I'm about as formalistic as they come (although I'm not really a mathematician), and yet I'm perfectly ok with mathematicians who are completely ignorant of foundations.
I'm not talking about formalism - while formalism has some value, it's not always good and I think a premature focus on it can hamper deep understanding (especially in the sciences). Constraining one's notion of science too tightly to easily formalised, clean models is a great intellectual sin - it's coming to the universe with sketches on how it should be and asking it to complete the story - that's not good science. Being able to situate what one thinks one knows into the broader scheme of things, and understand its roots and where people disagree about those types of roots is the point, not pretending that some line of arguments is blessed because it follows certain aesthetic/functional constraints. One doesn't need necessarily to constantly follow the philosophy under any science or math, or even take a great interest in it, but being ignorant of it (or worse, to pretend its issues of contention don't exist/are meaningless and everything is simple, clean, and universally agreed upon beneath) is laughable for anyone who would call themself knowledgable in a field.
<< but being ignorant of it is laughable for anyone who would call themself knowledgable in a field. >>

I'd certainly find such a person boring and almost certainly intellectually sterile.
But they would be perfectly capable of producing good math, and possibly good at teaching it too.
Concur. I would not consider them to have a through understanding though.