Douwe Osinga's Blog: Philosophy Hacks

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

Philosophy Hacks

I recently received a message from O'Reilly that they are indeed going to use one my hacks in their upcoming book 'Mapping Hacks.' Great, of course. It was a neat piece of Python code and even though 75 dollars is not something you can live on a writer, it also brings fame and is something I can blog about. Consider the last thing done.

But it got me thinking about writing in general. Where do I want to go with this site, with my daily musings that more and more seemed to be bi-weekly musings? The hacks and projects page used to be a great outlet for hacker-creativity and back when I worked 4 days a week and used one to do all kinds of fun things, my site was mostly about new hacks that I created with the odd cute observation thrown in to make it look like a blog.

Now that I work for Google, I work my 5 days a week again and still do loads of hacker-creative stuff, but it stays within the company. I've always wanted do to something with Philosophy and the web (I studied Philosophy in Amsterdam). I had some more or less (more less than more) successful experiments in this realm, but nothing that really stuck. O'Reilly's titles got me thinking. Philosophy Hacks, that would be something cool I should work on.

Ah, but what is it? I'm not quite sure, really, but there is something there. I think the Philosophers of our age are hackers, whether they know it or now.

Over time, Philosophers have not been one class. The earliest philosophers were thinkers concerned with how to run (city) states. Nowadays we would say they were politicians or lawyers. Later philosophers were more concerned with how nature worked, early scientists, we'd say. For every period in time, there was a group of thinkers working on the most important ideas of their time, the ideas that were shaping the future of society. Sometimes these thinkers were called philosophers at the time, sometimes only later.

The economists of the last 70 years or so, have been the most recent wave. Mostly unconcerned by what Kant or Plato has written, they studied how wealth is produced and tried to come with new theories how that could be done better or even more just. Marx might be recognized as a philosopher, but most other economists are not. Still, I would argue that the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century is Milton Friedman, or may be Keynes.

If the economists were the leading thinkers of the twentieth century, than surely the twenty first century thinkers will be the geeks. They are currently the guys questioning the fundamental assumptions on how the world works and how the world should work. If you look at how the things run by geeks do, it seems you could do worse. I'd say taking the geek value system as a basis for a general philosophy wouldn't be a bad idea.

So, I'm thinking of working this out into a system.