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Re (tilly) 2: The first cargo cults

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Jan 13, 2002 at 00:54 UTC ( #138326=note: print w/ replies, xml ) Need Help??


in reply to Re: The first cargo cults
in thread The first cargo cults

Excellent post. Just a couple of points.

First of all for a longer discussion of the (de)merits of the ref($proto)||$proto construct, I would point to Re (tilly) 2: Paradigm Shift - Dual Use Constructors. (I particularly like chip's comments about cargo culting being appropriate at a larval stage of development.)

Secondly I think the fact that the phrase fails to capture either the original usage or the historical situation it came out of is a natural part of how language evolves. Phrases come into use, and seldom do people remember the original circumstances, and seldom does a widely used phrase remain static in meaning. Indeed after time its original meaning becomes far less relevant than the agreed upon, shared meaning.

For a random instance, we all know what it means to welsh on a bet. I have seen the phrase used, you will find it in the dictionary, etc. And almost never is it used with the intention of furthering a racial stereotype...because that isn't the meaning we continue to share.


Comment on Re (tilly) 2: The first cargo cults
Re: Re (tilly) 2: The first cargo cults
by danger (Priest) on Jan 13, 2002 at 10:45 UTC
    First off, good link to further discussion about the particular example I brought up.

    With regards to languages changing: Oh indeed, languages evolve and the meanings of phrases and terms change over time, often losing their connection to original meaning in the process. "Cargo cult" seems slightly different (perhaps only because it is so recent a term) in that it is expressly still used with direct reference to its origins (ie, when people ask what you mean by that term) --- its just that the meaning has been slightly skewed right from the get go.

    I don't really have a problem with the meaning we programmers give it (and that Feynman gives it), I understand what is trying to be said --- but I do think the slight skew does bring to light something interesting. For example, if I copy some poor form-processing code X, I have a "real" copy that works (or doesn't) exactly like the original. I am not missing some fundamental property of X that prevents my copy from working as the original. I may, most certainly, be lacking a full understanding of X and therefore not know why X is not a good way to do it or why it fails in some situations, but unlike the 'cargo cult', I have a working airstrip and the planes are landing (even if some mysteriously crash). Thus, I don't think we have a 'cargo cult' problem.

    The better model of the problem seems to me to be an evolutionary* one: X is a 'meme' that confers (some modicum of) success** on those that possess it. It is more like a local optima in the fitness landscape of 'things that do X', and thus it propogates. Unfortunately, it seems that many who arrive on the scene of this particular fitness landscape (forms processing in the present example) find this local optima before discovering better memes (XX for example), and this very fact helps to broaden this optima into an ever larger plateau (making it even more likely to be encountered first).

    Hopefully, things such as davorg's NMS archive will begin to erode early paths that lead to X with paths leading to XX --- that won't happen by virtue of XX being a better optima, it needs also to create paths that get positioned where intitial explorers of the landscape are likely to find them first (it can't simply be a bridge from X to XX because that won't stop the propogation of X), and those paths can't be too steep lest the explorers turn to easier pathways (we can't cop out and say that those who take the low road get what they deserve, because that only helps propogate the low road). On the other hand, I simply don't have a map of what the landscape looks like for many who just jump right in today. If I didn't know how to swim, I'd be looking for swimming lessons before venturing into the deep end ... but many today jump in first and then start looking for floatation devices. I admit, I don't understand that particular mindset, nor do I have a solution.

    * there isn't any "real" current scientific theory of 'memetic' evolution --- I am merely appealing to an intuitive sense of what such a theory might be like.

    ** ie: using Matt's FormMail Script numerous times just fine...

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