Programming and Discernment


Recently I wrote a blog post about how programming allowed me to outsource parts of myself – maybe my integrity.

I told this to a friend who said, what do you mean by integrity? Hmm – I said. It is being undivided.

What does undivided actually mean? For me it means acting in alignment with your core. Again this is really unspecific. We can say integrity is keeping your word. We can say it is an ethical quality, someone who is ethical, someone who is truthful. My friend and a more specific definition.

What writing software did was allowed me to oursource my judgement. I did not have to worry about whether or not I was doing a good job, or any number of other qualities, everything became reduced to did the program work or not – and this was outsourced to a compiler.

I felt this as a lack of integrity since I had fractured myself, I had separated my self from my mode of judgment. But as my friend pointed out this is more about discernment. I outsourced my discernment, and thus have an undeveloped form of discernment. Again I am not sure whether or not this is true, or just a narrative I have constructed but I find it interesting. I also find the story reflects a lot of what is going on in silicon valley.

The ethical issues that have emerged, and the internal biases, the trend towards libertarianism, and so forth. All of these show two things, a reduction of the space of complexity and nuance and a lack of discernment. Algorithms and computation do not naturally create a reduction of complexity, a reduction of all problems to problems of computation is not necessarily a reduction but a transduction.

The space of computation is vast! Computation is manipulating symbols (input) according to a set of rules. Computation is an area where we can talk about correctness. Since for certain rules or problems we can expect an output based on an input. For other areas of investigation correctness perhaps does not even exist. Correctness is one aspect of computation it is not computation.

How does it feel to outsource your discernment to a computer. It feels liberating at first. There is a lot less to think about. But then you think about other things, things that are perhaps less important, and then you lack the capability to make decisions about those other things. There is an addictive feeling, to get that rush of external judgement, it does feel like a short cut – like a life hack. Who would not want that?

But we have to think about something, we have to engage with things, if we are not focused on our discernment what else are we focused on and is it as important as our discernment.

Someone from one of my groups -I am a group slut posted a link to this article about post-truth and the lack of new innovations and scientific breakthroughs. I don’t know if this is true, but it feels like it. – and I believe it is linked to this lack of discernment that happens when you start writing code. It does not have to happen, but it feels like a solve at first.

This is a spectrum of ways of judging. Philosophers have always tried to come up with an algorithm for judgement – but judgement is embodied, it is particular and it is subjective. Perhaps we can come up with a metaframework for judgment but algorithms for judgement are just reductive.

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