Despite moments of personal distaste, Sorin’s concise arguments stand as a model of reason.

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Software and Mind

THE MECHANISTIC MYTH AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

In this massive philosophical treatise that crosses disciplines with verve and meticulous logic, politics, cognitive science, software engineering and more become threads in a complex examination of mental modeling.

Sorin argues against what he labels the “mechanistic myth”: the belief that virtually all fields, from psychology to biology, can be addressed by pursuing methodologies and theorizing based on hierarchical modeling—a method of breaking down processes and concepts from high-level ideas into simple, indivisible base units or concepts. Although Sorin’s primary expertise and focus for the book is in programming and computer science, he convincingly argues that the success of hierarchical structures has spread from the hard sciences of physics and engineering—where, in Sorin’s estimation, these models work and should be utilized—to virtually all fields of study, including sociology and psychology, in which the processes and concepts involved appear to be too complex for the relative simplicity of hierarchical modeling. Since these fields study human interactions, which function on multiple levels and can vary depending on numerous factors, Sorin argues that the important concepts and theories in these so-called “soft” sciences cannot be adequately modeled or understood using hierarchical thinking. From this basic concept, Sorin broadly examines what he sees as troubling trends in academia, software development, government and many other endeavors. Early on, Sorin betrays the color of his conclusions through frequent use of emotionally charged words (e.g., absurd, charlatans, totalitarianism) and disdain for the majority of those working in the mechanistic mode, focusing especially on academic bureaucrats and those who, in Sorin’s opinion, work with pseudoscientific theories, such as linguist Noam Chomsky’s theories regarding universal grammar. To be fair, Sorin offers a disclaimer in his critique of the “mechanical myth”: “Myths,” he says, “manifest themselves through the acts of persons, so it is impossible to discuss the mechanistic myth without also referring to the persons affected by it.” His clear disapproval of these groups and theories doesn’t detract from the thorough explanations, well-reasoned arguments and crystalline logic he employs at every step. His explanations of mechanistic vs. nonmechanistic models and of the importance of tacit knowledge (meaning knowledge that is gained by experience, which isn’t always expressible in simple ways) are particularly cogent, and his textbook-length elucidations will enrich understanding for university-level students in various fields of study.

Despite moments of personal distaste, Sorin’s concise arguments stand as a model of reason.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-0986938900

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Andsor Books

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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