After blogging on quirky software pioneer Richard Stallman, I thought it appropriate to write something about recently deceased quirky software pioneer John McCarthy, who, with the exception of being bearded, seems like he was the personal and political opposite of Stallman.
Here’s a page I found of
Stallman McCarthy quotes (compiled by Neil Craig). It’s a mixture of the reasonable and the unreasonable (ok, I suppose the same could be said of this blog!).
I wonder if he and Stallman ever met and, if so, whether they had an extended conversation. It would be like matter and anti-matter!
P.S. I flipped through McCarthy’s pages and found one of my pet peeves. See item 3 here, which sounds so plausible but is in fact not true (at least, not according to the National Election Study). As McCarthy’s Stanford colleague Mo Fiorina can tell you, otherwise well-informed people believe all sorts of things about polarization that aren’t so. Labeling groups of Americans as “tribes” is amusing but shouldn’t really give you license to make stuff up. On the other hand, social science research is hard. Delia and I only published our paper on constraints in issue attitudes in 2008, many years after McCarthy wrote this document. I would not expect him to have gotten this right, but I think it was a mistake for him to make a claim about “strongly correlated” without even looking at the data.
This is all irrelevant to McCarthy’s work on Lisp; still, I find it interesting, partly because of the retro nature of his 1960s style of pro-rationality, pro-science politically conservative techno-optimism. It’s like a trip back in time to Tomorrowland.