Paul graham essay philosophy

It is not the most powerful language, but it is more powerful than Cobol or machine language.

A Conversation with Paul Graham - Moderated by Geoff Ralston

Graham considers a hypothetical Blub programmer. When the programmer looks down the "power continuum", he considers the lower languages to be less powerful because they miss some feature that a Blub programmer is used to. But when he looks up, he fails to realise that he is looking up: he merely sees "weird languages" with unnecessary features and assumes they are equivalent in power, but with "other hairy stuff thrown in as well". When Graham considers the point of view of a programmer using a language higher than Blub, he describes that programmer as looking down on Blub and noting its "missing" features from the point of view of the higher language.

Graham describes this as the "Blub paradox" and concludes that "By induction, the only programmers in a position to see all the differences in power between the various languages are those who understand the most powerful one. The concept has been cited by programmers such as Joel Spolsky. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. English programmer, venture capitalist, and essayist. Weymouth, Dorset , England, United Kingdom [2]. Library of Congress.

Retrieved 12 March Paul Graham, b. My father's Welsh though. Hacker News".

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Retrieved 23 January On Lisp: advanced techniques for Common Lisp. Englewood Cliffs, N.

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J: Prentice Hall. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. Retrieved 22 July He writes:. People think that what a business does is make money.

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  8. But money is just the intermediate stage — just a shorthand — for whatever people want. What most businesses really do is make wealth. They do something people want. From this, in turn, stems one of the most toxic fallacies we subscribe to — something legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser so eloquently debunked in considering the manifestable kindness of the universe. A surprising number of people retain from childhood the idea that there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world.

    There is, in any normal family, a fixed amount of money at any moment. When wealth is talked about in this context, it is often described as a pie. What leads people astray here is the abstraction of money. Money is not wealth. So although there may be, in certain specific moments like your family, this month a fixed amount of money available to trade with other people for things you want, there is not a fixed amount of wealth in the world.

    You can make more wealth. Wealth has been getting created and destroyed but on balance, created for all of human history. Wealth can be created without being sold. Scientists, till recently at least, effectively donated the wealth they created. Wealth is whatever people want, and not dying is certainly something we want.

    Dr Paul Graham

    Buzzfeed gives people what they want — most frequently, what their lowest selves want. Buzzfeed is making money. But is Buzzfeed creating cultural wealth? After seven years of Brain Pickings , I side even more wholeheartedly with E. To create wealth is not to give people what they want, but to help them figure out what to want by making sense of what is worth having.

    There is a moral element to the marketable deliverable.

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    This is an interesting sort of wealth to study, because it is the kind that prevents you from starving. And what people will give you money for depends on them, not you. One to recover data from crashed hard disks. But this is not enough.

    A hacker must also have developed advanced visualization tools to navigate within the logic factory at incredible speeds. One must be able to zoom in to an infinitesimal point, understand its purpose, then quickly zoom out to galactic scale and know how each part in the factory contributes, leviathan-like, to the grand design. This requires the mind to be fluid, aware of multiple simultaneous perspectives and dimensions, to constantly challenge the impetus for order and explore the unseen paths that only a revolutionary will find.

    This world that the hacker inhabits, while a rich source of internal delight and personal inspiration, is generally a piss poor model from which to form opinions of the outside world. Nature is not deterministic, people do not behave like cellular automata, and economic systems do not spring forth from algorithms found in textbooks by Don Knuth.

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    Thus, there is a certain morbid fascination involved in watching a hacker talk politics because many of them have developed utterly ridiculous ideas that do not seem worthy of their otherwise keen logical intellect. Here we find that someone with an obviously intricate and brilliant mind, capable of amazing feats of artistry and ingenuity with a computer, can simultaneously hold the most idiotic and brain-dead assumptions about society, economics, and politics.

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    Hackers are particularly susceptible to the fallacy that because they are brilliant software developers, their views on everything else must also be equally brilliant. Although this is sometimes true, in the vast majority of cases, hackers appear positively child-like when it comes to non-silicon matters. It is with this lens that we may begin to see how Graham has come to some of the more fanciful conclusions in his essay. Money is a finite medium of exchange used to move wealth around, but wealth, the object of human desire, can be generated by applying labor and talent to some raw materials.

    Sadly, this yields an agonizingly myopic view of social structure that neglects any treatment of the role of power, particularly how manipulation of economic need can distort market forces. As creators, they also directly observe the vast differences in productivity that separate the best programmers from the merely mediocre. It is amazing how many otherwise intelligent people have been seduced by this remarkably simplistic line of thought. The first is the idea that measurement of things like quality and success can be objective, perfect and fair.

    These are not objective facts, they are highly contextual and can be manipulated by power struggles, charisma, clever marketing, or outright fraud. Value is a social construct, and the measurement of the quality of software code is as much a consequence of marketing and sales efforts as anything that is emitted on the command line.

    Due to these contingencies, while it is certainly true that wealth is being created in there somewhere, it is simply not possible to attach a direct quantitative relation between the work a programmer is doing and the exact amount of wealth that results from it. Without the human resources team to coordinate their medical benefits, would the programmers be as productive?

    Paul Graham (programmer)

    Without the legal team to fend off frivolous lawsuits brought by patent trolls, would the programmers still have enough time to create their wealth after first reviewing the IP implications of every line of code they write? What about the operations departments who keep the power flowing, the networks running, the servers humming, what fraction of programmer productivity is the result of their hard work? Graham implies that once the programmer geniuses are done with their work, they can sit back, fold their arms, and watch as their creation magically spreads throughout the land while dump trucks full of cash line up outside the door.

    Back to reality, thinking of all the factors that are involved in the success of a product; the work of the programmer—the creation of the actual product itself—may very well be the most insignificant part of the entire process. Any Python programmer should be able to grasp the distinction I am trying to make with this claim.

    What Graham and others who follow his logic want to believe is that value is a known objective quantity that is attached to an object. In reality, it is a function that involves many factors only one of which is the labor that is used as an input. Since value is a social construct, it is exceedingly dangerous to allow ourselves to be governed by the fiction that value exists independent of competing forces and the machinations of power.

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    Unfortunately, Graham makes this mistake throughout his essay and it severely undermines the legitimacy of his claims. Graham spends a great deal of time quantifying exactly how much more productive you could be as a superior programmer compared to the average employee, when these metrics involve fundamentally unquantifiable units. He ignores the fact there are so many mitigating and mediating factors between the work and its value, and instead blindly assumes that his calculations of productivity will translate into a greater payout for the smart hacker.

    Unfortunately, he has devised a model that poorly fits the data, since there is far more unexplained variance in the equation that he totally ignores. The mistaken idea that value can be objectively quantified goes hand in hand with another critical error that Graham assumes to be true: that it is not only possible but easy to disentangle the value contribution of one person from another.

    Many employees would work harder if they could get paid for it.