Keith Douglas' Web Page
|About me||Find out who I am and what I do.|
|My resumé||A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.|
|Reviews, theses, articles, presentations||A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.|
|Current research projects||What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.|
|Interesting people||People professionally "connected" to me in some way.|
|Interesting organizations||Organizations I am "connected" to. (Some rather loosely.)|
|Intellectual/professional influences||Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via amazon.com. I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.|
|Professional resources||Research sources, amazon.com associates programs, etc.|
|What is the philosophy of computing?||A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.|
|My intellectual heroes||A partial list of important people. Limited to the dead.|
|My educational philosophy||As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.|
I have been inspired by many people, living and dead. However, to be diplomatic (or polite!), I have decided to limit the discussion on this page to those who have died. Many of the people who I'd call heroes who are living can be found under the "interesting people" link above.
Because of the widespread misunderstanding of how to take a hero, let me note that:
Heroes are heroes for specific wonders and deeds and accomplishments. One can be a hero in one respect and a zero in others. I do not find it necessary then to adopt Brecht's dictum that it is "unhappy" for a nation (or an individual) to have heroes.
The following list is not in any particular order, though I have tried to make it roughly chronological.
Democritus of Abdera. One of the keenest Presocratic minds, his lasting contributions to the history of thought have been reduced to fragments and testmonials, and of course his influence on other thinkers. Supposedly so antitheietical to Plato for his uncompromisizing materialism and naturalism, we should be proud of such a profound thinker so lost to history. His atomistic insights still reverberate today as the long history of atomism shows.
Socrates of Athens. Socrates wandered around, trying to learn from everyone. I am not quite (in some respects!) as itinerant. But I too try to learn from people, even if it is just to learn that we don't know anything grand. I do hope to escape Socrates' fate, though!
Aristotle of Stagira. The philosopher's philosopher of antiquity, he founded many fields of inquiry and did fundmental research on virtually every area of scholarship. Called "The Philosopher" by some, his legacy lasted for hundreds of years. Today even pieces of his philosophy are still relevant. I for one find his emphasis on system, and his willinginess to try on materialism on for size to be startling for the time and certainly worthy of admiration even today. His attitude of profound scientific investigation (as we would say today) as well as philosophical reflection is worth emulating, even if we have long since discarded his physics and large portions of his biology.
Galileo Galilei. If there is one famous "martyr for science", Galileo is it. Yes, he probably didn't help his case by ticking off the Pope. But does that entail the Church was in the right to threaten him with torture and the rest of that? No. And it is certainly true that the reigning philosophy of science that was official at the time seems backward - both to us, and would have to Aristotle. Scientific realism, for that is in some ways the subject of Galileo's controversy, is still debated today. But Galileo ranks as a hero to me for his willingness to defend it and his demonstration of why it is necessary. He also was one of the first to explicitly use mathematical modelling in factual science. This too ranks him as one of the most profound thinkers ever, and one that rewards careful study, even today. If that weren't enough, he was also an early pioneer of experimentation.
Gottfried Leibniz. If there has been another human to have the breadth of Aristotle's understanding, Leibniz certainly comes close. Unlike Aristotle, who seems to have been only a genius in logic, Leibniz was a mathematician par excellence. We can forgive his curious idealist monadology when we admire his remarkable system, his wonderful book of epistemology and his interesting and still suggestive ideas in logic. Not content to rest with just laurels in mathematics and philosophy, Leibniz also contributed to physics, geology and diplomacy. Even an atheist like me admires his attempt to develop a rational and sensible theology, though I, of course, do not think it succeeds completely.
Isaac Newton. What Galileo started with mathematical modelling was developed in full glory by Newton. His Principia Mathematica Philosophae Naturalis is a monument to him and to the ingenuity of his species. A ripe, arrogant SOB some of the time, Newton's attitude to his colleagues in the Principia is cordial as he builds on their work and in some cases, refutes it out right, as in the case of Descartes remarkable Le Monde. (Which, incidentally, was no mean feat itself: hearing what happened to Galileo, Descartes' remarkable treatise was supressed by him because of its naturalism and materialism.) Despite Newton's own misgivings, he was able to take another step in our development of a naturalistic world view as well. Newton also knew how to ask questions: his Opticks spurred much research. All this and much else is profoundly heroic.
Charles Darwin. Darwin continued Democritus' move of naturalizing the living world. To this day in certain parts of the world he is villified for showing how the living world, with all its complexity and wonders, is a natural and self-sustaining system. Even without the explicit naturalism, Darwin's scientific contributions and courage to share them with the world are nothing short of remarkable. Unlike his colleague Wallace, Darwin was willing to apply his analysis to the development of mental functions, something even the current Pope - no creationist per se - still flinches at.
Albert Einstein. Einstein is known for his theories of relativity which build upon great metaphysical principles developed by Copernicus and Galileo. Of course, physicists don't normally put the idea that fundamental physical laws should be independent of position and other such incidental matters in terms of metaphysics, but that is precisely what it is. And unlike the woolyheaded metaphysics of a Heidegger, a metaphysics consistent with the works of Einstein is a noble task for a philosopher. It isn't surprising then that he is another hero of mine, as his work profoundly affects the philosopher's task to get to the bottoms (and the tops!) of things. Einstein's contributions to other branches of physics (photoelectric effect, brownian motion, even quantum mechanics) would secure his name in the halls of science and thought forever; together with relativity he is truly immortalized in the history of ideas.
Alan Turing. Like Socrates and Galileo, Turing is known as much for his contributions to knowledge as his own personal hardship with the powers that be. Turing is most famous for developing the notion of the Turing machine, a notional device that underlies theoretical computer science to this day.From analysis of the process of computing by people, before there were any machines of the sort that would count as being in this category, Turing was able to solve an interesting logical problem and spurn a scientific and technological revolution. He also wrote interesting work on what became artificial intelligence, on games, and even on aspects of biology and chemistry. Not content to merely think, Turing was also responsible for helping to crack the Enigma code during the second World War and also planned practical computing devices and discussed how they might be used effectively. Finally, he was also a pioneer in leading to the increased acceptance of homosexuality, then illegal in his native England. For this he was (essentially) unfortunately driven to suicide.
Kurt Gödel. Gödel showed us what logic can do - and can't. Paradoxically, both were shown by the same result for which he is most well known - the Incompleteness Theorems. While so doing he also put some of Leibniz' insights to use, thus showing us again that even geniuses need each other.
Gene Roddenberry. I am no longer a Star Trek fan per se, but Star Trek was one of the things which got me started on my journey through life. I do not know how much of what was created was Roddenberry's even while he was alive, nor do I know how much in Yvonne Fern's startling biography is genuine. But I do know that each changed my life considerably, and I still look to them for inspiration, material to work with, or a pleasant time. Roddenberry - or what I take to be Roddenberry - is still my favourite political philosopher, and one of my favourite philosophers of technology.
Carl Sagan. I would be honoured if I could popularize the rationalist and naturalistic world view a tenth as well as Sagan did. Sagan may not be remembered a scientist per se, but he will be remembered by many of us as someone who saw the importance of education. I don't quite share his exuberence about the universe, but I certainly share his desire to understand it and teach about it. And like his astronomer couple (and presumably himself) mentioned in Cosmos, I too love the stars too much to fear the night.
Les Douglas. My paternal grandfather is on this list, for his notes and brief conversations over many years reminded me how important thought is even to an eminently practical person. Grandpa was a stationary steam engineer, and while I knew him, a gardener of some renown. But in the books of his I have inherited, I have some record of the amateur philosopher and worldly thinker he was. Scientific understanding is not just a matter of data - for he was often wrong in that respect - but an attitude, which he did have.