Hi --

On Thu, 17 Jan 2002, Brian Marick wrote:

> Fish uses this experiment (repeated several times, always with the same
> result) to make a general argument that people convinced of a theory can
> find what that theory predicts in any evidence. (I think he overstates his
> case.)

I once saw -- literally saw -- part of a black-and-white film in color
because I went into the theater thinking that that particular sequence
had been filmed in color.  (It hadn't, but I didn't learn that until
later.)  My life, and my view on the indeterminacy of texts, has never
been the same :-)

> > > Stanley Fish's "affective stylistics" reminds me of Ron's
> > > narrative of reading Smalltalk-style Ruby code. In affective
> > > stylistics, you scan chunks of text and ask "What is the reader
> > > thinking at this point? What questions does she have? What does
> > > she think she knows?" You (if you are Fish) pay special
> > > attention to how the text tricks the reader, keeps her
> > > off-balance, when the overall message of the text is something
> > > like "there is no certainty". (That is, he likes to show how
> > > texts *make* the reader uncertain, not just tell her that she
> > > should be.)
> >
> >All of this, though, takes place *within* an interpretive community.
> >If you ascribe agency to the text (it tricks the reader, makes the
> >reader uncertain, etc.), then we're already inside a community, where
> >it has been agreed, so to speak, that Textual Property X produces
> >Cognitive Effect E (confusion, clarity, etc.).
> >
> >Which then still leaves the question of whether a programming language
> >community is, or can become, an interpretive community in this sense.
>
> I agree with the first paragraph. I don't know about the second. What I've
> read so far on "interpretive communities" and "communities of practice" has
> been vague on the nature of such communities, how you find where the
> (doubtless fuzzy) boundaries lie.

I'm trying to remember exactly what I meant in that second paragraph.
I think I meant that, even within the community, say, of Ruby
'speakers', it is by no means certain that we are all going to agree
on what we think is clear, confusing, etc.  In fact, at times it can
feel like differences of experience of clarity *within* Ruby are as
large as differences of experience as between Ruby and other
languages; Ruby who find other people's Ruby code unclear find it as
unclear as they find, well, code in some other language.  I think.

So on the one hand it's manifestly the case that any group of people
who have in common the ability to derive meaning from:
   ...
   case n
   when /#{@some_iv}/
     class << self; attr_reader :whatever; end; end
   ...

is in some sense an interpretive community.  On the other hand, at
least when it comes to second-order things like clarity, we're often
at cross-purposes.  On the third hand...  I suppose the notion of an
interpretive community doesn't mean people who experience things
exactly the same way.

I also find it fascinating to remember that there's a computer
"reading" and "interpreting" the program text, in addition to the
people.  In fact, even my characterizing clarity as a "second-order
thing" really means second-order in a scheme where the only real
first-order thing is whether the program runs -- i.e., what the
computer makes of it.  And then there's the matter of cross-platform
compatibility and porting....  I guess an interpretive community is,
in a sense, a "platform" on which something either does or does not
compile.  (I'm not big on seeing all of life and cognition as
computer-like, but I rather like that one :-)

> I think understanding that will help us understand why some technical
> innovations (like programming languages) get embraced and become
> perpetuated, while others never achieve traction. I even have some fond
> hopes that understanding that will allow people like us to make Ruby catch
> on better and faster. (As you might guess, I read the Asimov Foundation
> novels at a much too impressionable an age. Psychohistory, here we come...)

I wish I didn't feel convinced that other factors (marketing and hype,
mainly) pretty thoroughly overwhelm whatever potential there may be in
what you're pointing toward.  Then again, I don't know exactly how one
would bring it about anyway.  Still -- I'm intrigued because I think
you're talking not about advertising Ruby's clarity or trying to
convince people of it, but rather about leveraging something that's
going on deeper in the relation between the code and one's thoughts
about it.  And now I'd better shut up, before I get too abstract and
cease even to be part of the interpretive community for my own words
:-)


David

-- 
David Alan Black
home: dblack / candle.superlink.net
work: blackdav / shu.edu
Web:  http://pirate.shu.edu/~blackdav