FOM: the problem of frivolous postings

Vaughan Pratt pratt at cs.Stanford.EDU
Mon Mar 16 18:36:30 EST 1998

>As FOM moderator, I have the ability to censor inappropriate postings
>by refusing to forward them to the FOM list.
>I'm referring to postings that have no f.o.m. content
>whatsoever, such as Vaughan Pratt's postings of 15 Mar 1998 11:44:03
>(replying to Julio Gonzalez Cabillon), 15 Mar 1998 09:40:15 and 14 Mar
998 17:32:01.

I feel I should defend myself here to the FOM list.

Cabillon asked questions so hard I could not help but laugh at them when I
read them, and felt it was appropriate to answer them in a light-hearted
way while doing my best with them.  As it turned out I was able to
answer only his questions 2, 3, and 4.  Under the rules Steve proposes,
he would be justified in censoring my answers to questions 1, 5 and 6.

My second answer was an admittedly oblique reference to the nonlocality of
ideas, as I clarified in detail in private email to Cabillon (available
on request).  My third answer was that the nature of mathematics is too
undetermined to support a fixed choice (as to whether quaternions were
discovered, invented, constructed, found, conceived, ...).  My fourth
answer was that the difficult notions of probability of mathematical
truth were definable provided people could agree on the appropriate sample
space, or distribution if you prefer (I could have gone into considerably
more detail here as I've thought a lot about it, ever since I worked
with Michael Rabin in the late 1970's on probabilistic primality testing).

I can see people arguing that nonlocality of ideas is a bad idea (I
formed the impression it may be controversial for many on the list).
I do think however that my answers to 3 and 4 are very good answers.

In light of this, the claim that my answers have no f.o.m. content
whatsoever can only be understood as yet another in a long series of such
claims by the moderator that there is only one true notion of foundations,
and that what others of us claim to be foundations is something other
than foundations.  I find this an extraordinarily narrowminded viewpoint
and entirely counter to the spirit of free inquiry into the nature and
foundations of mathematics, a subject presumably near and dear to the
hearts of most subscribers to this list.

Now I freely grant that my posting as a whole was phrased in a playful
way, which I understand is not to the moderator's taste.  But if the
occasional posting cannot be leavened with levity, FOM will end up being
led by the leaden.

Vaughan Pratt

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