Fwd: Foundations and Foundationalism

dennis.hamilton at acm.org dennis.hamilton at acm.org
Wed Jul 6 19:30:47 EDT 2022

> From: FOM <fom-bounces at cs.nyu.edu> On Behalf Of Harvey Friedman
> Sent: Saturday, June 25, 2022 19:34
> Subject: Re: Fwd: Foundations and Foundationalism

[orcmid] [ . ]

> I do not believe in foundational advances by committee. E.g., this was tried 
> with Algol. What happened to Algol?

[ . ]

I am puzzled how choice of process is material in consideration of Foundations 
an Foundationalism.

I don't doubt the belief.  I do challenge the choice of an example and somehow 
dispensing with collaborative efforts, whether by committee or other 
structure.  Why not ask what happened with any of ASCII, Unicode, FORTRAN, 
COBOL, Common LISP, the Internet as we know it, including TCP/IP (and a 
mountain of other IETF Committee-developed protocols)?  Or a number of 
advances attributed mainly to individuals, such as APL (from Kenneth Iverson) 
and Pascal (one of a few from Niklaus Wirth).  I daresay none of those were 
developed in a vacuum.  Then there's the keyboard layout and availability of 
special keys that we all likely share, along with astonishingly-similar 
international variations.  The rise and fall of these things does not 
generally have much to do with there being committees that had their hands on 
them.  Many of them would not have been established but for committee 

To answer the rhetorical question, ALGOL 58 and especially ALGOL 60 promoted 
an explosion of interest in formalized definition and processing of 
programming languages.  ALGOL 60 was revolutionary in that respect and its 
influence in the establishment of Computer Science is still felt although the 
form of prevalent programming languages has changed.  What killed the 
continuation from ALGOL 60 was a breaking-changes successor, ALGOL 68, which 
was more research project than an investment in programming-language progress 
for practitioners.  ALGOL W (at Stanford and known to Vaughan Pratt I expect) 
would have been far more appropriate as an improvement.  The innovative 
elements of ALGOL 60 endure in modern forms.

I am not certain what of these qualify as foundational advances, but ALGOL is 
not alone with respect to Computer Science.

All of these observations of mine are from direct personal experience.   All 
of us operate on the shoulders of giants.  It is not inevitable or even 
commonplace that committees uniquely consist of people standing on each 
other's feet.


 - Dennis

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