Friday, March 30, 2007

Thinking about things

At the age of 18, when I met up with the IBM company in Sydney and started to learn how to be a computer programmer, I was amused and intrigued by their famous motto: THINK.

In fact, it's an ambiguous imperative. On the one hand, thinking is a profound and mysterious human activity. So, the IBM verb sounded in my imagination like the Socratic imperative: Know yourself! [When I encountered IBM, I had just completed a year of Greek philosophy at Sydney University, and I was totally under the charm of the great Socratic adage: The unexamined life is not worth living.] On the other hand, IBM's founder Thomas J Watson no doubt introduced his THINK slogan with more down-to-earth considerations in mind: Think twice before making a business decision. Reflect at length about all the options that are available to you. Master the situation with which you are dealing. Try to be smarter than your business opponents. Etc.

In any case, I preferred the more lofty notion of thinking. Besides, just one step away from IBM's electronic brains, there was talk about a new science named cybernetics invented by Norbert Wiener [1894-1964] and the exciting challenges of a strange discipline known as artificial intelligence. As the great Alan Turing [1912-1954] asked, somewhat rhetorically: Can machines think?

I've started to write an autobiographical account of my adolescent years, culminating in my encounter with computing and my subsequent move to the Old World (rendered easy through my professional experience in programming). Up until now, I had been using the word Antipodes (title of this blog) as the title of my early autobiography. Now, while the antipodean concept is ideal for this blog, I've always realized that it was not quite the right word for my autobiography. In particular, I wanted a title that might evoke the encounter with IBM that changed the course of my life. And the title should also evoke the fact that my adolescence was dominated by constant thoughts, of an inevitably hazy kind, upon the nature of the cosmos. About all things bright and beautiful.

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