C∘mp∘se :: Melbourne

On August 27, I gave the opening keynote of C∘mp∘se :: Melbourne, a talk called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Metaphor.” The title is a reference to the 1960 paper by Eugene Wigner entitled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences”. You can read the paper here.

Metaphor gets something of a bad rap I resisted a strong temptation to say “bad wrap.” among programmers. To be fair, certain kinds of metaphors, such as computer interfaces planned in terms of “desktops”, or trying to explain functors by likening them to burritos, may feel misleading in crucial ways.

However, there is much more to metaphor, and developments in linguistics and cognitive science since the 1960s have demonstrated that much of our ability to think abstractly at all is due to our innate abilities to make analogies and structure our thoughts through conceptual metaphors.

I drew from authors as diverse as Aristotle, Saunders Mac Lane, Seymour Papert, and George Lakoff in developing the talk, and I really had to breeze through the information. I hope, though, that it will enrich the community’s understanding of the ways that metaphor structures our thinking and our abstractions.

The talk was recorded; until it is released, in lieu of simply posting a link to slides that don’t have speaker notes, I prepared a blog post presentation of the slides. The best slides were made by Chris Martin, and we had a lot of fun making them; we were able to do more interesting things than you usually see on tech talk slides.

We were also incredibly chuffed to hand out pamphlets to conference attendees: The Type Classes Introduction to GHC Extensions. It explains what extensions are, how to use them, and gives a brief overview of six in particular that are helpful when you’re learning Haskell. We hope people will find them useful. Subscribers can download and print the pamphlet themselves by visiting the extensions introduction page.

We intend to make more pamphlets because concise reference materials you can download and print are something we’ve wanted for a long time.