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3/31/15

Repeating Reason

First put your way nearly two years ago, current circumstances have your humble scribe musing again on the subject. Part of the plot of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams involves a very successful computer programmer named Gordon Way, so we're also told how he and his company WayForward became successful. It all started with the program he created called "Reason".

Just swap out the now somewhat dated reference to Star Wars for most anything you'd care to consider in our current era: ISIS, oil price, Obamacare, immigration, The Euro, gay marriage, etc ad infin. Also, please note that this program works for either side of any subject for heated debate. I'll leave you with the late Mr. Adams' prose:


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``...it's to do with the project which first made the software incarnation of the company profitable. It was called Reason, and in its own way it was sensational.''

``What was it?''

``Well, it was a kind of back-to-front program. It's funny how many of the best ideas are just an old idea back-to-front. You see there have already been several programs written that help you to arrive at decisions by properly analysing all the relevant facts so that they then point naturally towards the right decision. The drawback with these is that the decision which all the properly ordered and analysed facts point to is not necessarily the one you want.''

``Yeeesss...'' said Reg's voice from the kitchen.

``Well, Gordon's great insight was to design a program which allowed you to specify in advance what decision you wished to reach, and only then to give it all the facts. The program's task, which it was able to accomplish with consummate ease, was simply to construct a plausible series of logical-sounding steps to connect the premises with the conclusion.

And I have to say it worked brilliantly. Gordon was able to buy himself a Porsche almost immediately despite being completely broke and a hopeless driver. Even his bank manager was unable to find fault with his reasoning. Even when he wrote it off three weeks later.''

``Heavens. And did the program sell very well?''

``No. We never sold a single copy.''

``You astonish me. It sounds like a real winner to me.''

``It was,'' said Richard hesitantly. ``The entire project was bought up, lock, stock and barrel, by the Pentagon. The deal put WayForward on a very sound financial foundation. Its moral foundation, on the other hand, is not something I wound want to trust my weight to. I've recently been analysing a lot of the arguments put forward in favour of the Star Wars project, and if you know what you're looking for, the pattern of the agorithms is very clear.''