Paul Graham Essays Nerds

Postby jacob » Thu Apr 26, 2012 12:25 am

I think "coping skills" aptly summarizes the issue that arises when people of different temperaments and intelligence are trust into the random stew that is high school. In particular, nerds decide---this being the positive way of phrasing it, the negative way being that they're simply unable---that maybe developing coping skills is irrelevant if they can later work somewhere where they don't need such skills.
As for which is sadder ... here's a quote from Plato's Republic:
"Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eye are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by

excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other." --- Plato, The Republic
To wit, happiness is coming from darkness to light and being able to see and understand a little more. Sadness is coming from a place of insight and dealing with a place of ignorance.
[This is identical to the difficulty of taking the blue pill once you've taking the red pill when it comes to ERE and the problem of relating to consumerism once you understand it from the outside.]
I guess it depends on perspective. I realize that the ability to deal with almost any problem is a nice compensation for the interpersonal cost of intelligence. However, in terms of interpersonal relations, would you rather be in a situation whether almost everybody else is smarter than you are or everybody else is duller than you are. Personally, I'd prefer other people to be smarter than I am.
By the way, the quote above is also found on Flowers For Algernon(Daniel Keyes) which I hardily recommend as it covers many of the problems with relating when the mental disparity becomes too large. For a cruder example: The movie Idiocracy.
In terms of coping skills, I have probably spent more time on phrasing and rephrasing paragraphs in my posts on this thread than any other thread. Intelligence is a REALLY touchy subject (unlike being good looking or good at sports)! The issue (as the more intelligent party) is very much one of trying to communicate while not coming across as arrogant, preachy, lecturing, conceited, or even irrelevant(*).
The more intelligent one is, the more of an everpresent concern this becomes. I do not think that this meta-communication has ANYTHING AT ALL to do with some kind of elitism. The problem is that the genius (for lack of a better word---these words change constantly because it's such a touchy subject ... imbecile, moron and idiot used to be technical terms, but now they're insults) is generally very and rightfully sure of a given statement. An average person is not. Since the average person thinks that the other party is also average (and thus not too sure about his statement), someone who appears sure is interpreted as being arrogant. The solution is to fake a lack of sureness: "Yeah, I guess 2+2=4, but who's to say, lol."
Whether this approach "feels right" very much depends on temperament; whether a person takes his cues externally or internally. [There is a technical term for this orientation, but I forget.] This is a whole other and separate discussion. Let's just say that if someone is internally oriented he would consider adapting his demeanor to "play" his surroundings as immoral manipulation. If he's externally oriented, he'd consider it a natural and beneficial thing to do. Whether one or the other approach is "right" is really something that can get people's blood boiling. I just note that the difference is there.
(*) Notice for instance how publicly stating an inability to do math actually _creates_ social currency (whereas being bad at sports detracts). Conversely, the ability to do math detracts from social currency. How can one possibly be cool AND understand calculus at the same time?
Unless much effort is directed at modeling and compensating exactly what for all intents and purposes, say 95% of everybody else, do not know, one constantly has to be alert to the risk of the other person not knowing various references, rephrasing complicated thoughts into more easily grasped metaphors, etc.
Yeah, "coping skills" captures the problem splendidly. Some cope by hiding their brains/minds. They downplay their thoughts. Others just say nothing or try various head-fakes. Yet others learn to interface well.
It all depends on whether someone is able AND willing to learn how to cope.
My point is that the bigger the gap, the greater the effort. And that this effort does not really diminish in scope just because someone is mentally quicker.

Paul Graham (; born 13 November 1964)[1] is an English born computer scientist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author, and blogger. He is best known for his work on Lisp, his former startup Viaweb (later renamed "Yahoo! Store"), co-founding the influential startup accelerator and seed capital firm Y Combinator, his blog, and Hacker News. He is the author of several programming books, such as: On Lisp[3] (1993), ANSI Common Lisp[4] (1995), and Hackers & Painters[5] (2004). Technology journalist Steven Levy has described Graham as a 'hacker philosopher'.[6]


In 1996, Graham and Robert Morris founded Viaweb, the first application service provider (ASP). Viaweb's software, originally written mostly in Common Lisp, allowed users to make their own Internet stores. In the summer of 1998 Viaweb was sold to Yahoo! for 455,000 shares of Yahoo! stock, valued at $49.6 million.[7] At Yahoo! the product became Yahoo! Store.

He later gained fame for his essays on his popular website Essay subjects range from "Beating the Averages",[8] which compares Lisp to other programming languages and introduced the hypothetical programming language Blub, to "Why Nerds are Unpopular",[9] a discussion of nerd life in high school. A collection of his essays has been published as Hackers & Painters[5] by O'Reilly, which includes a discussion of the growth of Viaweb and what Graham perceives to be the advantages of Lisp to program it.

In 2001, Graham announced that he was working on a new dialect of Lisp named Arc. Over the years since, he has written several essays describing features or goals of the language, and some internal projects at Y Combinator have been written in Arc, most notably the Hacker News web forum and news aggregator program.

In 2005, after giving a talk at the Harvard Computer Society later published as "How to Start a Startup", Graham along with Trevor Blackwell, Jessica Livingston and Robert Morris started Y Combinator to provide seed funding to a large number of startups, particularly those started by younger, more technically oriented founders. Y Combinator has now invested in more than 1300 startups, including, Xobni, Dropbox, Airbnb and Stripe.[10]

In response to the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Graham announced in late 2011 that no representatives of any company supporting it would be invited to Y Combinator's Demo Day events.[11]

BusinessWeek included Paul Graham in 2008 edition of its annual feature, The 25 Most Influential People on the Web.[12]

In 2008, Paul Graham married Jessica Livingston.[13][14][15]


Graham has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Cornell University[16][17] (1986).[18] He then attended Harvard University, earning Master of Science (1988) and Doctor of Philosophy (1990) degrees in Computer Science.[16][19] He has also studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.[16][19]


Graham's hierarchy of disagreement[edit]

Graham proposed a "disagreement hierarchy" in a 2008 essay "How to Disagree",[20] putting types of argument into a seven-point hierarchy and observing that "If moving up the disagreement hierarchy makes people less mean, that will make most of them happier." Graham also suggested that the hierarchy can be thought as a pyramid, as the highest forms of disagreement are rarer.

Following this hierarchy, Graham notes that articulate forms of name-calling (e.g. "The author is a self-important dilettante") are no different from crude insults.

The hierarchy resembles Friedrich Glasl's model of conflict escalation[further explanation needed].

The Blub paradox[edit]

Graham considers the hierarchy of programming languages with the example of "Blub", a hypothetically average language "right in the middle of the abstractness continuum. It is not the most powerful language, but it is more powerful than Cobol or machine language."[21] It was used by Graham to illustrate a comparison, beyond Turing completeness, of programming language power, and more specifically to illustrate the difficulty of comparing a programming language one knows to one that one does not.[22]

Graham considers a hypothetical Blub programmer. When the programmer looks down the "power continuum", he considers the lower languages to be less powerful because they miss some feature that a Blub programmer is used to. But when he looks up, he fails to realise that he is looking up: he merely sees "weird languages" with unnecessary features and assumes they are equivalent in power, but with "other hairy stuff thrown in as well". When Graham considers the point of view of a programmer using a language higher than Blub, he describes that programmer as looking down on Blub and noting its "missing" features from the point of view of the higher language.[22]

Graham describes this as the "Blub paradox" and concludes that "By induction, the only programmers in a position to see all the differences in power between the various languages are those who understand the most powerful one."[22]

The concept has been cited[why?] by writers such as Joel Spolsky.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ ab"Graham, Paul 1964- Authorities & Vocabularies (Library of Congress Name Authority File)". U.S. Library of Congress. 11 March 2005. Retrieved 12 March 2012.  
  2. ^"No; I was born in Weymouth, England. My father's Welsh though. | Hacker News". Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  3. ^Graham, Paul (1994). On Lisp: advanced techniques for Common Lisp. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-030552-9. 
  4. ^Graham, Paul (1996). ANSI Common Lisp. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-370875-6. 
  5. ^ abGraham, Paul (2004). Hackers & painters: big ideas from the computer age. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly. ISBN 0-596-00662-4. 
  6. ^Y Combinator Has Gone Supernova
  7. ^"Yahoo! to Acquire Viaweb". Yahoo! Inc. 8 June 1998. Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 14 April 2008. 
  8. ^"Beating the Averages". 
  9. ^"Why Nerds are Unpopular". 
  10. ^"Y Combinator Companies - Y Combinator Universe". Retrieved 13 March 2013. 
  11. ^Tsotsis, Alexia (22 December 2011). "Paul Graham: SOPA Supporting Companies No Longer Allowed At YC Demo Day". TechCrunch. Retrieved 23 December 2011. 
  12. ^"The Papa Bear: Paul Graham". BusinessWeek. 29 September 2008. Retrieved 29 September 2008. 
  13. ^"Where are we going?". 26 October 2008. Retrieved 14 November 2008. 
  14. ^"Congrats to PG on getting hitched". 2 June 2008. Retrieved 14 November 2008. 
  15. ^Graham, Paul (January 2009). "California Year-Round". Y Combinator. Archived from the original on 13 March 2012.  
  16. ^ abc"Paul Graham biography". Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  17. ^Undergraduation. Paul Graham. Retrieved 22 July 2011.
  18. ^EZRA: Cornell's Quarterly Magazine (Fall 2011) "Paul Graham '86"
  19. ^ ab"Paul Graham biography". Retrieved 6 March 2012. 
  20. ^Graham, Paul (March 2008). "How to Disagree". Retrieved 2 May 2011. 
  21. ^Paul Graham (2001). "Beating the Averages". Retrieved 28 April 2007. ; published in Hackers & Painters, 2004; the essay was also reprinted in The Planning and Scheduling Working Group Report on Programming Languages, by JM Adams, R Hawkins, C Myers, C Sontag, S Speck
  22. ^ abc"...These studies would like to formally prove that a certain language is more or less expressive than another language. Determining such a relation between languages objectively rather than subjectively seems to be somewhat problematic, a phenomenon that Paul Graham has discussed in “The Blub Paradox” [6]." "An Introduction to Aspect Oriented Programming in e", D. Robinson; see also "Expressive power of recursion and aggregates in XQuery", by J Hidders, J Paredaens, R Vercammen, S Marrara
  23. ^See "The Perils of JavaSchools", in his book More Joel on Software.

External links[edit]

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