I recently checked out Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance after reading Kevin’s piece about how the book informed his practice of library cataloging. I am enjoying it a lot more this time around, and have found it really informs my practice of computer programming as well. Unfortunately I only made it half way through before it needed to be returned to the library, and the local superbookstores oddly enough don’t seem to carry it…So, I’ve got a copy on order from a used bookstore I found through Amazon. Anyhow here’s one nice quote I jotted down before I had to return the book:
At first the truths Phaedrus began to pursue were lateral truths; no longer the frontal truths of science, those toward which the discipline pointed, but the kind of truth you see laterally, out of the corner of your eye. In a laboratory situation, when your whole procedure goes haywire, when everything goes wrong or is indeterminate or is so screwed up by unexpected results you can’t make head or tail out of anything, you start looking laterally. That’s a word he later used to describe a growth of knowledge that doesn’t move forward like an arrow in flight, but expands sideways, like an arrow enlarging in flight, or like the archer, discovering that although he has hit the bull’s eye and won the prize, his head is on a pillow and the sun is coming in the window. Lateral knowledge is knowledge that’s from a wholly unepected direction, from a direction that’s not even understood as a direction until the knowledge forces itself upon one. Lateral truths point to the falseness of axioms and postulates underlying one’s existing system of getting at truth.
I’m not entirely sure why this resonated with me. I think the idea of “lateral thinking” reminds me of how IRC and web surfing often informs my craft of writing software. While many universities offer computer “science” programs, I’ve found a large component of writing software is more artistic than scientific. Of course I’m hardly the first person to comment on this…but Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is full of good advice for writing and tuning your programs. Hopefully I’ll get to write more about them in here when I get my copy in the mail.