Re: Introspection/Reflection

"Christian Stapfer" <>
25 Nov 1999 01:49:00 -0500

          From comp.compilers

Related articles
Introspection/Reflection (Jonathan Barker) (1999-11-20)
Re: Introspection/Reflection (Basile STARYNKEVITCH) (1999-11-21)
Re: Introspection/Reflection (Alan Donovan) (1999-11-23)
Re: Introspection/Reflection (Christian Stapfer) (1999-11-25)
Re: Introspection/Reflection (Francois-Rene Rideau) (1999-12-01)
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From: "Christian Stapfer" <>
Newsgroups: comp.compilers
Date: 25 Nov 1999 01:49:00 -0500
Organization: Swisscom AG, the blue window
References: 99-11-118 99-11-123 99-11-135
Keywords: analysis

Alan Donovan <> wrote in: 99-11-135@comp.compilers...

> > "" and even
> > ""
> > are good links.
> The definitions are unhelpful, pretentious, often incorrect and laden with
> poorly-thought-out political ramblings.
> These are not blinding insights, so I can only
> conclude that if reflection really is something radically new then he
> has failed to explain it.

Now, I believe, you are perfectly right: From a sufficiently abstract
point of view, reflection is certainly not a new idea, much less a
"radically new" one.
        As to political ramblings, I wonder what you mean. The constant pressure
to oversell ideas, to dub them "radically new" without good reason (except
to keep tenure, or try to make a wave so that you can ride it), is as
political as it can possibly get: Its just that we are all so immersed in
commodification and marketization of ideas that we do not recognize
their profoundly political source (capitalism), nor their distorting
influence on our own thought and behaviour.
        Had I been asked to define "reflection", I would have been even less
"helpful" than : I would have
included hegelian Philosophy, hegelian-behaviorist Psychology
(i.e. George Herbert Mead), hegelian Marxism (Frankfurt School:
Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse; and Georg Lukācs), Psychoanalysis
(reification = acting out; reflection = interpretation of transference
behavior), theories of literacy and its influence on human culture
(Walter J. Ong, Eric A. Havelock, ..), and, of course, Metamathematics
(proving theorems about theorem proving). But, not having been asked,
I will spare you the details here...

        Closer to computer science: The argument for the unsolvability of the
Halting Problem used by A.M. Turing (having a universal Turing machine
"reflect" about the behaviour of another Turing machine by letting it
analyze a suitable representation of its program and input data) was a
clear case of applying "reflection" as the basis of a theoretical argument,
too. (And I hope you would not want to dispute its relevance to computer
science in general.)
        So reflection, looked at with a sufficiently broad and open mind,
really IS an old hat, even in computer science, as I said. But, to be more
helpful, perhaps is something
that you might be more interested in. (Although my impression, after
skimming the above web page and some of the documents that
can be found there, is that Kiczales et. al. haven't made much substantive
progress since last time I had had a look at their work on
metaprogramming under CLOS - the metaobject protocol - except,
perhaps, on the implementation side of it. The marketing of their brand
of reflective programming has been repackaged and combined with other
currently popular ideas as "aspect oriented programming", and is
thus "radically new", of course. - That's just my personal impression:
I hope no one will take offense at my stating it thus bluntly.)
[I think I'll let you guys slug it out in private mail now. -John]

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