Science progresses one funeral at a time.

Was it coincidence it took almost 50 years to have the paradigm shift in programming to move past the GOTO statement and that 50 years is about the length of some peoples careers…?  In this video by Doug Crockford on “Paradigm Shift” (80 seconds, 12:17 minutes to 13:39 or the longer 10 minute version), he points out:

So why did [the paradigm shift] take so long?  Unless you have experienced that change you can not understand the arguments for why that change may be good or bad.  And we have that happen all the time in human experience and a lot of the misery that we suffer and society is a result of the difficult in making these shifts.

And another except:

Progress does not wait for the next new idea. It waits for consensus on an old idea.

In this video Doug Crockford (a well known programmer) talks about one of the most famous programmers (Edsger Dijkstra) of our time who was pivotal, amongst many other things, in instigating a paradigm shift to remove the GOTO statement. How it took almost 50 years to remove something very simple (but often used in a lazy/bad way) from most modern mainstream programming languages.

It just takes time.  Its emotional even though it shouldn’t be.  It was the moderates who eventually bridged the gap and built the majority supporting the “radicals” who had the evidence and were moving in the correct direction.  The old guard of reactionaries objected on grounds of Pride, Tradition, Majority opinion.  All the classic stuff.

The future GOTOs

Now with an ageing population and rising retirement age, what will happen to our rate of paradigm shifts? Will they slow down?  In an age of rapid innovation, perhaps this is one of the checks and balances.  It might be deleterious in some scenarios but broadly it may keep our society and culture moving in a considered and constructive direction.

What if there is no simple alternative?

In Doug Crockford’s video, he describes how the ELSE and WHILE programming statements were introduced which meant you didn’t need GOTO statements any more.  These are simple alternatives to understand but what if there weren’t any?  What if there was either no alternative or many complex and subtle alternatives with varying levels of evidence to support them.  I think and hope the answer would be that the moderates would still be able to support them but it would just take them a little longer to build the majority around the people challenging the misguided status quo with evidence and truth, the “radicals”.

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