Profiel: Henk Barendregt: Lambda calculus hits the tube

The Dutch broadcasting company (Ned2 channel) is planning to air a documentary on Henk Barendregt more-or-less at the prime-time tomorrow. Which should be good news for the cause of Lambda: the Ultimate show on the tube. Most of these shows can be viewed on-line afterwards, so keep tuned...

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Will there be English subtitles online?

Interesting. Will there will be a English-captioned version available, and will it be available online?

Unfortunately, not in English

Well, here it is. Another one is also available (for flash select "Settings" - "Instellingen").

Maybe some of the Dutch readers of LtU can venture into translating this...

Not a lot of CS

I've seen the documentary. It is mostly about the person Barendregt, not about CS. Barendregt has four hobbies: 1) Typed Lambda Calculus, 2) Buddhism, more concretely a meditation technique called Vipassana, 3) Philosophy, more concretely the relation between free will, determinism, and neurology, 4) Modern music.

The documentary was presented by a representational group for the humanists. (Dutch public television is time-sliced between groups which represent part of the public.)

On 1) it was presented that Barendregt wrote an important logical book on the lambda calculus which is translated into two languages (Russian and Chinese) and now has a forthcoming book on types and LC. The distinction between logic and math was superficially explained. His daily job was also portrayed shortly as he was teaching a masterclass -explaining incompleteness as another mathematical euphoric moment and inside joke- or reading an excellent dissertation from Bergen -stressing the slowness of science and the international nature of academic life.

On 2) Barendregt was portrayed supervising a group during a ten day training session in meditation. Mostly gongs, breathing techniques and people walking around in a trance-like state. Vipassana was presented as a technique to get rid of hindering mental conditioning systems.

On 3) it was presented how people which got the meditation training were subjected to study with an MRI scanner to find if structural changes can be found in the brains due to meditation. It was too soon to tell.

On 4) he was portrayed as playing what I think was advanced modern composition of asyncopatical, possibly atonal, music. Not sure, it was too short too tell.

I don't know Barendregt but know his hobbies. The portrait should be seen mostly as a human interest story in the person elaborated by showcasing a life without too many intervening questions, taken from that view it was excellent. From a human interest point of view, I am not sure a reasonably well-off CS professor who practices Buddhism with somewhat dry barren answers to life is that interesting. From a theoretical point of view it was very shallow, no real explanation of LC, no real explanation of Vipassana, no real in-depth handling of philosophy.

My own take:

Personally, I know Barendregt as an excellent mathematician, but from the little what I've seen severely lacking in handling most philosophical issues. Given this opportunity, I would have enjoyed a human accessible explanation of what makes LC important and interesting for young people; but then, I don't know what they cut from the interviews. Philosophically, I again found it underwhelming; I've seen an elaboration of his view how quantum mechanics could safe free will about fifteen years ago -most philosophers would cry given his shallow handling of that subject- and he presented free will in this portrait as 'when you hit your foot against something, you won't do it again' -which I again found disturbing. I guess Vipassana just is way too far-out for most people, a more in-depth discussion would have been more interesting; I gathered that he has a very modern deterministic interpretation of what I estimate was a manner to reach enlightenment; there is a surprising non-sequitur in his thinking about determinism somewhere also. The portrait was personal in cases where he told stories about his youth but often failed in Barendregt's responses to what motivates him; for example, a question why he teaches Vipassana is answered with a more general explanation as if it could safe mankind, which doesn't give a good insight into his motives, but okay, at the same time shows the detachment of academics towards the person.

On a positive note, I guess it showcases how an aesthetic intellectual search can lead a person to think over scientific and existential questions and how that search can shape and intertwine multiple aspects of a person's life.

So, this was a nice personal portrait which satisfies the general public where a lot can be read between the lines, but I don't think most people here would find it interesting from a CS, philosophical, or possibly even human interest point of view.