The other day I watched this video “Clean Code: Horrible Performance”. Considering I just wrote a review on the book, I was curious about this alternative take.
I really enjoyed the interview. Casey sounds very professional, and is very accomplished. I highly recommend watching the interview, as I think he has a lot of good and important things to say. However there was one part of the interview that got me thinking. Casey says:
“We can also pessimise code we can do things that make it harder for the CPU to run it for no real reason… we had two things we could choose to do here and we arbitrarily chose this much worse one because of some other weird metrics that I don’t necessarily know where they came from. Like Clean Code, that I don’t feel like anyone ever proved they made anyone more productive, but I can prove they make the CPU much less productive.”
(emphasis mine, of course)
This was interesting to me. It made me wonder: Is Beauty important? Is it just arbitrary? If it isn’t, then what makes something beautiful? All this went beyond the context of just writing code.
I know I don’t have all the answers to those questions yet, but I did come up with some thoughts that I’d like to share.
Is Beauty Important?
Yes. I deeply believe it is. I have some evidence for why I think so. First: God created a beautiful world. There are amazing landscapes, beautiful vistas, and awe inspiring landmarks. That indicates to me that God thinks it is important for us to have beauty in our life. Another bit of evidence is what effect beautiful things have on us. We desire to be with beautiful things. We want to protect them, conserve them, and share them. I don’t know why we would have such a strong and consistent emotional appeal if it were not important.
Is Beauty Arbitrary?
I don’t think so. If it was just arbitrary, then we’d expect people to listen to the hum of vacuum cleaners just as much as the tune of a good song1. People would read books full of random words, as much as they would read a good Novel. There is meaning behind beauty, and beauty points towards truth.
What is Beauty?
This is the hardest one. I don’t have a good definition to classify and categorize beauty, but I do have a few indicators that something is beautiful. Beauty glorifies it’s creator. Beautiful things invite us to be with them. Beautiful things cause use to ask why. Beautiful things point towards the divine and transcendent. Beautiful things invite us to share them.
Life without Beauty?
So what? I think it is vital for us to recognize the importance of beauty. It is important to see it for more than mere pragmatism or preference. Beauty is more than a “nice to have”. Why? Well first of all, failing to see beauty is a symptom of pessimism. Pessimists refuse to see the beauty in the world, instead choosing to focus on the mundane, and ugly. When I was a teenager, I thought it was cool and edgy to be a pessimist. Now I see that it is a key characteristic of ingrates.
Second, there is a deep sickness in this world. There are many who preach about the meaninglessness of life, the universe and everything we feel. “It’s all just irrational emotions stemming from hormones, and neural patterns”. What is sad about this is that many people believe this doctrine rationally, but not emotionally. They are convinced that they are irrational beings, but ironically they seek to prove themselves wrong by being entirely rational. They attempt to throw off the vestiges of their “irrationality”. They try to excise all that they deem “subjective”, merely because they lack the capability to measure it, and explain it with science.
The tragedy is that rather than freeing, these sorts of people are tricked into becoming profoundly unhappy cads. They become sad exhibits of their own self-fulfilling prophecies.
If you feel like this, I don’t mean to be disdainful; it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is to accept the invitation of the beautiful, and see what meaning it wants you to see.