Stanford EE Computer Systems Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, January 15, 2014
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building Room B3

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914)
His life, contributions to logic, and the "American Enlightenment."

Steven Ericsson-Zenith
Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
About the talk:

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) was the son of Harvard mathematician and cosmologist Benjamin Peirce (1809-1880). His early contributions to formal logic were significant and motivated by his father his broad conception of logic sought to build the bridge between pure mathematics and the physical sciences.

His contribution to the nineteenth century "American Enlightenment," in which God is in ideas, brought God into the construction of logical machines. Since God is in ideas, logical operations may be seen as the elements of God. This worldview, that God is in ideas (a view descended from Nicholas Malebranche), is consistently argued by the Peirce family from 1856 to 1908. The latest account of which is given in "The Neglected Argument for the Existence of God," written by Charles in 1908.

Many that held this view were "Radical Unitarian." Charles, on the other hand, was fascinated by trinity and sought to place all of his conceptions within a triadic frame of reference. For example, he points out that the notion of "giving" cannot be expressed dyadically.

At the turn of the century Charles and his student, Christine Ladd-Franklin, while working with Helmholtz, objected to the "Russelisation of logic." In that movement toward Logicism, a form of pure mathematics, they observe that the mind of the logician is necessarily incorporated, leading to hard limits in machine computable logic and proof.

A naive account would argue that Peirce is guilty of psychologism. But this is not the case. His father saw the potential for Hamilton's quaternions to characterize his notion of universal will, the force (of God) behind all biophysical action. Charles tried to pursue that route but abandoned it. His brother James (who was probably gay) died in 1906, the world's leading expert on quaternions.

In 1883 Charles would propose that electronic conceptions of logic could be formulated and this foresaw the modern computer. Sixty years later Alan Turing (1912-1954), for whom we have no record of reading Peirce, echoes Peirce when he observes that computing machinery will tell us "What remains for the living mind."

The founder of American Pragmatism his overall view of logic is that of the natural scientist. He was also an accomplished experimental scientist that made contributions to chemistry, physics, and experimental psychology.

A difficult character for many, he died impoverished in 1914 of cancer.

This narrative has unfolded before me as I have pursued my own basic research over the past decade. It has given me an uncommon knowledge of the Peirce family as I discover that they pursued a similar account of experience in nature to my own.


There is no downloadable version of the slides for this talk available at this time.

About the speaker:

Steven Ericsson-Zenith holds a doctorate (1992) from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie (Paris 6), traditionally the science department of the Sorbonne. He completed his thesis at the invitation of the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris (now ParisTech) and given a senior research position in that institution. He is currently the Principal Investigator and Research Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering (IASE).

His doctoral thesis considers the structure of computation in large-scale parallel systems. This work evolved from his industry experience and brief research experience at Yale University at the invitation of Professor David Gelernter. He was a senior member of the computer architecture team at INMOS (now STMicroelectronics) under Professor M. David May, FRS.

Dr. Ericsson-Zenith is a veteran of Silicon Valley. In 1998 he established The Kiss Principle, Inc. a Silicon Valley start-up company undertaking advanced large-scale computation and human factors research and development in partnership with Microsoft Corp. and others. In 2006 he licensed that technology to Microsoft and the proceeds were donated to IASE. With former colleagues from Yale University and INMOS (now STMicroelectronics) IASE is established as a nonprofit science institution. IASE was founded to pursue basic research benefiting from the new data becoming available from biophysical disciplines. This explosion of new information promised to inform the theoretical foundations of logic and apprehension. Since that time Dr. Ericsson-Zenith has been dedicated full-time to the fulfillment of that promise. It is his defining commitment.

Dr. Ericsson-Zenith lectures occasionally at Stanford University and elsewhere on his research. His first public presentation of his research program and his developing approach was given in a Stanford University talk entitled A New Kind Of Positivism in 2008. In 2011/2012 he was an active participant and contributor to the celebrations of Alan Turing's Centenary. He spoke then on relevant aspects of his work as they effect computational structure at Stanford University, the Isaac Newton Institute's Incomputable event at the Royal Society's Chicheley Hall, and at Cambridge University in England. In November 2013 he will give his first readings from the volume On The Origin Of Experience at Stanford University. In January 2014 he will lecture, also at Stanford, on the life and work of Charles Sanders Peirce.

Contact information:

Steven Ericsson-Zenith
Institute for Advanced Science & Engineering
16770 Redwood Lodge Rd
Los Gatos, CA 95033
650 308 8611