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26 April 2011

my philosophy professor, Leo Rauch / the letter I never wrote, the thanks I was never able to give him / why I belong to [Coq-Club] and try dimly to grok 2.7% of it (when it's in English)


I was preparing to beg you to help me with these incomprehensible e-mails en français from the incomprehensible [Coq-Club].

When I posted them on Vleeptron, I NEVER expected ANYONE to reply. En Anglais ou français -- look, did ANY of this make any sense to you???

I hope aymen did not think I was insulting him or giving him a hard time by posting his e-mail. (He has no profile; he's anonymous.)

My only reason for posting was that 999 out of 1000 [Coq-Club] e-mails are in English (which is a bit odd, because Coq is a French invention), and this one's français rarity caught my eye and had the aroma of Planet Vleeptron to it.

Okay d'accord ... here is the rest of the Comment I was preparing when you rescued me with your WONDERFUL translation!


Salut mon ami nouveau aymen, ça va?

Suis très désolé k mon français sux vraiment.

Okay, who's fluent in French? Don't make me have to use a dumb Translator Bot to make sense out of aymen's letter. 

PatfromCH could probably do it très bien, but he's Schweizerdeutsch ... well, anyway, can some HUMAN BEING help me SVP?

ALMOST every e-mail I get from [Coq-Club] is in English. These two are among the very rare [Coq-Club] e-mails en français.

And this is somewhat odd, because Coq is largely an invention of French logicians. (For some unknown reason, the French name their software after barnyard animals.)

But Coq, and the larger logical/mathematical field it belongs to -- Proof Assistants or Mechanical Proof Verification or Interactive Theorem Provers -- has swept the world like wildfire in the last 15 years, and English is the modern world's Lingua Franca. The scientific community may speak a Babel of lingos at home, but they all rap in their best Anglais or Ingles or Engels when they meet at their seminars.

Also, the syntax and vocabulary of Coq are English. That also was pretty inevitable. I don't know of any high-level computer language which is not in English.

There are 2 Levels of Incomprehensibility to my [Coq-Club] e-mails.

LEVEL 1: [Coq-Club] e-mails in English: 97.3 percent Incomprehensible

LEVEL 2: [Coq-Club] e-mails en français: 100 percent Incomprehensible

The 2.7 percent of the English e-mails I can grok is due to my 1967 course in Symbolic Logic (textbook: Irving M. Copi) at the Bronx campus of New York University -- and there is a fuzzy rumor that I actually Aced this course in Introductory Martian. (If the rumor is true, God Bless grading on The Curve!)

I was taking nothing but humanities/liberal arts courses, and had very little mathematical preparation for this whack shit. And even less logical preparation for this whack shit.

I'd signed up for Intro to Philosophy -- also known as Beauty and Truth 101 -- and was shocked at how much I REALLY enjoyed it!

This was due entirely to my wonderful young professor, Leo Rauch. He was brilliant, he was funny, and he was clearly and hopelessly intoxicated with Philosophy.

I aced Leo's course, too, but for an even more pathetic reason. I never read the material, I never studied -- but all the tests were essays, and I was always a very good writer. Most undergrad people are crappy writers, so with each test and each assignment, the poor professor has to wade through 30 things like

Huckleberry Finn is a very good book. It is by the writer named Mark Twain. It is about a boy named Huckleberry Finn ...

and when suddenly MY essay appears -- perfect spelling, perfect grammar, perfect punctuation, and even some STYLE and FLAVOR, it is such a relief to the poor professor that he gives me an A even though it is perfectly clear that I never read the assigned chapter on the Categorical Imperative, or got beyond Page 11 of "The Scarlet Letter."

When Leo Rauch's course ended, I was excited with Philosophy and wanted more, so I asked him what course I should take next.

For the first time, this happy, joyous, joke-telling young man frowned; bad weather drove the sunshine from his face.

"Well," he said, "if you think you're serious about philosophy, you really have to take Symbolic Logic."

He said it the way a doctor would say, "If you're really serious about living much longer, we're going to have to amputate your left arm."

Because, for a student with no background in modern logic, Symbolic Logic can be as pleasant an experience as having your left arm amputated. And JESUS! It was a nine-alarm horror!

But it was a FASCINATING nine-alarm horror. It was my first window into a body of human knowledge I'd never known existed. It was Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead's "Principia Mathematica." It was Peano. It was Quine. It was Boole and DeMorgan. It was Godel. It was Turing.

It was the stuff of human knowledge even deeper than mathematics. Is mathematics true? Can you trust it? Should you drive your car over a bridge designed entirely on mathematical principles?

If you want the answers to those questions, you have to sign up for Symbolic Logic.

After I got out of my rather unpleasant two drafted/conscripted years in the Army, I'd had more than enough essay-writing Truth and Beauty, and went back to college to study mathematics, electronics, and computers. I never took another course in Logic. I just sort of figured I knew all I'd ever need to know about Logic, and Logic wasn't ever going to grow or change or get more important. One semester of Introduction to Conversational Martian was all I'd ever need.

Boy, was I a dummy.

It was them computers (les ordinateurs), and that-there computer software.

They kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.

So big, in fact, that finally they began spewing out sacks of 0's and 1's that were so huge that mere human beings could not possibly examine them all, and pronounce them Correct or True or Proven -- or (as in the case of software that controls your Airbus or Boeing flight to the other side of the world) -- Safe.

Symbolic Logic to the rescue!

During the decades that I had been sleeping, Symbolic Logic -- specifically a part of it called the Lambda Calculus -- had grown and evolved into tools called Mechanical Proof Verification or Proof Assistants or Theorem Provers.

So a newly-developed HUGE operating system -- like Windows V.23 -- could be tested and verified and PROVEN that the damned thing would work PERFECTLY before Microsoft released it to the public!

And all mechanically -- by another Big Computer, without the use of a single (fallible, sleepy, drug-addled, stoned, drunk) human brain.

~ ~ ~

That I understand even 2.7 percent of this Amazing New Thing is due entirely to the fire Professor Leo Rauch ignited in my mind and imagination. That fire has never gone out.

That I am the drooling slave of Benedict/Baruch Spinoza (I even named Benny, my cat, after the Great Philosopher), is due entirely to Professor Leo Rauch. He first introduced me to Spinoza. And to Locke and Hume, and to Immanuel Kant.

As the decades went by, I wanted to write Professor Rauch and thank him for the treasures he had introduced me to. 

But what could I say to him? I had neither his genius nor his knowledge nor his deep understanding of any of these matters.

So I kept putting off the letter I knew someday I had to write.

But in August 2010 I finally worked up the courage to track down Leo Rauch. I figured I'd type "Leo Rauch" into Google, and a gazillion url's, all pointing straight to him, would spew back.

But there were almost none. No Leo Rauch web page, no Professor Leo Rauch page on the website of one of the world's great universities.

Finally I found a translation of Kant co-translated by Leo Rauch. I wrote the other translator asking if he could help me get in touch with the philosophy professor who had given me a life of treasures.

I cannot begin to express how filled with regret I am that I waited so long. He had a right to know how much he meant to me.

This news broke my heart so badly I could not bring myself, until this moment, to mention it on Vleeptron. I'm not even sure I told my wife.
~ ~ ~

Professor Albert A. Anderson
Agora Publications Inc.

Dear Professor Anderson,

During the last Millennium, Leo Rauch was my philosophy professor at New York University (University Heights, Bronx).
His class -- explosive with unexpected richness, and humor and pleasure -- has stayed with me ever since, and I've wanted to let him know how important that experience has been to me.
My previous attempts to track him down haven't been successful. I'm hoping your collaboration
Kant’s Lasting Peace . Translated by Lieselote Anderson and Leo Rauch. Edited by Albert A. Anderson. Millis, Massachusetts: Agora Publications, Inc., 2006.
might point me toward him or his e-mail address. If you prefer, I'd be grateful if you forwarded this to him.
Thanks for any help you can give me.
Bob Merkin
Chesterfield, Massachusetts

Dear Mr. Merkin,
I am sorry to report that Leo died approximately a decade ago (I cannot remember the actual year). His wife, Gila, died in 2005.
He was, as you describe, a remarkable teacher and a delightful person. He was not only a close colleague while we were both at Babson College, but our relationship deepened when I asked him to translate Kant's Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals for publication by Agora Publications, Inc. He collaborated on that project and some others with my wife, Lelo Anderson. We both cherish his memory as a friend, a colleague, and as a scholar.
Albert A. Anderson


Dear Professor Anderson,
This had been my worst fear, so I wrote like Pollyanna, pretending such a thing could not be possible.
I'm no longer a spring chicken myself.
But Professor Rauch will always be such a young fellow to me -- well, in 1967 he wouldn't have been much older than the clueless freshman who was randomly pushed into his class, expecting confusion, incomprehensibility, and a bad grade.
Instead I got delight, wonderful new ideas, a lot of laughs -- and, to my astonishment, a pretty good grade.
Throughout the semester, he would say, "Oh yeah, I wrote about that in my Best-Seller," "That's in my Best-Seller." Finally I raised my hand and asked him about his Best-Seller, and he grinned from ear to ear and said, "I wrote the Monarch Notes for Kant!"

He delighted in passing on tidbits from Medieval philosophy -- explaining that the palm of each hand has a big M, because our hands are the instruments of sin, and as we contemplate each sin, we get one last reminder: Momento Mori.
And the notch in our upper lip: "When you were a soul in heaven, you knew everything. But when God was about to send you into a baby's body, He touched His finger to your lips and said: Sha!" The notch is the impress of God's finger, assuring our silence.
I began missing him the day after the course ended. I never had a college experience half as thrilling.

I said I wanted more, and he made a sour face and said if I thought I was serious, my next course must be Symbolic Logic -- a cold shower I was wholly unprepared for, but there's evidence in a file cabinet that I aced it.

Neither philosophy nor logic became my career, but Professor Rauch's torch lit sparks in a young nincompoop's head that have never gone out.
I stalk Spinoza all over the Netherlands, and Professor Rauch is always with me. When I grapple with the new developments in Church's Lambda Calculus and Machine Verification, I remember the professor who pushed me into that alien realm, to force me beyond being a prose dilettante.
I would cry, but I only saw him laugh and smile; he might not think it appropriate.
Thank you for being his friend and colleague, and keeping his work and thoughts alive.
Bob Merkin


Vleeptron Dude said...

re-posting a comment I just received ... Anonymous has neglected to leave a name or e-mail addie or any other identifying marks or scars, but it seems pretty clear he was wandering around NYU in the Bronx when I was, and taking courses from the remarkable philosopher Leo Rauch.


Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "my philosophy professor, Leo Rauch / the letter I ...":

I. Leo Rausch was a remarkable professor. I was honored to have taken several of his courses at NYU before he left the school for Israel and marriage. He was a philosopher, teacher, comedian, linguist, and whatever else he needed to be to make students want to learn. I never forgot him or the inscription on his first book: "To my nephew Chaim, kite flyer, deep thinker." I was very sad to learn of his passing and I, too, only wish I could have thanked him for the gift of knowledge he gave to me and so many others.


Posted by Anonymous to Vleeptron_Z at Monday, 30 April, 2012

Steve said...

I thought I had identified myself but I guess not (Steve, NYU Univ. Heights '69 - I would very much like to hear from anyone who was privileged to cross paths with Prof. Rausch. All these years later, his Groucho Marx looks, Robin Williams character, incredible knowledge (beyond philosophy)and unique teaching style remain fresh in my mind's eye. In fact, he once remarked that the mind is a remarkable tool because it can instantly and forever recall the taste of the best pizza you ever had as if you were enjoying it all over again. He may not have known it at the time but that is precisely how most of his students have memories of him imprinted in their minds. They can be instantly recalled and they are there forever.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Hiya Steve --

O Grim Grey Palisades thy Shadow
Upon the Rippling Hudson Falls
and Mingled Merry Hearts and Voices
Illumine now these sacred walls ...

just found your comment and of course the Sainted Leo overwhelms the old man's memory again.

More soon about this great brilliant philosopher.

Packing now to take the AMTRAK Acela from New Haven to DC!