notes for an intellectual autobiography
Some of my early formative years were spent in Maseru, Basutoland (re-named Lesotho, on independence from Britain in 1960) where my father (Marthinus Cornelius Van Straaten) was first a Lieutenant and then a Captain in the Basutoland Mounted Police (he was the ranking officer after Colonel Clarke) and subsequently, after successfully reading for B.A. and L.L.B. degrees through the University of South Africa (UNISA) was appointed a Public Prosecutor and then Chief Public Prosecutor in the High Court (it was a single court distributed in three kingdoms) of Basutoland, Bechuanaland (later re-named Botswana) and Swaziland. He was awarded an M.B.E. (Military List, 8th of June, 1950 in the King's Birthday Honours List) by the Crown for legal and administrative services to the British Empire in Lesotho.
I was brought up to follow in his footsteps (a somewhat dubious upbringing for a future philosophy and logic professor); so I was schooled in polo, hacking, pig sticking, sword fighting (sabre), shooting [use of the .303 Lee Enfield - with this weapon one could take out a crow at 75 metres with relative ease - this was of course way before the Green movement] .22 Mauser / .410 shotgun / .38 Smith & Wesson revolver / .45 Colt revolver] rugby, cricket, tennis, athletics, Latin Grammar, and the exploits of the more famous Roman Generals. Of those I enjoyed hacking, tennis and the sabre; and two things which were not on the menu; long distance cycling and mountaineering.
I was educated at the Maseru Preparatory School, Maseru, Basutoland ; New Marsden Preparatory School, Oxford; Muir College, Uitenhage; Rhodes University and Linacre College, Oxford University.
pic # 1.
A sketch of the Old School, Maseru by architect Peter Hancock, made in 1985. My first day at the school was in January, 1947
The only books in our family home in Maseru which had some relative degree of abstractness about them were books on the history and culture of Rome (Caesar's Gallic Wars; Caesar's Civil War; Cicero's Selected Works; Books I to V of Livy's 142 books which covered some 770 years of Roman history; Tacitus, The Annals & Tacitus, The Histories; Pliny, Lucretius, Catullus, Ovid and Seneca), law books and Latin books. Since, as long back as I can remember, I was not interested in the price of margarine at the corner store (see Ionescu; The Bald Prima Donna) I became knowledgeable about the relatively abstract items lying about the home, viz., Roman history and Roman Dutch Law. Konrad Lorentz's ducklings and I were both imprinting.
pic # 2.
The family home in Maseru where we lived from 1949 until 1956. (From 1947 to end 1948 we lived in another part of town) I took this pic in 1987.. The house was set on 4 acres; about 1.5 acres were taken up by a paddock and stables large enough to keep 4 horses. We usually had at least two horses stabled at any one time, and we could call on as many additional horses as were required, for a riding party or to go on a picnic. There was a 1 acre vegetable and fruit tree garden at the back of the house. This pic shows the house 33 years after we vacated, by which time, it and the lawns and gardens had become subject to entropy.
When I was 17 I discovered Bertrand Russell's The Problems of Philosophy and History of Western Philosophy. This amazingly abstract stuff called philosophy seemed much more abstract and therefore to me, much more interesting, than law, Latin or Roman history.
I arrived at Rhodes University to read for a B.A. degree when I was 22 in 1962. The Rhodes University library had one totally virgin copy (it had never been taken out of the library) of Word and Object by Willard Van Orman Quine, which I rescued from its dusty corner on the shelf in 1963. The intellectual stuff in this book (valuable logical truffles) seemed to me much more interesting and valuable than the diet of hypothetical dispositions in Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind or Kant's dubious transcendental trifles in the Critique of Pure Reason both of which we (there were only three students in the 3rd year philosophy class, and one dropped out) were forced to slowly consume (paragraph by paragraph) in a small seminar group (the humanities correlate of what the business world calls "team work") to satisfy two thirds of the requirements for PHILOSOPHY III in 1963.
The years 1964 and 1965 were spent in Cape Town where I was first the Junior Geography Master at Sea Point Boy's High (for the 1964 school year) and then the Assistant Public Relations Officer for The Cape Performing Arts Board. One of the school masters at Sea Point Boy's High was Ronnie Mears, who was completing a B.Sc.(Hons) degree in astronomy at the University of Cape Town. In particular he was studying the chemical composition of various stars from their spectral line emissions. I was eager to devour all he could tell me about the telescopes, the experimental techniques and the instrumentation he was using to get data. A steep learning curve for a woolly minded philosopher (aged 24), brought up on a thin unsatisfying gruel of hypotheses unsupported by experimental evidence. This was the beginning of my love for astronomy.
In 1966 I returned to Rhodes University to read for an Honours degree in philosophy. In February 1968 the main book store in the High Street of Grahamstown, called the Central News Agency (CNA) had a sale. One of the books on sale was Introduction to Mathematical Logic by Elliot Mendelson. It cost R6.70 (about $3 at the exchange rate in 1963 - the price of about 3 hamburgers) What incredibly amazing stuff was this ? And which Platonic Heaven had professor Mendelson emerged from to give us mere earthlings, trapped in the survival and adaptation conditions surrounded by the chalk hills of Grahamstown, such a panoramic vista ? In Philosophy I class I had been introduced to Aristotelian syllogisms, Venn diagrams, and truth tables. So I was totally under-prepared for the beautiful logical terrain which professor Mendelson laid out with such clarity, apparent ease and logical inevitability. This was "nailing the jelly to the tree" with a vengeance! I read and read and read endlessly. One of my fellow students at Piet Retief house, Arvo Podersoo was spending his days and months reading three different editions of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment one of which was in Russian. When I listened to Arvo on a more or less daily basis for the best part of three months giving an exposition on the three different interpretations of a key passage in Crime and Punishment and I compared that to the wonderful contents of Mendelson I felt deep sympathy for Arvo for having such an un-nutritious diet and at the same time elated that my diet of First Order Logic and Number Theory in Mendelson was, by comparison, overwhelmingly rich, exotic and wonderful !
When I came to page 32 I wrestled with the proof of Jacques Herbrand's Deduction Theorem for what seemed like a whole day. I had to understand ! I had to understand it and be able to repeat the proof in my head, in much the same way as a waiter can run through the specials on the menu without pause, but if questioned about any item, can uniquely decompose it into the constituent culinary (logical) sub-components. This was mentally exhausting work but made me dizzy with abstract delight.
I ordered a copy of Word and Object from Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford and waited 8 weeks for it to arrive by mail steamer. An account at Blackwells was obviously the key to intellectual progress and survival in Africa !
My view was that with Quine and Mendelson in my knapsack that I was, at last, on the high road to KNOWLEDGE. Kant and Ryle seemed to offer an unpalatable and non nutritious diet of bitter olives washed down with Retsina. Quine and Mendelson were offering succulent roast duckling and fine, aged Chateau Petrus.
In September 1968 I arrived at Oxford University to take up a place at Linacre College. Prof. Oosthuizen of Rhodes Univ. had spoken to Gilbert Ryle about me and prof. Ryle suggested that I apply to Linacre College, the newly established College for Graduate Students. Since I had won one of six South African National Scholarships I had some limited set of resources to pursue graduate study. The National Scholarship was unrestricted on the question at which local or international institution one could use the funds to pursue graduate studies.
My partner Toni Gillham and I and our daughter Alice live in Cape Town on the edge of the Cape Peninsula National Park.
My eldest son Anton, who lives and works in the New York area, is a functional languages (e.g. SCHEME, HASKELL and LAMBDA) expert and a software solutions consultant. (http://www.appsolutions.com )
My younger son Andre is a restaurant manager in Johannesburg.
My interests include: The subject of CONSILIENCE as developed and explained by E.O. Wilson (in his book Consilience) and Steven Pinker (in his book The Blank Slate; Evolutionary Biology, Socio-Biology and Population Biology; Proof Theory (including Provability Logic); Model Theory; Set Theory; Method in Archaeology; The wine business, particularly South African, French, Italian and New World wines.
Recreation includes Amateur Astronomy (I have had a 100mm TeleVue Refractor since 1988, and before that had a Celestron 200mm Schmidt Cassegrain); Chess; Cycling; walking my German shepherd on Table Mountain; growing succulents, tomatoes, rhododendrons and bougainvilleas. I am a past member of the Grahamstown Chess Club (chairman in 1967 & 1968) Rhodes University Chess Club (played on the University team in 1968), Linacre College (played on the College team in 1969), Oxford University and Johannesburg Chess Clubs. In 1972 and 1973 I was Chess Correspondent of the Rand Daily Mail.
Professor Zak Van Straaten
Born: 2 July 1940.
Currently: Consultant and Partner at Pinoak Consulting cc and Director of Knowledge Management Operations(Cape Town, South Africa)
Skills and Interests:
§ Expert in Knowledge Management (KM) solutions in business, where KM is interpreted as the continuous improvement (or innovation) of
§ Consulting in the design and implementation of corporate business schools or corporate universities. (since 2000)
§ Consulting in the upgrading of business training departments to become world class learning functions aligned to business strategy (since 1998)
a. Junior Lecturer (1967 academic year) and Lecturer ( 1968 academic year) Rhodes Univeristy, Grahamstown.
b. Assistant Professor at Northern Illinois University. DeKalb, Illinois. (lecturing in Mathematical Logic) (1970-1971)
c. Lecturer (1971 - June 1973) & Senior lecturer (1973- 1980) at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.(lecturing and researching in (inter alia); the methodology of scientific research programmes; proof theory & model theory)
d. Professor at the University of Cape Town (1 Jan. 1981 –> 31 Jan. 1991) (lecturing and researching in; the methodology of scientific research programmes; Popper, Lakatos; the philosophy of science; model theory, proof theory and set theory.)
e. Dean of the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities, University of Cape Town (1984 –1987)
d. Executive Director of KnowledgeTec at the Human Sciences Research Council (Jan. 1991 to July 1993)
e. Owner; The Internet Experience, Johannesburg July 1993 - 1998. It was the early days of the commercial internet; before the existence of Amazon.com or Yahoo. The Internet Experience collaborated with Iafrica (iafrica.com) and Internet Solutions (icon.co.za ) to assist corporates and individuals take up a profile and marketing position on the internet.
f. Founding Partner of PINOAK CONSULTING cc in Cape Town (1998). PINOAK CONSULTING carries out at least 2 kinds of business activities: (1) It assists businesses to optimize their education and training function, which sometimes means establishing an in-house corporate business school; and (2) It assists businesses to improve the practices or processes involved in their Valuable Working Knowledge with problem solving and process improvement tools and techniques. (See: http://PinoakConsulting.com )
Rhodes University B.A. (Hons.) First Class in logic and philosophy (1966)
won a National Scholarship to Linacre College, Oxford University. (1968)
D.Phil candidate at Linacre College (1968-1974)
Zak Van Straaten is the editor of several books (2 published by Oxford University Press) and the author of many papers in the fields of mathematical logic; the history and philosophy of science; upgrading the methodology of archaeology by mapping the findings of sociobiology on human nature onto the archaeological record of the ancient mediteranean; method & methodology in academic philosophy; and is a regular conference circuit speaker on new developments in knowledge management and the continuous improvement of valuable working knowledge embedded in best practices or best processes and the implementation of leading edge, internationally benchmarked, practical tools of Knowledge Management or Innovation in business to enhance shareholder value.