The sociophilosophical implications of yes `yes no`


After posting yes `yes no` a short while ago, I saw that I was receiving some traffic from the resources page of the CIS 191 course at University of Pennsylvania. After jokingly emailing the instructor about the possibility of doing a guest lecture for his course, he graciously responded positively, making my day. Unfortunately I live on the west coast, making a trek over to Philadelphia just for a short talk not feasible.

If I were do actually fly over and do this talk, it would cover similar material to this:

The sociophilosophical implications of yes `yes no`, or, how a stupid unix command can get you out of a rut

Buckets and computers as a metaphor

I want to talk to you about buckets and water. Imagine you have a lot of buckets. Like almost an infinite amount of buckets.

Each of these buckets are also really big. Probably infinitely big. All these buckets are all different; some of them are really interesting.

Your job is to fill these buckets up with water. All of them. All the way up.

This is stupid. The first bucket you get is boring. I don’t want to do this anymore and you shouldn’t either. We’re engineers, so let’s have a robot do this for us. Computers are really only good at one thing: doing what they’re told to do. So our robot friend ends up trying to fill up this stupid bucket until it’s battery runs out. Like the daughters of Danaus, except if the holes were made of infinity.

So what have we learned?

  • We know that if we do what’s expected of us and fill up every bucket entirely, we will never finish and get bored very quickly.
  • We know that a robot can and will do this job for us if we tell it to, but will also not finish.
  • If the first bucket is a boring bucket, we just have very bad luck.

Resolution of the metaphor

You may have guessed that these buckets represent the program yes `yes no`. The command works by trying to fill the computer’s memory with the output of a never ending function; it will try and do this a never ending amount of times, if it could.

You may not have guessed I am going to use this bucket metaphor as a metaphor for us as humans and our activity/career/etc. This metaphor depends greatly on the idea that we are not computers and are, quite frankly, sometimes very bad at doing what we’re told.

Hate hate hate

I’m guessing how I resolve this discussion maybe stir strong disagreements as it makes very broad assumptions, but this the internet and anything goes.

Assuming that the educational system in America (as well as several countries in Asia and Europe) puts you on the track to get a degree in a field you choose with little prior knowledge to eventually try and fill a metaphorical bucket that won’t ever be filled entirely.

If you find yourself in a career where you aren’t doing anything new and don’t learn anything each day you work, you may be trying to fill this one bucket. When you finish, you’ll have made some progress on this bucket, but it won’t be very interesting to talk about.

Escaping the rut

We have to imagine we are not computers (because we aren’t) and know that even if we are expected to follow this one path, we totally don’t have to. You have entirely the capacity to put your current bucket down, call it done, and randomly choose a new one to start working on.

In your last conversation before you die, you can show someone all these buckets you’ve worked at; some more filled than others, some filled almost not at all. Though none will be completely filled, you’ll have some to show for it and won’t still be stuck on the first one like a computer running yes `yes no`. If a computer were like us, it wouldn’t finish many of the inner yes no instructions we gave it, and as a result, we’d see output from the command.

So this is how you escape the rut.


This analysis of yes `yes no` is hardly a sociophilosophical analysis, as sociophosophy doesn’t exist, as far as I know. It is heavily influenced by Opbeat’s Fuck It, Ship It ideology and probably is just a really convoluted roundabout way of getting to the same point. Oh well.