Recently the question, "Computable Syntax", hit the Hot Network Questions sidebar. It has an accepted answer and lots of good commentary.

Regardless, there's a couple glaring issues with the entire interaction, and I'd like to know if anybody has any postmortem insights that they'd like to share, so that we can do better as a community in the future. I recognize that this is somewhat open-ended, but I think that it's important to consider the quality of discourse. I don't know how to fix this, only how to point out what went wrong. In the question:

  • The question asks several queries at once
  • Terminology is confused: generic patterns like "computable" and "first-order logic" are treated as specific concretions
  • Distractions are brought up, like "completeness theorem" and "Turing machine"
  • Signs of an XY problem, as the questioner may be trying to formalize something they've discovered/invented
  • Value judgements like "reasonably useful"

And in the comments and answers:

  • Restating Wikipedia articles with slight changes
  • Focusing on consistency over soundness
  • Focusing on semantics over syntax
  • Value judgements like "what makes a good formal system"
  • Long meandering answers that do not directly answer the question as asked

I am not blaming anybody specifically. I merely think that this could have gone better. What do y'all think?

  • 1
    As the OP, I can admit that question wasn't properly understood. There is always a gap where I am (my knowledge), and where others are, which is why the question has come up. However, I received enough pointers where to look. Question undoubtedly has a very philosophical character, for it asks, loosely, "what makes formal systems work". It borders on exploring the relation between "principles" which make formal system work and the "intellect". Unfortunately, many responders gave technical answers -which are what they are - "just technically correct".
    – Ajax
    Commented Feb 26 at 19:52
  • 2
    There are several answers that make good points. I'm surprised that the answer by Rodolfo was accepted: it is definitely weaker than many of the others and much of it misses the mark entirely.
    – Bumble
    Commented Feb 26 at 22:38
  • @Ajax: That makes sense. It seems like a simple line of inquiry, but there's no formal bridge from the informal to the formal (or at least we haven't found one!) and a barrier preventing argumentation. I think many answers assumed that you were already on one side or the other.
    – Corbin
    Commented Feb 27 at 16:31

1 Answer 1


The subtopic that interests me the most are the “value judgments” and I’d like to collaborate with people on trying to propose some new moderation guidelines for that.

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