I have long admired the work of computing scientist Luca Cardelli. I even have a copy of his magnum opus A Theory of Objects (coauthored with Martin Abadi) and, which is even more impressive, have actually managed to read about a third of it. (A Theory of Objects is to object oriented programming what the Principia Mathematica was to mathematics.) While most of his work is rather technical, he has produced several sparkling semipopular talks and articles, such as this paper in which he compares the ways a biologist and a computing scientist might go about understanding a tamagotchi. I particularly like the following section from which the quote about "Hiring the Creator" comes:
Here are some typical questions that arise from attempts at understanding principles of organization. We begin with a couple of questions that are not normally asked by biologists, but that we need to considered because they would be first in the mind of technologists:
Q1: Who created it? We actually known the answer to this question (Aki Maita [pictured]), but it does not help: hiring the creator as a consultant is not considered part of the scientific method. Moreover, how could something so unique and sophisticated as a Tamagotchi have suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere? It is such an unlikely and unparalleled phenomenon that we have to question whether we could ever actually understand the mind of the creator, and whether the creator herself truly understands her design (“Aki's own Tamagotchi seldom lives longer than its baby stage.” - Apple Daily).
Q2: Where is the documentation? Well, there is no documentation, at least no design manual that explains what its principles are or how it works. Even if we could acquire the design manual from the creator (by industrial espionage), it would be written in the Language of the Creator, i.e., Japanese, and would be of little use to us. Now, turning to more scientific questions:
Q3: What is its function? What does a Tamagotchi compute? We have here a relatively primitive information processing device, but there is no easy way to explain what its processing function actually is. In fact, its function is not quantifiable; it does not appear to compute anything in particular. And how can we hope to understand its design principles if we cannot say what it does?
Q4: Why does it have 3 buttons? There surely must be a deep reason for this: 3-button devices are comparatively rare in technology. Did it evolve from archaic 2-button devices of which we have no record? Is 3 just the closest integer to e? Is there some general scaling law that relates the size of a device to the number of its buttons? It seems that none of these questions can be answered from abstract principles.
Therefore, principle-driven understanding fails.