Python is readable

Steven D'Aprano steve+comp.lang.python at
Fri Mar 30 05:36:27 CEST 2012

On Thu, 29 Mar 2012 22:26:38 -0400, Nathan Rice wrote:

>> He did no such thing. I challenge you to find me one place where Joel
>> has *ever* claimed that "the very notion of abstraction" is meaningless
>> or without use.
[snip quote]
> To me, this directly indicates he views higher order abstractions
> skeptically,

Yes he does, and so we all should, but that's not the claim you made. You 
stated that he "fired the broadsides at the very notion of abstraction". 
He did no such thing. He fired a broadside at (1) software hype based on 
(2) hyper-abstractions which either don't solve any problems that people 
care about, or don't solve them any better than more concrete solutions.

> and assumes because he does not see meaning in them, they
> don't hold any meaning.  

You are making assumptions about his mindset that not only aren't 
justified by his comments, but are *contradicted* by his comments. He 
repeatedly describes the people coming up with these hyper-abstractions 
as "great thinkers", "clever thinkers", etc. who are seeing patterns in 
what people do. He's not saying that they're dummies. He's saying that 
they're seeing patterns that don't mean anything, not that the patterns 
aren't there.

> Despite Joel's beliefs, new advances in science
> are in many ways the result of advances in mathematics brought on by
> very deep abstraction.  Just as an example, Von Neumann's treatment of
> quantum mechanics with linear operators in Hilbert spaces utilizes very
> abstract mathematics, and without it we wouldn't have modern
> electronics.

I doubt that very much. The first patent for the transistor was made in 
1925, a year before von Neumann even *started* working on quantum 

In general, theory *follows* practice, not the other way around: parts of 
quantum mechanics theory followed discoveries made using the transistor:

The Romans had perfectly functioning concrete without any abstract 
understanding of chemistry. If we didn't have QM, we'd still have 
advanced electronics. Perhaps not *exactly* the electronics we have now, 
but we'd have something. We just wouldn't understand *why* it works, and 
so be less capable of *predicting* useful approaches and more dependent 
on trial-and-error. Medicine and pharmaceuticals continue to be 
discovered even when we can't predict the properties of molecules.

My aunt makes the best damn lasagna you've ever tasted without any 
overarching abstract theory of human taste. And if you think that quantum 
mechanics is more difficult than understanding human perceptions of 
taste, you are badly mistaken.

In any case, Spolsky is not making a general attack on abstract science. 
Your hyperbole is completely unjustified.


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