[OT] Re: [Tutor] primes (Cautious remark on Python and Scheme)

Brian van den Broek bvande at po-box.mcgill.ca
Sat Mar 19 05:08:01 CET 2005


Gregor Lingl said unto the world upon 2005-03-18 19:57:
> Hi Danny!
> 
> Preliminary remark: I know that "beautiful" and "beauty"
> are concepts very seldom applied to computer programs or
> programming languages. I suppose mainly because they are
> to a large extent a matter of taste ...

Hi Gregor and all,

Though I've not had the time to follow the details of the thread 
closely, it's stored for future perusal -- I'm really glad you started 
it, Gregor.

But, your comment above caught my eye. import this to see that beauty 
is embraced by the zen :-)

It's been a long day, so I don't feel I am saying this well, but:

When not trying to learn Python, I'm a (grad student) philosopher of 
logic and mathematics. I've thought some about beauty in proof, and 
hope to think seriously about it one day. Beauty in maths is like what 
the judge said about pornography -- "I can't define it, but I know it 
when I see it." I've never met a philosopher or a mathematician who 
could give a compelling (and robust) account of what makes for beauty, 
but there is widespread convergence of judgements about which proofs 
are beautiful and which ugly. (This even though taste does enter into 
it, too.)

I think the same is true of (at least academic) computer science. The 
comp sci people I know at my uni all work in automated-theorem 
proving, and I know they use their perceptions of beauty as a design 
guide. And, with my much more limited experience with programming, my 
judgements that "this code is ugly" have been pretty reliable in 
identifying the problematic parts. "If it is beautiful, it might be 
right. If it is ugly, it is likely wrong" seems a safe claim.

Anyway, all this is to say that I think that what you "know" above is 
wrong :-)

<SNIP>

> post scriptum: as always when writing not only about technical
> facts but about opinions and values in English, I'm a bit axious
> if I was able to express correctly what I wanted to say. Hmmm.
> Hope that I didn't create any misunderstandings ....

Ich kann Deutsch, aber nur ein bischen. I think I'd be a very happy 
fellow if my German were half as good as your English :-)

Best to all,

Brian vdB



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