Sorcery

September 8, 2009 at 7:48 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I am currently reading Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, a book so influential in computer science realms that it has been largely unchanged since it’s publication in 1984. Anyway, Gerald Jay Sussman, one of the authors, has a good comment on why computer “science” has more to do with sorcery than it does with actual science. Here:

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory. The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.

In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

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  1. Hail, fellow Stever!

    SICP is one of the most awesome books ever. I took Structure and Interpretation from Sussman and Abelson my freshman year at MIT. It was the most influential, mind-blowing class for me that I’ve ever taken.

    Interestingly, I’ve heard that Sussman has changed his attitude about what should actually be taught in college. While he theoretically still supports abstraction, modularity, and all that good stuff, I’ve heard that he doesn’t believe the industry has developed in a direction that makes those valuable, marketable skills. So now he’s in favor of more practical, albeit less theoretically pure instruction in programming.

    Personally, I always considered programming half wizardry, half art. SICP does the best job of any text I know at capturing both of those. I’ve written large software systems (compilers and window systems) using the SICP principles and found them powerful, elegant, and engaging.

    Enjoy the journey!


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