Archive for December, 2019

Writing and writing programs

December 12, 2019

The following is from the book, Computer Power and Human Reason by Joseph Weizenbaum, page 108. I think it’s great.

“Often when we think we understand something and attempt to write about it, our very act of composition reveals our lack of understanding even to ourselves. Our pen writes the word ‘because’ and suddenly stops. We thought we understood the ‘why’ of something but discover we don’t. We begin a sentence with ‘obviously,’ and then see what we meant to write is not obvious at all. Sometimes we connect two clauses with the word ‘therefore,’ only to then see that our chain of reasoning is defective. Programming is like that. It is, after all, writing too. But in ordinary writing we sometimes obscure our lack of understanding, our failure in logic, by unwittingly appealing to the immense flexibility of natural language and to its inherent ambiguity. The very eloquence that natural language permits sometimes illuminates our words and seems (falsely, to be sure) to illuminate our undeserving logic just as brightly. An interpreter of programming-language texts, a computer, is immune to the seductive influence of mere eloquence. And words like ‘obviously’ are not represented in the primitive vocabularies of any computers. A computer is a merciless critic.”