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Re: How to delay action of ...[[i]] (Part[...,i])

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  • Subject: [mg112300] Re: How to delay action of ...[[i]] (Part[...,i])
  • From: Scott Graham <greylander at>
  • Date: Wed, 8 Sep 2010 00:59:26 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Leonid,

Thanks for you insights.

Hopefully I have not inadvertently started a great debate.  I was speaking
loosely when referring to the "core" language.  I merely refer to
functionality is defined in Mathematica "by default", whether part of the
kernel or defined at a higher level.

It may well be that NDSolve is one of the few places that the issue of
indexing lists before they are instantiated is likely to come up.  But I
imagine more than a few new Mathematica users may come to it initially to
solve differential equations numerically (people coming from a physics
background, for example), and the counter-intuitive manner in which indexing
works is likely to frustrate them and make them go back to using Fortran or
C before they have taken the time to understand what I have just figured out
for myself (I happen to be very stubborn... and I happened to have some free
time).  Also people coming from a more traditional programming background
will have certain intuitions regarding indexing of lists and arrays that
will lead to confusion if and when what looks to them like an array index,
[[]], surprisingly dismembers an expression.

At the very least, an additional paragraph or two of explanation in the
documentation for List[], Part[], and NDSolve[], perhaps in the "Possible
Issues" section, would go a long way.


On Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 10:54 AM, Leonid Shifrin <lshifr at> wrote:

> On Tue, Sep 7, 2010 at 9:59 AM, Greylander <greylander at> wrote:
>> I have answered my own question!  And understand a bit more how to
>> 'think' in Mathematica...
>> The problem is that Part[[]] acts on any expression.  What I have
>> finally figured out is that I need a version of part (or a version of
>> [[...]]) that acts *only* on lists (i.e. expressions with "List"
>> head), and searching and exploring the documentation, I eventually
>> learned how to do that.  This will have exactly the desired result.
>> Here is what I did:
>>      VPart[expr_List,k_] :=Part[expr,k]
>> And I also define subscripting in an expression to invoke VPart[]:
>>     expr_List[Ctrl+-]k_ :=VPart[expr,k]
>> Above the [Ctrl+-] means literally press the Ctrl key and the -
>> (minus) key, so that "k_" will then be a subscript.
>> Now I have one remaining question:  why is there not something like
>> this already defined in the core of Mathematica?  It seems obvious (to
>> me) that one would want a version of Part[] (element selection)
>> restricted to List expressions only.
> To my mind, the kernel should contain either functionality which is not
> easily reproduced with  top-level Mathematica code (either because of
> efficiency
> or because the rest of the language is not sufficient to reproduce the
> feature
> in a satisfactory way), or functions which are so frequently used in
> practice that the
> convenience of having them as single commands overweights the conceptual
> cost
> of extending the kernel. Functions like Most and Rest I think can be
> examples of the latter.
> As far as I can tell, your case with Part restricted on lists does not fall
> into
> either category. Restricted patterns give a powerful mechanism to define
> functions
> only on certain types of arguments - this is just what you used in your
> implementation.
> OTOH, at least in my experience, problems with Part applied to general
> structures
> when intended to work  only on  lists are pretty rare and I always treat
> them as
> programming mistakes on my side. And having Part work universally on
> general
> Mathematica expressions has major advantages in terms of simplicity and
> consistency
> of the language, which I think greatly overweight occasional puzzling
> situations like the
> one you encountered.
> In fact, one of the main reasons for my appreciation of Mathematica
> language is that
> it does expose enough of its internals to the user that in most cases one
> can create
> custom functions for whatever purposes one needs, and work around the lack
> of
> any particular function in the kernel, just as you did it here. But this
> kind of extensibility
> stems from the small number of "orthogonal" general functions (like Part,
> or functions
> related to patterns, such as Pattern, ReplaceAll, etc)  much more than it
> would from a
> huge API for all tasks one can possibly think of.
> Regards,
> Leonid
>> On Sep 6, 4:13 am, Greylander <greylan... at> wrote:
>> > Consider the following toy example:
>> >
>> > in> goo[v_] := v.{1, 1}*(3 v)
>> > in> foo[k_][v_] := goo[v] [[k]]
>> >
>> > in> goo[nnn]
>> > out> 3 nnn nnn.{1, 1}
>> >
>> > in>foo[1][{2, 3}]
>> > out>30
>> >
>> > in> foo[2][nnn]
>> > out>nnn
>> >
>> > Notice how in this last output, because the parameter nnn is
>> > undefined, [[k]] ends up acting on the structure of the expression in
>> > goo, but the intuitive behavior would be for evaluation of [[k]] to
>> > also be delayed.  The output I would like to see is:
>> >
>> > in>foo[2][nnn]
>> > out> ( 3 nnn nnn.{1,1} ) [[2]]
>> > in> nnn = {4,5}
>> >      %
>> > out> 135
>> >
>> > But of course it does not happen that way.
>> >
>> > I realize that Mathematica is a specification rather than procedural
>> > language, but surely there is some reasonably elegant way to to delay
>> > the effect of [[2]] above so it acts on the eventual result of
>> > goo[nnn] and not on the structure of the expression.
>> >
>> > This is related to my other questions about using NDSolve on dependent
>> > variables that have arbitrary structure and therefore require some
>> > kind of indexing.
>> >
>> > There must some basic aspect of the Mathematica language that I have
>> > missed which makes indexing and list manipulation more intuitive.  (I
>> > hope!)
>> >
>> > Anyone have any insights?

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