Re: Mathematica and Lisp
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- Subject: [mg129502] Re: Mathematica and Lisp
- From: W Craig Carter <ccarter at MIT.EDU>
- Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2013 00:53:53 -0500 (EST)
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On Jan 17, 13, at 13:50 PM, Richard Fateman wrote:
> On 1/16/2013 8:54 PM, W Craig Carter wrote:
>> On Jan 17, 13, at 12:14 PM, Richard Fateman wrote:
>>> There may be such courses in physics, statistics, etc departments,
>>> but this should be classified as a utility course, akin to "how to use
>>> the microwave oven in the lunchroom".
>> Was this analogy meant to be pejorative?
> Not especially,. just illustrative.
OK, no harm, no foul. I think we nearly agree. There are certainly parts of "real computer science" that would benefit engineers. I don't mistake what I do as "real computer science" or "real mathematics". My only goal is to teach the students how to think. I find Mathematica an excellent tool to do that, and they acquire useful tools in the process. I am confident that I am doing the right thing.
I spend far too much time defending this position; so I am sensitized to the microwave comment. Please consider the comment below on this.
> I have met physical scientists who assume that a computer scientist knows LOTS of
> programming languages, not just FORTRAN. I have seen programming languages designed
> by physicists who tried to learn by osmosis, but made some fundamental errors.
True. I agree that most of my colleagues are unaware of large difference between computer science and programming in a language. I imagine this is a source of frustration to many computer scientists. However, there are many examples of the converse misunderstandings as well.
> I hope it is not called Introduction to Computer Science.
I have no illusions that I'm teaching computer science. However, I am pleased that I can explain a Hamming distance metric and the students can immediately see the utility of the concept, but I don't expect them to construct an efficient algorithm to compute a metric. However, I would be very pleased if my applied science students tried to construct an algorithm---however inefficient---out of mere curiousity.
>> Equally important, the students learn math and a means to acquire more math on their own---and quickly.
> So the course is something like "Introduction to Mathematical Modeling in Material Science"
> perhaps "... with an introduction to programming language X...".
Correct. I confess to the sin of pride with the content of that course. I believe every applied science department should have one like it. Linear algebra isn't required for engineers at my institution. I consider this extremely short sighted. However, to convince a curriculum committee to agree, I had to make the course serve multiple purposes---including an introduction to linear algebra.
>> I teach fundamental concepts of my discipline by using novice programming, numerical analysis, symbolic algebra: voila, canonical discipline knowledge and transferable skills in one course.
> eh,sounds like E7 except last I heard, it didn't include symbolic algebra, but
> made some fuss about object-oriented programming.
No such fuss in my case: it pleases me when see they difference between Cos[Pi] and Cos[ArcCos[-1.0]] and when to use one or the other. I realize there are finer points of interval arithmetic that I don't comprehend as fully as I'd like, but I don't think this should disqualify me from teaching the nature of precision and symbolic computation.
>> The "microwave usage" analogy diminishes the importance of an indispensable tool to an applied scientist or engineer.
> I think a microwave oven is indispensable too :)
Indeed--my life would be much richer without microwave ovens; but that wealth was purchased with no effort whatsoever and I don't have any transferable skills besides those which transfer between popcorn and frozen dinners.
The intellectual benefits of learning how to use a microwave shouldn't be compared to those of learning a useful tool with utilities beyond what the manufacturer imagined.
>> I have physical science colleagues who consider programing and linear algebra to be superfluous because they use spreadsheet tools.
> I think that is justifiable, for some people. Many mathematicians consider computers quite worthless
> because to them, mathematics has to do with creating proofs, and computers (mostly) don't do this.
That's a fairly broad brush, but OK. However, I consider that inflexible viewpoint ("worthless") as anything but shameful intolerance for that group of many.
> Some professional engineers lived their whole careers using tables in handbooks. Times change,
> of course, but not all engineers do terribly novel things.
Agreed. I imagine (hope) that you might agree that description is not limited to engineers.
> It is unlikely that an engineer will be called upon to write one, much less a collection, of
> different sorting programs. So a course on algorithms that provided such an experience would
> seem to be, vocationally speaking, unnecessary. Though the exercise might be intellectually enlightening
My opinion is that distinctions between computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, physicists, etc continue to become much more diffuse; this makes me optimistic---but it also might make me uninformed.
I am not sure if you would classify yourself as a computer scientist or as a mathematician--I would guess you would be more content not to classify yourself within one discipline at all---and you may object with others trying to classify your contributions as one or the other?
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