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Re: Mathematica and Lisp

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  • Subject: [mg129493] Re: Mathematica and Lisp
  • From: David Bailey <dave at>
  • Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2013 00:50:53 -0500 (EST)
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On 17/01/2013 04:15, Richard Fateman wrote:
> On 1/14/2013 8:28 PM, David Bailey wrote:
>> On 14/01/2013 05:01, Richard Fateman wrote:

> The point is that Mathematica is confusing to new users;

Well I'd imagine that engineers who simply want to perform a 
mathematical calculation - one that doesn't come straight out of the 
box, like an isolated integral - the Mathematica language is probably 
easier to use than LISP.

> Maybe it will be in version 10.  There is no way of telling from outside
> the company.
Possibly, but on the whole features seem to mature fast and then remain 

> There is an ANSI Standard Common Lisp that has a range of features.
> Arrays were in "early" Lisp at least by 1966.  There were arrays in
> Fortran and Algol before that, so Lisp wasn't first.  If you want to
> criticize languages by historical relics, you might note that Fortran
> doesn't have subroutines.  Oh,  variants of Fortran added subroutines.
Clearly people can argue endlessly over the merits of different 
languages. To me, the interesting feature of early LISP was the elegant 
minimalist design. It seemed to offset my irritation that foo(1,2,3) is 
a lot easier to read than (foo,1,2,3) and that the language did live up 
to its name: Lots of Irritating Sets of Parentheses! Once it had to add 
other constructs that elegance was lost.
>    Mathematica seems to have kept its original design (at
>> least in this area) over the years, even though internally, lists now
>> come in two flavors!
> Mathematica's internal design has apparently changed in many respects;
> some WRI literature claims it's been entirely rewritten.
Well obviously it is only the external design that is directly relevant 
to us. I'd expect the internal design to change radically, as for 
example, typical available RAM soared during the two decades following 1990.

> I think the issue is not only that it violates transparency, but that it
> mis-uses terms, it can make a hash of comparing algorithms and data
> structures for efficiency, it is expensive and proprietary, it has no
> formal definition, and some things are done just out-and-out wrong from
> the perspective of computer science and numerical analysis.
> But other than that, eh..
Which kind of makes me wonder why you actually use Mathematica! If you 
listed some of the things you like about the system, it might become 
apparent that a variety of subtle tradeoffs were necessary to provide 
those features.

David Bailey

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