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Re: Warsaw Univ. course, was Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!

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  • Subject: [mg131024] Re: Warsaw Univ. course, was Re: Work on Basic Mathematica Stephen!
  • From: David Bailey <dave at>
  • Date: Tue, 4 Jun 2013 02:00:44 -0400 (EDT)
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On 03/06/2013 08:25, Richard Fateman wrote:
> On 6/1/2013 9:22 PM, David Bailey wrote:
>> On 01/06/2013 11:06, Richard Fateman wrote:
>>> I have no objection to a data type that might reasonably be called
>>> Vector, or perhaps Sequence, that implements a data structure that uses
>>> sequential storage.  I object to calling it List.
>> Indeed, the essence of your criticism seems to be merely that
>> Mathematica gives a slightly different technical meaning to the English
>> word 'List' than that of Lisp!
> No, my point, though I may have worn it out with repetition, is that
> using Mathematica for computer science, or implying that it represents
> computer science best practices has many hazards.  One of which is that
> it misuses common terms in ways that are wrong.  For example List
> is used for a vector or array.

The point is that almost every technical subject usurps a few common 
words, and gives them special meanings. Every computer language does 
this, and some of them aren't consistent with other languages. Think of 
the number of partially consistent definitions of the word 'Module' that 
exist! Formats exist in Fortran, C, and Mathematica, but they aren't the 

If Lisp had used a neologism like CARCDRTUPLE, it would be reasonable to 
leave that word alone - and any use of CAR, CDR, CDDR, CONS, etc should 
be avoided unless the meaning is essentially the same as in Lisp. 
However, the motivation behind the use of words like 'List', 'Module' 
and 'Format' is English, and you simply can't expect to achieve 
consistency across different usages.

Incidentally, I once saw a book about physical fields classified in the 
library in the pure maths section. I brought this to the attention of 
the librarian, who couldn't seem to see my point, and did nothing. The 
word 'field' also seems to crop up in signal processing texts in the 
maths sense, where it could indeed confuse physics students. Every 
re-definition of a word has a potential cost.

Calling Mathematica lists 'vectors', or even 'tuples' would be extremely 
confusing to many people in certain contexts, and would almost certainly 
upset you! I think you would object that a 'vector' such as 
{"alpha",23,{}} wasn't a vector in the maths sense at all! Perhaps you 
would prefer the syntax WolframList[1,2,3], or Obj652[1,2,3]! That 
syntax would be perfect (from your point of view) because it would make 
Mathematica code unreadable and much less attractive!

David Bailey

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