TopCollaboration & Academic Honesty PolicyPhilosophy behind our approach

Philosophy behind our approach

The following abstract from a talk by Gerry Sussman at OOPSLA 2005summarizes my view of the use of mathematical and computational models.While Sussman's work has primarily been in physics, the sentimentsare, if anything, more applicable in linguistics.

Why Programming is a Good Medium for Expressing Poorly Understood and Sloppily Formulated Ideas

We have been programming universal computers for about 50 years.Programming provides us with new tools to express ourselves. We now haveintellectual tools to describe "how to" as well as "what is". This is aprofound transformation: it is a revolution in the way we think and in theway we express what we think.For example, one often hears a student or teacher complain that the studentknows the "theory" of some subject but cannot effectively solve problems.We should not be surprised: the student has no formal way to learntechnique. We expect the student to learn to solve problems by aninefficient process: the student watches the teacher solve a few problems,hoping to abstract the general procedures from the teacher's behavior onparticular examples. The student is never given any instructions on how toabstract from examples, nor is the student given any language forexpressing what has been learned. It is hard to learn what one cannotexpress. But now we can express it!Expressing methodology in a computer language forces it to be unambiguousand computationally effective. The task of formulating a method as acomputer-executable program and debugging that program is a powerfulexercise in the learning process. The programmer expresses his/her poorlyunderstood or sloppily formulated idea in a precise way, so that it becomesclear what is poorly understood or sloppily formulated. Also, onceformalized procedurally, a mathematical idea becomes a tool that can beused directly to compute results.

Gerry Sussman, MIT, October, 2005


TopCollaboration & Academic Honesty PolicyPhilosophy behind our approach