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Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 34, No. 48. Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London Hosted by King's Digital Lab www.dhhumanist.org Submit to: humanist@dhhumanist.org Date: 2020-05-22 05:49:19+00:00 From: C. M. Sperberg-McQueenSubject: software as applied mathematics Willard writes: > A common move is to call software 'applied mathematics', Perhaps we just hang around with different groups of people, but I haven't encountered this move before. Whom are you talking about? And what do they mean? If what they mean is that software is applied mathematics and 'applied mathematics' is another name for software as a field, I can only advise you to keep smiling, make no sudden moves, and back slowly but firmly away. If what they mean is that software development is a field in which mathematics can be applied, then I agree: software development is an activity in the known universe. But I don't understand why you are hanging around with people who make portentous statements which, when their meaning is ciphered out, turn out to be tautologies, and not very surprising ones at that. I confess to being mildly disappointed by your decloaking. The question "where did the := of Algol 58 assignment statements come from?" is fairly interesting, and I have learned some things I found worth my while, from thinking about it and from what posters to Humanist have said about it and from attempting to confirm or falsify various possible answers. The most promising line of inquiry at the moment appears to me to be Herbert Wender's observation that := is used in set theory (and, I have learned, in mathematics more generally) to mark a definition and to stress that the relation is asymmetric and a matter of definition, in contrast with the equals sign and the identity or triple-barreled equality sign, which describe symmetric relations which are matters of fact about independently defined objects. (See for example [1] and [2].) [1] https://mathworld.wolfram.com/Defined.html [2] https://math.stackexchange.com/questions/182101/appropriate-notation-equiv- versus If one could establish that := was in use in this way by the 1950s (and preferably earlier, when those sitting on the Algol working group had received their mathematical training), it would be very difficult to resist the conclusion that the Algol symbol was adopted from its mathematical usage, like a number of other symbols in Algol 58's reference language. Unfortunately, the only history of mathematical notations on my shelf appears not to have an index of symbols. I can hardly blame the author, but still it makes it difficult to know whether he discusses the origin of this particular bit of notation or not. If the origin of := is in mathematical notation, then things look bleak for the proposition that the function of yoking the colon to the equals sign is to signal that software is mathematics with a difference. The question "what is software in relation to mathematics?", on the other hand ... well, if I think of it as a sort of koan, I can just about see a point in the question, but most of the time I cannot. So the only answer I can suggest is one you will I fear find painfully obvious: two French hens and a bathtub full of brightly colored machine tools. Michael _______________________________________________ Unsubscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted List posts to: humanist@dhhumanist.org List info and archives at at: http://dhhumanist.org Listmember interface at: http://dhhumanist.org/Restricted/ Subscribe at: http://dhhumanist.org/membership_form.php

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