Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tyranny of Numbers

I’ve always found a strange disconnect between my experience in coding and how it is taught in school.  Back in the ‘80s, matheletes owned computer science, and still do today.  More interested in the theoretical number games they could play on computers than in actually building programs, I quickly failed out of it.

My self-taught experience was one of hacking and building.  Tweaking pieces of code and refining them until I got the desired result.  I could see the logical construction, but it was never numerical for me, it was mechanical.  Later in life I worked as a millwright and an auto mechanic before coming back to computers as a technician.  I’ve always had a love of machines and computers have always been included in that mechanical empathy.  That mathematics stole coding from me is something I've always regretted.

That tyranny of numbers still holds sway in coding no matter what attempts are made to pry it free.  I’m previewing a video for my computer studies class and came across this bit:
So there you have it.  Had we developed computers with different intent, our analytic engines wouldn't have been confused with calculators.

One of the perilous moments I experienced while getting my philosophy degree was trying to get the mandatory symbolic logic credit.  My first attempt had me in a classroom full of science majors all taking symbolic logic because it was being delivered as a math course.  I fled the scene and worried that I'd never get this credit, the math-bullying in that class was something else.  I ended up taking symbolic logic the next semester and getting an A in it.  Why?  Because it wasn't taught by a math major.  I can appreciate logic, I have trouble with it when it gets abstracted in numbers.

The term ‘computer’ is prejudicial.  Computers were originally people who did tedious math problems, mechanical computers supplanted them, but modern computers aren't number crunchers.  Modern code on a modern computer is a construction of complex logic that produces results well beyond mere calculation, to reduce that process to mathematics is absurdly simplistic.  

The whole thing makes me want to change my department from "Computer Studies" to "Universal Engines" and escape from the confusion of a historically inaccurate name, and that tyranny of numbers.