[plt-scheme] Re: Why "lambda"?

From: wooks (wookiz at hotmail.com)
Date: Tue May 26 15:16:52 EDT 2009

On May 26, 7:18 pm, hend... at topoi.pooq.com wrote:
> On Tue, May 26, 2009 at 10:14:22AM -0700, wooks wrote:
> > On May 26, 3:53 pm, "Todd O'Bryan" <toddobr... at gmail.com> wrote:
> > > After getting the lambda chair emails, I had to show it to my
> > > students. (After flipping it horizontally, of course.)
> > > One of the students asked, "Why is it lambda and not some other Greek letter?"
> > If I may ask the more mathematically inclined academics on the list.
> > Why the continued affinity with Greek letters - period?
> Well, historically, written mathematics more or less started in Greek.
> Yes, there were some mensuration stuff in Egypt, first, but the
> characteristically mathematical activity of proving obvious statements
> from other even more obvious statements, started in Greece.

Yes but perpetuating it only makes sense if you are Greek or are
taught Greek in university....

> Secone, mathematicians have always used a large variety of kinds of
> symbols and type faces to systematically distinguish different kinds of
> things, a kind of informal static typing that makes their formulas more
> visually distinctive and easier to follow.
> Greek letters are just part of that.

The letters a-z are also visually distinctive. Seriously, I've been in
classes where the use of  s and t in formulas where people are used to
seeing x and y can be enough to instil a feeling of befuddlement in
some non-math majors.

In CS this habit seems to be beloved of people who teach theory of
computation or AI courses (machine learning is Maths anyway).

A CS lecturer I spoke to about this said when he was an undergrad he
had to rewrite formulas with all the Greek variables substituted
before he could understand them because it's hard to grok concepts
expressed in terms you can't name.

Ocassionally it is a useful mnemonic e.g the universal and existential
qualifier which succinctly bear resemblance to the concepts they
reperesent, otherwise you sit there trying to decipher some squiggly
mess because  the language you are trying to learn has been
unnecessarily layered in an alien meta-alphabet.

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