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

From: wooks (wookiz at hotmail.com)
Date: Wed May 27 03:52:38 EDT 2009

On May 27, 2:25 am, Neil Toronto <ntoro... at cs.byu.edu> wrote:
>  From an information-theoretic standpoint, by memorizing a simple
> mapping from symbols to names, you'll be able to hold more knowledge in
> your average-sized brain if some of it only exists with Greek letters.
> Naming things that are used more than once is compression.
>  From an expected-utility standpoint, the one-time cost of memorizing is
> utterly swamped by time wasted renaming symbols in equations or hunting
> for Latin-alphabet-only sources. Think of these costs as accumulating
> over the course of your life.

Man. You have no idea how much of my time as an undergraduate  has
been wasted trying to grok the Greek stuff I absolutely disagree.

Look alpha and beta look like A and B so they are alright, sigma seems
to be used consistently to represent a summation so conceptually it's
no more difficult than absorbing ! for factorial, -> for implication
or the number e. Delta has a common English meaning so thats fine too.
As I mentioned the existential and universal quantifiers bear a
physical resemblance to the concepts they represent so they are
mnemonics. Similarly with the set theoretic operators, there is a
consistency in representation and interpretation so you are able to do
a mental substitution for the symbolism and parse what is in front of
you. Same applies to your mu xbar and whatever you call the symbol for

It starts to break down with pi, because the mathematicians whose
excuse for all this is supposed clarity  aren't shy of using it as a
variable.  phi - I cannot remember what it looks like and people can't
even agree how to pronounce it. By the time tau makes an appearance
you are in the realm of  inconsistent use of alien symbols as
variables representing alien concepts.

> You can amortize the cost of memorizing by printing out a table, taping
> it on your wall, and resolving symbols you come across to names in the
> table. You'll have each memorized after three or four lookups. I did
> that my first week in grad school and never regretted it.
> If you're not convinced, well... I know that space-bounded AIs and /homo
> economicus/ would be.

Effectively what you are saying is - look it's a club mate, this is
the cost of admission you're better of paying up.


You know if someone hadn't looked at the customs and norms prevalent
in CS pedagogy and said "This is nonsense I'm not perpetuating this
s**t" HTDP would not have been created. The arguments for teaching
everybody to program apply tenfold to the teaching of math.

The Greek stuff is appropriate for the cognoscenti. It has an
alienating effect on non-mathematicians who need to, or are interested
improving their mathematical capabilities. It's not as though there
aren't enough problems in math pedagogy already.

Posted on the users mailing list.