Alan Blackwell wrote:
1) What is the measure of 'intuitive' that you propose to use?

Asking for the measure is sage advice, I'd say, for a PhD candidate, but the question that first flashes in my mind is whether intuition -- and intuition in programming -- is a phenomena that can be identified regardless of what measures one intends to use to snap its picture. The literature I've bumped into seems to confine "intuition" into the category of processes of knowing without conscious inference. Back to measurement for a moment, such a phenomenon is -- in the spirit of Ericsson and Simon's hypothesis about verbal protocols -- not something that one can "directly" observe through protocols, but perhaps through brain sensing (FMRI, etc.). This would place it a similar realm of phenomena as Rasmussen's skill or rule-based behaviour (non-introspectable, fast, parallel), or Klein's recognition-based responses. And since intuition has a "feel" to many, it might be interesting also to relate it to Norman's Visceral level of emotional response.

Taken to heart, this definition of intuitive would imply that no programmer will be able to (honestly) explain why they find the computational model intuitive -- unless they happen to have a model for how they manage to think without being able to introspect those thought processes! This brings up the point that the argument raging may well be not at all about intuitive computational models / languages, but rather whether they are familiar to more people, or whether various groups of humans have mental software that is better or worse at thinking about these models / languages. "Intuitive" in that case is a code word for "I have a lay understanding of cognition so don't know why I find it easier".

On 23 Nov 2009, at 04:23, Richard O'Keefe wrote:
Another mailing list I'm on just had a bunch of people shouting
that imperative programming was obviously more intuitive than
functional or logic programming.  Since they didn't seem to be
familiar with the fairly wide gap between a typical first-year
model of how an imperative language and what _really_ happens
(e.g., apparently non-interfering loads and stores can be
reordered both by the compiler and the hardware, loads from main
memory can be 100 times slower than loads from L1 cache, &c),
I found myself wondering if what they _really_ meant is "I learned
a simple model early on and find anything else different."

Why is what "really" happens relevant? In my mind it is perfectly acceptable to talk about an abstract machine and language for programming it and ask useful questions about its usability without worrying about implementation. This is math and comp sci's hard-won benefit of creating abstraction boundaries. If we create an artificial minimal purely functional language without state, and an imperative-paradigm language with it, wouldn't the "which paradigm is more intuitive" question arguably come into sharper focus? Even if we never got around to implementing a compiler for either language?

More directly, what "really" happens when a functional or logic program is running is that somewhere underneath is a distributed finite state machine fully operating within the imperative paradigm. If you pierce the abstraction boundary you lose the privilege of hyping the advantages of the paradigm.


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