On Nov 24, 2009, at 9:35 PM, Derek M Jones wrote:

Brad,

like i said, i'm not sure intuition exists....
What's quite certain is that *claims* of intuitiveness exist.

But do they only exist as a reason for justifying the use of
one particular language?

I don't think so.  For one thing, in the recent thread that got me
started on this, other people were recommending a whole range of
programming languages (Java, C#, Python, AWK, even PERL).  For
another, when people try to justify one particular language, there
are lots of other reasons they can and usually do oofer.

I believe that when people say things like "imperative programming
is more intuitive than [whatever]" they mean _at least_ the
following things:
 1 I learned imperative programming with only a modest amount
   of trouble or no trouble at all.
 2 I was able to transfer what I learned to other imperative
   languages with little or no trouble.
 3 I find [whatever] much harder to understand.
 4 I know a lot of other people who feel the same.
 5 I do NOT know many people (or even any at all) who came from
   [whatever] to imperative programming and found it hard to
   understand.
 6 The experienced difficulty of [whatever] is not a defect in
   us or our education but a defect in [whatever].

For the speakers, 1-5 are facts and 6 is felt to be justified by
those facts.  The possibility of selection bias (people who would
have been more comfortable learning Haskell or Miranda first
very seldom get the chance, and leave the field, so we never get
to hear their opinions about intuition and programming languages)
is rarely considered.

How could students tell the difference between having problems
programming and having problems using a particular kind of
language?  Perhaps this distinction is not important, they
could simply try another approach and see if it makes any
difference.

That's indeed an operational way of telling the difference.

That suggestion of mine was not just a half-baked idea, it was
just set out in the sun for a minute or two.  It would not be
easy to set up or administer.

By the way, there's a service paper here for people who want to
be surveyors.  It covers trigonometry, statistics, a couple of
other topics, and some programming.  The surveying department
insisted that the language taught be Visual Basic (more precisely,
Visual Basic for Applications, inside the Excel spreadsheet).
I was the only computer science lecturer willing to be involved
with it.  I only have five one-hour lectures to teach the
elements of programming.

I *KNOW* the thing is impossible.

I spend one lecture explaining that and why computer arithmetic
does not behave the way they expect arithmetic to behave, for
example that you can find a number X such that X + 1 < X
and numbers X, Y, Z such that X+(Y+Z) differs from (X+Y)+Z
and numbers X Y both different from zero such that X*Y = 0.
I spend half of another lecture telling them that they need to
write down what their functions are supposed to do and to TEST
their functions to make sure that they do.

When you stop and think about it, computer arithmetic is
*stunningly* unintuitive, IF your intution is based on the
laws of whole numbers and fractions learned at school and the
laws of the real and complex numbers learned in first year
mathematics at university.

I wonder if the question of "intuitiveness" could be studied
at the level of arithmetic rather than programming as a whole.
For example, Smalltalk counts as OO-imperative, but has
bignum and ratio arithmetic built in and standard:  6/4 gives
the answer 3/2, not 1.5.  Java _has_ bignum arithmetic, but
doesn't let you use ordinary notation with it.  And so on.

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