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"theory vs practice" ceases power

 
 
Xah Lee
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      07-22-2003
Dear functional programing comrades,

Among the community of automatons of the IT industry, there is a
popular quote about "theory vs practice" that goes something along the
lines of "in theory this, but in practice that", which is often quoted
by automatons to slight at computer science principles or
practice. (especially by perl or unix advocates)

i'm posting the following in hope that "theory vs practice" can cease
its misleading power. I seek your support in the education of IT
automatons. Thanks.

from
http://www.xahlee.org/UnixResource_d..._practice.html

http://www.velocityreviews.com/forums/(E-Mail Removed) (Randal L. Schwartz) quoted:
| The difference between theory and practice in theory is much less
| than the difference between theory and practice in practice.

Popular quotes have attributes of equivocal interpretation and
theatrical display. When interpreted and pondered by the wise, it
lights up a wisdom, but dullards quote them equally, and delight in
their drama. (the latter happens a lot in Perl and unix communities.)

From American Heritage Dictionary:
theory n. pl. theories
1. a. Systematically organized knowledge applicable in a relatively
wide variety of circumstances, especially a system of assumptions,
accepted principles, and rules of procedure devised to analyze,
predict, or otherwise explain the nature or behavior of a specified
set of phenomena. b. Such knowledge or such a system. 2. Abstract
reasoning; speculation. 3. A belief that guides action or assists
comprehension or judgment: rose early, on the theory that morning
efforts are best; the modern architectural theory that less is
more. 4. An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a
conjecture.

The word 'theory', in practice, has more meanings than in theory.

For example, in the above usage, 'theory' is used twice. In the first
instance, it is used for a purpose but not for its meaning. It is part
of a construction in a language that discuss the language itself. In
theory it does not come up, but in practice it does all the time. In
practice, we can say that the first instance of usage of the word
'theory' has no meaning given the context. In the second appearance of
the word, it has myriad of interpretations due to the construction of
the phrase.

People may mean: "The word 'theory', in practice, has more meanings
than people would think." Here the word is thus used conveniently to
stand for "mob's knowledge".

From a logical linguist's mouth, the intent might be: "The word
'theory', outside academia, acquire more meanings and purposes than we
require in linguistics." The sensibility of such semantic content is
demonstrated in the previous paragraph.

People may say: "in theory, tomorrow'll rain." They really mean "the
broadcast station lady said that tomorrow will rain."

A detective might say, "in theory, that guy is the murderer.". He
really means: "according to my investigations, it is highly probably
that that guy is the murderer.". (dictionary definition #4.)

In a strict sense, 'theory' means systematic and organized principles
derived by scientific means (dictionary definition #1.). In a more
strict mathematical sense, 'theory' is the body of theorems, and
theorem by definition describes practices correctly always, else it is
not a theorem. It is possible for a mathematical theorem to be
incorrect (we are humans, after all), but in practice to assume that
theorems can be incorrect is like assuming one might be hit by a
meteor tomorrow. Theoretically correct, but not sensible.

As you can see, the word 'theory' is subject to wanton abuses. In
fact, all English words are subject to extraneous purposes to yield
sentences or paragraphs that has a meaningful ambiguous
interpretation. (this is how poetry works, in theory.) All in all,
English is extremely malleable and ambiguous. The phrase "The word
'theory', in practice, has more meanings than in theory" is really
silly, except in really well-defined context. In our context, the
quote amounts to illustrating the stupidity of Perlers who don't have
a solid background in logic or linguistics, but like to quote about
differences of theory vs. practice.

Larry Wall likes to mention how he had a linguistics background, and
how he utilized the (good) human qualities of English to create
Perl. To the Perl folks of beady eyes, they are sold a grand advance
in computer science, but to discerning eyes, it's artful garbage.

Sorry i don't have time to address the above points of Wall's, but
this will definitely be another lesson for you folks down the road.

The perl folks with their beads of little eyes, cannot see beyond
imperative languages.

Xah
(E-Mail Removed)
http://xahlee.org/PageTwo_dir/more.html
 
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Albert Lai
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Posts: n/a
 
      07-23-2003
Rudolf Polzer <(E-Mail Removed)> writes:

> Scripsit ille aut illa »Xah Lee« <(E-Mail Removed)>:
> > Larry Wall likes to mention how he had a linguistics background, and
> > how he utilized the (good) human qualities of English to create
> > Perl.

>
> Haha... I cannot see that in Perl. Just because it uses some English
> words, it shows linguistics background? Did Larry Wall invent SQL
> or COBOL? *ducks*


Larry Wall made those claims in public speeches. See for example
http://www.wall.org/~larry/keynote/keynote.html
http://www.wall.org/~larry/onion/onion.html
The first one mentioned his linguistic background. The second one
mentioned borrowing qualities from human languages.

Whether he has successfully achieved what he said, you can have your
opinion. But be it recorded that he did say those things.
 
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