Monday, April 20, 2009


I am, at last, learning R: the ultrapowerful, ultrafree language for creating meaning from the void. Err... that is: its a language for data mining and statistical analysis. I like to think if it as applied epistemology: what is true? how do we know? Programming languages are like added sensory and cognition facilities.

I've been looking forward to this for quite a while now; I read that Google uses R for some really cool jobs, and I set out to learn it. Up until now I've been stymied by my lack of mathematical/statistical/programming background; but I've come to the point where I can work with it.

I'm reminded of Myst, the old puzzle-solving game. The backdrop of the story was some magical form of writing that created worlds that the writer could visit and live in. I'd always viewed that as a euphemism for writing things like novels; but now I see that it (rather obviously) is also euphamistic for programming languages.

Natural languages are read and interpreted by agents (people) who are internally complex and under many influences for interpreting what they read. Thus there interpretations will necessarily differ, and whatever "commands" are contained in the writing may or may not be executed, depending on the complex interactions of very many other things within the person. Nevertheless, such commands are potentially powerful, and indeed we could interpret much of human action (including writing books) as the execution of commands given by others via natural language.

Programming languages, by contrast, are read and interpreted by internally simple (but powerful) agents, unambiguously and unquestioningly. I'm reminded of the Fantasia marching broomsticks. Its fun to think of technological things in mythical terms...
We whisper commands to our demons, and they whisper secrets back to us. They have no will to question our commands today, but we use their power even knowing that someday they'll gain it.