Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and their Computation by Machine

'Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and their Computation by Machine' is the original paper on Lisp from John Mc Carthy. That paper appeared in Communications of the ACM in April 1960. It is a great short read.

John Mc Carthy passed away yesterday. After Steve Jobs and Dennis Ritchie earlier this month, October has been a sad month for the computing community...

Another good article from Paul Graham, 'The Roots of Lisp' helps explain John Mc Carthy's discoveries with Lisp.

If you don't know Lisp, you should learn it.

I had a brief look at it 15 years ago, but was too impatient and unexperimented to get the point then. I took more time to actually learn it on a summer vacation 2 years ago, then went on to learn Scheme (a Lisp dialect) as I was going through the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs classic Computer Science book from MIT.

Believe me. Lisp (or Scheme) will transform you into a different programmer. After that, even if you still have to program in C, C++, Python, or even Java, you're in a different world. You'll see programming through different eyes, and there will be no going back.

Think about a few fun facts... Pretty much everything you manipulate in Lisp is a list of values (Lisp stands for 'list processing'). Values can be numbers, strings, symbols or lists. Data and code are interchangeable and represented in the same way, as lists of values. You can write a Lisp interpreter in half a page of Lisp!

So, if you're working with 'modern' OO programming languages, scripting languages, or functional programming languages, if you're using XML dialects, JSON, DSLs, and you're still struggling to map between documents, data, objects, services, code and configuration... spend the time to learn Lisp. It'll open your eyes.

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