Friday, July 23, 2010

A Funny Anecdote with Very Narrow Appeal

This story will only be amusing to people who have the relevant background in Frege's philosophy of language and about the programming language LISP:

During my undergrad years, my friend Dennis (a computer science major) was excitedly informing me about the progress he'd been making in teaching himself the programming language LISP:
"First, I wrote a program that lets you play Mastermind. It generates the puzzle, and lets you take ten guesses."
"Ok. That sounds cool."
"I'm not done. So, then I wrote a program that can play mastermind against the first program."
"Does it guess randomly, or what?"
"No, I programmed it with the algorithm to solve any mastermind puzzle in less than six guesses."
"Wait, so, do you just check which guesses the one program says to make?"
"No, in LISP, programs are all functions, and functions can take other functions as arguments, so, I just have the one program call the other program as its argument."
"And what does that do?"
"Oh, umm, it takes a little while and then returns the value True."

You'll all just have to take my word for it that this strikes one as funny if they hear it just after learning about the Fregean view on what sentences refer to.