February 6, 2014


I am the first to admit that my mathematics is weak. It has always bothered me, and while I've made strides (many of them recently) to improve myself in this area, I've always had the nagging suspicion that I will always be a weak mathematician. While irrational fears cannot be conquered simply by reading an essay, I did take a small amount of solace when I ran across this today.

Edsger Dijkstra, one of the most famous computer scientists, is usually known for inventing much of modern structured programming, but he spent the last several decades of his life on formal methods---how to write programs that are provably correct.

"Looking back I cannot fail to observe my fear of formal mathematics at the time. In 1970 I had spent more than a decade hoping and then arguing that programming would and should become a mathematical activity; I had (re)arranged the programming task so as to make it better amenable to mathematical treatment, but carefully avoided creating the required mathematics myself. I had to wait for Bob Floyd, who laid the foundation, for Jim King, who shoed me the first example that convinced me, and for Tony Hoare, who showed how semantics could be defined in terms of the axioms needed for the proofs of properties of programs, and even then I did not see the significance of their work immediately. I was really slow."

  -Edsger Dijkstra, EWD1308, 10 June 2001

No comments: