The Art, Science, and Engineering of Programming, 2018, Vol. 2, Issue 3, Article 10
Submission date: 2017-12-01
Publication date: 2018-03-29
Full text: PDF
The relation between Science (what we can explain) and Art (what we can’t) has long been acknowledged and while every science contains an artistic part, every art form also needs a bit of science. Among all scientific disciplines, programming holds a special place for two reasons. First, the artistic part is not only undeniable but also essential. Second, and much like in a purely artistic discipline, the act of programming is driven partly by the notion of aesthetics: the pleasure we have in creating beautiful things.
Even though the importance of aesthetics in the act of programming is now unquestioned, more could still be written on the subject. The field called “psychology of programming” focuses on the cognitive aspects of the activity, with the goal of improving the productivity of programmers. While many scientists have emphasized their concern for aesthetics and the impact it has on their activity, few computer scientists have actually written about their thought process while programming.
What makes us like or dislike such and such language or paradigm? Why do we shape our programs the way we do? By answering these questions from the angle of aesthetics, we may be able to shed some new light on the art of programming. Starting from the assumption that aesthetics is an inherently transversal dimension, it should be possible for every programmer to find the same aesthetic driving force in every creative activity they undertake, not just programming, and in doing so, get deeper insight on why and how they do things the way they do.
On the other hand, because our aesthetic sensitivities are so personal, all we can really do is relate our own experiences and share it with others, in the hope that it will inspire them to do the same. My personal life has been revolving around three major creative activities, of equal importance: programming in Lisp, playing Jazz music, and practicing Aikido. But why so many of them, why so different ones, and why these specifically?
By introspecting my personal aesthetic sensitivities, I eventually realized that my tastes in the scientific, artistic, and physical domains are all motivated by the same driving forces, hence unifying Lisp, Jazz, and Aikido as three expressions of a single essence, not so different after all. Lisp, Jazz, and Aikido are governed by a limited set of rules which remain simple and unobtrusive. Conforming to them is a pleasure. Because Lisp, Jazz, and Aikido are inherently introspective disciplines, they also invite you to transgress the rules in order to find your own. Breaking the rules is fun. Finally, if Lisp, Jazz, and Aikido unify so many paradigms, styles, or techniques, it is not by mere accumulation but because they live at the meta-level and let you reinvent them. Working at the meta-level is an enlightening experience.
Understand your aesthetic sensitivities and you may gain considerable insight on your own psychology of programming. Mine is perhaps common to most lispers. Perhaps also common to other programming communities, but that, is for the reader to decide…
firstname.lastname@example.org, EPITA Research and Development Laboratory (LRDE), France