- Series: Lecture Notes (Book 136)
- Paperback: 257 pages
- Publisher: Center for the Study of Language and Inf (August 1, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 157586326X
- ISBN-13: 978-1575863269
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 15 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,094 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About (Lecture Notes)
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From Library Journal
In a series of six lectures delivered at MIT from October 6 to December 8, 2001, Knuth (The Art of Computer Programming), the "father of computer science," ranges over topics from free will and divine design to aesthetics and the complexities of language translation. Yet the centerpiece of the lectures is Knuth's explanation of his earlier book, 3:16: Bible Texts Illuminated (1990), in which he examined the Bible by analyzing the third chapter and 16th verse of each book. In each lecture, Knuth explores various aspects of that project, such as the ways that the random selection of "3:16" functions as a method for understanding the overall thematic threads of biblical meaning and exposes the intersections of faith and computer science. Knuth delivers each lecture in a breezy, informal style and follows up with a brief question-and-answer section. But the conclusions that he reaches are vague and simplistic, e.g., "the Bible verses I studied were constantly interesting and full of stimulation" and "God definitely wants people to be actively searching for better understanding of life's mysteries." If these lectures are any indication, readers will be grateful that religion is one of the things that computer scientists rarely talk about. In addition, since this book is simply a transcription of Knuth's lectures, it is recommended only for large academic libraries. Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Inside Flap
Perhaps no one is more qualified to address these questions than Donald E. Knuth, whose massive contributions to computing have led others to nickname him "The Father of Computer Science"—and whose religious faith led him to understand a fascinating analysis of the Bible called the 3:16 project. In this series of six spirited, informal lectures, Knuth explores the relationships between his vocation and his faith, revealing the unique perspective that his work with computing has lent to his understanding of God.
His starting point is the 3:16 project, an application of mathematical "random sampling" to the books of the Bible. The first lectures tell the story of the project's conception and execution, exploring its many dimensions of language translation, aesthetics, and theological history. Along the way, Knuth explains the many insights he gained from such interdisciplinary work. These theological musings culminate in a surprising final lecture tackling the ideas of infinity, free will, and some of the other big questions that lie at the juncture of theology and computation.
Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About, with its charming and user-friendly format—each lecture ends with a question and answer exchange, and the book itself contains more than 100 illustrations—is a readable and intriguing approach to a crucial topic, certain to edify both those who are serious and curious about their faiths and those who look at the science of computation and wonder what it might teach them about their spiritual world.
Includes "Creativity, Spirituality, and Computer Science," a panel discussion featuring Harry Lewis, Guy L. Steele, Jr., Manuela Veloso, Donald E. Knuth, and Mitch Kapor.
Top customer reviews
The lectures, however, draws a lot of examples from his project on Bible 3:16. At times, it seemed to be better to read his book on Bible 3:16 first, and then read this lecture series. He has been candid in stating his belonging to a specific branch of the Christianity (Lutheran), and at times the lectures gave a feeling that a thorough study of Bible (or history of Bible) would be helpful before reading this lecture series.
Setting that apart, there is enough food for thought to a computer scientist. The first lecture states when it comes to theology Mr. Knuth is a user, not a developer. That instills a unique feeling to every programmer and computer scientist I am sure: when it comes to programming this tribe sits in the developers seat and they can now imagine how they can be perceived by the users if the work is done right.
My second takeaway was the statement that talked about the importance of rational expression of all emotional feelings, but how hard it is to do in reality.
The third and final takeaway was his experience in writing "Surreal Numbers". The story of how he spent six days in Oslo to write it up, and how his mind was blanked out on the seventh day, was simply amazing. The analogy of the muse sitting on his shoulder for six days and then moved off was quite profound.
A must-read book for those who think themselves as computer scientists.
A better title for this book would have been something like "3:16: The Story Behind The Book."
Consider chapter 4. This is mostly a series of stories about how Knuth and Herrmann Zapf asked many of the world's leading calligraphers to illuminate the verses he used. He talks about the suble colors used to print them, the delicacy of the originals (not fully picked up by a 600 dpi scanner and requiring pixel-level editing to prepare them for reproduction). It therefore can only be described as irritating to be presented with these pictures, about fifty of them, in the form of little 2x3" halftone reproductions.
I do not feel the book delivers much on the promise that Knuth will reveal "the many insights that [he] gained" from the work. He talks a good deal about the reasoning and the process behind the project and it is quite interesting, perhaps even inspiring in the sense of making one wish to do likewise. But his presentation of his own beliefs is rather muted and low-key. I perceive this as modesty, not evasion. Still, it is not what I expected. Consider chapter 4, again: we learn a great deal about how he feels about the esthetics of the calligraphy, how he edited them, how he dealt with issues like calligraphers who inadvertently made mistakes in the text. But are there really any religious insights here? Well, subtle ones, perhaps.
I think he is sincere when he says, referring to "3:16," "I am not here today to sell copies of the book." In a discussion, someone asks "What would you recommend for computer science students who have never read the Bible?" and I believe Knuth is joking when he says "The number one recommendation is that they should certainly read my book. You know, it makes a wonderful Christmas gift. More seriously..."
Chapters 5 ("Glimpses of God") and 6 ("God And Computer Science") are fascinating, and come close to delivering on the promise of the book. I would gladly read a book-length expansion of this material in these two chapters.
Still, on finishing this book, I am aware of two feelings: a) an interest in reading "3:16," and b) an irritation with myself for having purchased this one.
Most recent customer reviews
In college, I became familiar with Knuth's works and they deserve the...Read more