Subject: Re: Lisp is alive
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 1996/09/29
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

[Cyber Surfer]

|   I don't doubt it - I've done it myself.  I've just not met many people
|   who've also done it.  Are you saying that because a few people discover
|   Lisp, that's enough?  I hope not.

I'm not interested in the mass market, if that answers your question.  I
think mass popularity is a liability, too, but obscurity is no guaranteed
asset, either.  Come to think of it, most of the things I like are obscure,
off-off-mainstream kinds of things.  Except coffee.

|   What I'm saying is that it has a hard time competing with languages
|   like C++.

But don't you see?  It _doesn't_.  It _can't_.  Lisp is about programmer
productivity and abstraction, C++ is about exploiting hardware.  C++ is the
assembly language of an object machine.  If your task is to program that
machine, fine, do it, but you don't _have_ to do it at the assembly level!

|   What makes Java so different from Lisp, so that it should be so
|   successful?  It could well be the syntax. ...  I'm not sure that
|   Smalltalk created this kind of excitement, and I remember some people
|   being critical of the ST syntax.  Perhaps syntax is more important to
|   people than you think?

Probably not more than _I_ think, since I don't buy the "semantics is more
important than syntax" argument, and have frequently argued against it.  As
a friend of mine said when we discussed just this the other day, all the
relevant languages are turing complete, anyway, so they differ not in
_semantics_ per se, but in pragmatics, which is closely tied to syntax and
questions of ease of expressibility.

How could the syntax of C++, Perl, Java, etc, be so important?  Well, my
take on this is that programmers don't have the needs that would warrant a
more powerful syntax.  They _have_ needs that ask for tons of menial labor,
and that's when (apparent) brevity of syntax becomes so important.  If you
wanted to think about complex issues, you would want readability of complex
ideas, and you would invent Lisp if it wasn't already there.  If you wanted
to hack and slash your way through a jungle of murky ideas and bad design
just to get some already annoying task done, you would want a syntax that
could do it fast, and you would invent Perl if it wasn't already there.

Only a few people in each generation discover Aristotle and read his works.
This is sufficient to continue his massive influence on Western thought.  I
care about the spread of the ideas in Lisp more than actual language, just
as I care about the concept of structured information more than I care
about another language with which I have spent an inordinate amount of
time: SGML, a language I dropped because its syntax is contradicting its
semantics, i.e., they communicate widely disparate ideas.  If the ideas can
penetrate the programmer community and they want what Lisp can offer, it
doesn't really matter what the language looks like, as long as it is still
possible to read and write the language with standard language functions,
which is why the list form beats any alternative hands down in my eyes.
Unfortunately, programmers still think of themselves as feeders of machines
and not machines as their _partners_ in their job.

I could tell you, but then I would have to reboot you.