C and Lisp

numeromancer on Jan 25, 2010 [-]

In every art there is a dichotomy between the practical and the theoretical, and each has their fundamentals. In Comp. Sci., those two sets of fundamentals are these: sets of machine instructions, which come in several varieties; and lambda calculus, or one of the equivalent (by Church’s Thesis) formal systems. C and Lisp are similar in that they represent the first steps in each case to reach the other: C is a level above machine code, providing some abstraction and portability to the use of machine code, the fundamental elements of practical computing; lisp is a level above lambda calculus, providing a practical system for using functions, the fundamental elements of theoretical computing.

In short, mastery of C is concomitant with the ability to measure the cost of computation (sometimes, regardless of the value of it); mastery of Lisp is concomitant with the ability to measure the value of computation (sometimes, regardless of the cost).

Since C and Lisp lie on opposite borders of the universe of computation, knowing both will allow you to better measure the scope of that universe.

— Ask HN: Why does learning lisp make you a better C-programmer?

— Hacker News



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