Last week I continued a discussion about my teacher, Joachim, and what he had taught me about languages as tools. He had a unique perspective on this as a former rabbi and professor of ancient languages at the University of Naples. Specifically, he stated that just as one uses different tools for different tasks in constructing a building, so one should use different languages for different tasks, or at least to teach different concepts.
Last week I explained how one of the things that language is used for is to convey structure and provide for control. Latin was this language for the Roman Empire and German is a modern equivalent. In this light, I mentioned how the pioneering work of Bertrand Meyer at ETH Zurich had been so fundamental for me and my colleagues in understanding key concepts important for me in uniting various models in pursuit of von Neumann’s “Infinite Forecast.” While these ideas can be implemented in languages such as C++, Hal and I have great hope in Rust for the future. This stated, let’s move on to what Joachim referred to as “languages of creativity,” or in other words, languages built to facilitate creativity.
Spanish as a Language of Creativity
Classical Greek was a language that Joachim referred to as a language of creativity as is modern Spanish. The ancient Greeks drove their language in this direction by having massive sets of preformed concepts, phrases, and even deep meaning names and it was the Rhapsodes, or ancient rappers, and the Greek theatre that literally brought the combinational creation to a new height. Now, before going on, I’d like to refer back to another concept that Joachim taught me about language and specifically the word “creation.”
Joachim almost always went back to the Torah when he referred to deeper concepts and creation was a concept that he had a particular fondness for. He explained that when people refer to the fact that “God created Heaven and Earth,” they often don’t understand what “create” means, which does not mean to make something out of nothing, but instead to organize things that already exist. In other words, to create is to bring together a particular combination of things that previously existed in a new order or way. This is what the ancient Greek rhapsodes did in their ancient “rhap battles” and this is of course what people do in modern “rap battles.” We saw this really come to the mainstream in Gangsta Rap and the more recent Reggaeton (for those of you unfamiliar to Reggaeton, watch Trolls World Tour and you’ll get a taste—after all, it’s viewed as important enough to get equal billing with K-Pop). All this said, for my money the most versatile rapper alive today is Pitbull, someone I find who has great flow and tells great stories. It’s also no surprise to me that he is, you guessed it, Latin, using English and Spanish with equal versatility.
Python, A Language of Creativity
Joachim had never programmed but his teachings on language are what provided me the framework that I use to evaluate languages, and for years I looked for a language that would facilitate creativity like ancient Greek or Spanish and allow users to “tell their stories.” When I was younger, I first thought that language might be a variant of C, specifically one with a lot of object-oriented development tools running on the NeXTSTEP operating system. After all, not only did Tim Berners-Lee develop the first webserver on a similar environment, but gaming rock stars Carmack and Romero developed their game tools on the same foundation.
This is one of the things I experimented with in BYU’s NeXT Lab. This said, after about a year working on the same NeXT environments that Berners-Lee, Carmack, and Romero used, I became disillusioned with the environment and turned away. Not incidentally, the top investment banks had also been convinced by Jobs to try to use the NeXT platform the same way I was trying to. Then came Java and my disillusion set in even sooner with that and Sun. Then after many years, I finally found was I was looking for in Python around 2014. Of course, I’d experimented with Python before then, but it was in about 2014 that the libraries and dev environment became so good that Python started to come into its own. My mind was totally made up when I began teaching my students with it in 2016 and I saw how much better it was in facilitating their work than R. The key was that it wasn’t only a special purpose statistical language, but it was also a rapid prototyping language that allowed students to glue things together.
Related to this, I believe that embedded within every human being is a deep well of creativity, something that if tapped into can create wealth on an unprecedented scale. While my partner Hal is much more a linguist than I am, we have conferred and decided back in 2017 that Python would be our computer language version of ancient Greek or modern Spanish for the ULISSES Project. We saw it as something that can help every person create in an amazing manner. Others in business schools agree with us, as it was made obvious by the fact that Columbia University Business School’s new dean is not a “finance guy,” but instead a computer scientist who had the distinction of developing the coding curriculum in Python for the MBAs at Columbia. This was a big move by a major business school but I expect this to be just the first of many similar moves.
With this said, I will close by saying that our computer equivalent for Spanish needs its Cervantes, and I will introduce him and his work to you next week.