In the dynamic world of technology, programming languages serve as the backbone of innovation and problem-solving. Just like learning a new human language can change the way you think about the world, learning a new programming language can change the way you think about solving problems with computers. One Quora discussion explores some programming languages that have really changed the game. These aren’t just tools for coding; they’re like new ways of seeing and interacting with the digital world.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Just as learning a new human language can alter one’s perspective on the world, learning a new programming language can fundamentally change how one approaches problem-solving in computing.
  • Functional programming languages were said to have the most unique role, distinguishing them from general-purpose languages. Additionally, the foundational importance of assembler language is highlighted, underscoring the need to understand low-level operations to grasp the essence of computing.
  • Currently, there’s a search for explanations on how different computer programming languages affect human thinking and the scientific process. Aligning with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, it could lead to a deeper understanding of the role of programming languages in shaping cognition and potentially influence the design of new programming tools and languages.

Programming is a very intricate subject. And as it constantly evolves, even the most seasoned professionals in the field open something new each time they do computing. A lot of Quora users shared their own experiences of their perception being changed by one or the other programming language they started to learn. And if you think about which languages precisely could alter the minds of these experienced coders, buckle up because we are about to open the door to the most popular among them.

Assembler, Python, and More

One veteran programmer, with an impressive career since 1963, offered a bold statement:

“All general-purpose programming languages are essentially the same, except for functional programming languages.”

He highlighted the unique role of functional languages in computing, setting them apart from others. The programmer generally pinpointed the major breakthroughs like multitasking operating systems and object mechanisms as game-changers in programming.

The power of assembler language was another highlight in the discussion. One programmer remarked,

“It’s revealing to know that whatever abstractions high-level languages provide, they must resolve to CPU instructions.”

This insight underscores the foundational importance of understanding assembler to grasp the core of computing.

A coder who began with Erlang at 18 also shared an enlightening moment:

“Remembering things by putting them into function parameters and passing them recursively… was a big a-ha moment.”

This experience reveals how Erlang’s unique features can lead to innovative problem-solving approaches.

The transition from low-level to high-level programming was also marked as an educational breakthrough. It was vividly illustrated by a coder’s journey with PL/I. Initially baffled by this “new-fangled ‘high-level language’ nonsense,” the coder eventually mastered it, saying, “Once I got it, I was on fire.”

Python also stood out for its impact. At least for one coder who noted,

“Python reminded me that some programmers care so much about readability that they design a language to enforce it.”

Following this comment, one can only think about how Python’s distinctive approach to coding in reality greatly emphasizes readability and aesthetics.

The Influence of Programming on Cognition and Thought-Processing

The Knowledge Lab at the University of Chicago, in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Psychology, has embarked on an ambitious project to explore how different computer programming languages influence human thinking and scientific processes. Backed by a $750,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, this research aims to rigorously examine the often anecdotal debates surrounding various programming languages. The project, led by James Evans and Gary Lupyan, will investigate how programming tools interact with the human mind, potentially expanding or limiting cognitive processes.

Coders Agree That Some Programming Languages Reshape Computing Perspectives & Alter Traditional Approaches
Image: pexels.com

Drawing parallels with the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, which suggests that language can shape thought, the study will delve into the cognitive impacts of computer languages, which are mostly Turing complete, meaning they are formally equivalent in expression capabilities. Despite this equivalence, the researchers will examine how different languages support problem-solving and creativity. They plan to analyze data from online repositories like GitHub and BitBucket and forums like StackExchange to trace the usage and applications of various languages. Additionally, coding competitions and controlled experiments will provide further insights into how these languages influence collaborative and individual coding efforts.

This research could revolutionize the understanding of programming languages’ role in science and cognition, potentially guiding the design of new languages and coding environments. It promises to offer practical and fundamental insights into the nature and limits of human intelligence, especially in the context of software as a cognitive “prosthetic.”

Conclusion

In essence, these stories paint a picture of programming languages as more than mere tools; they are gateways to new ways of thinking and understanding. They challenge programmers to continually adapt and evolve, not just in their technical skills but in their cognitive approach to problem-solving. This dynamic relationship between programmer and language is what keeps the field of computing vibrant and perpetually innovative, proving that the language we use in programming does indeed have the power to change the way we think.

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