Mathematics versus Computer Science

…until the development of computers the possibility of dealing successfully with the complex itself was never really envisaged. Perhaps the most successful substitute for such a possibility, as well as the nearest approach to it, came in mathematics. … To find the simple in the complex, the finite in the infinite — that is not a bad description of the aim and essence of mathematics.

That’s Jacob “Jack” Schwartz, writing in 1969. He goes on to say:

In this quest for simplification, mathematics stands to computer science as diamond mining to coal mining. The former is a search for gems. Although it may involve the preliminary handling of masses of raw material, it culminates in an exquisite item free of dross. The latter is permanently involved with bull-dozing large masses of ore — extremely useful bulk material. It is necessarily a social rather than an individual effort. Mathematics can always fix its attention on succinct concepts and theorems. Computer science can expect, even after equally determined efforts toward simplification, only to build sprawling procedures, which require painstaking and extensive descriptive mapping if they are to be preserved from dusty chaos.

Actually, I’ve always thought that mathematics is also a social effort (and data science, too).

The essay is “Computer Science,” from Jacob T. Schwartz, Mark Kac, and Gian-Carlo Rota, Discrete Thoughts: Essays on Mathematics, Science, and Philosophy, 1992.

About nzumel
I dance. I'm a data scientist. I'm a dancing data scientist. In my spare time, I like to read folklore (and research about folklore), ghost stories, random cognitive science papers, and to sometimes blog about it all.

2 Responses to Mathematics versus Computer Science

  1. Mayson Lancaster says:

    “Actually, I’ve always thought that mathematics is also a social effort”

    And two dozen mathematicians have just proved you right…

    • nzumel says:

      Hah! Cool! Andrej is a friend of ours from grad school; I’ve heard a bit about this effort, thought the topic is way out of my range…

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