Friday, 17 May, 2002

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

Browsing in the book store last week, I picked up Donald Knuth's book Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About.  The book contains the transcripts to six lectures he gave in 1999 for the "God and Computers" lecture series at MIT.  Knuth covers a lot of territory in his book, including randomization as a means of scientific inquiry, aesthetics and computers, language translation, and creativity.  He ties it all together with his work on his previous book 3:16 Bible Texts Illuminated.

The book is a pleasant read, humorous in places, and spattered with valuable insights into how a scientist thinks of God.  Perhaps the most powerful insight is this:  there is no practical difference between "infinite" and "really, really big."  Knuth "invented" a number he calls "Super K" (see pages 171-175 of the book), which is so huge as to be far beyond human comprehension.  The number is finite, but for all intents and purposes, infinite.  Is it possible that God could be limited by a number that large?  It is, after all, way more than the total number of subatomic particles in the universe.  If so, would that God appear any different to us than the traditional "infinite" God?  I'm going to be pondering this one for some time.