Dijkstra on Haskell and Java: the violin shapes the violinist

Ed Dijkstra nailed it when he wrote this (as quoted by the blog post I linked): “it is not only the violin that shapes the violinist, we are all shaped by the tools we train ourselves to use, and in this respect programming languages have a devious influence: they shape our thinking habits.”

I just came across a posting that graciously publishes an essay apparently penned by Dijkstra to the members of his university’s budget council. A favourite take out of mine is the following:

It is not only the violin that shapes the violinist, we are all shaped by the tools we train ourselves to use, and in this respect programming languages have a devious influence: they shape our thinking habits

This is a very good point that can hardly be overstated. What is more, the programming models and the software applications that become dominant actually shape the entire industry for better or for worse. When everybody jump into making photo sharing apps and web sites, or that very large companies fight it off for the supremacy in giving people a place to share photos and thoughts, that’s just a waste of brainpower and resources.

This letter of Dijkstra reminds me something similar I blogged about a few years back, I was sharing thoughts on the impact of adopting programming frameworks. Essentially I had the same concerns in mind, people are shaped by the quality of their learning. Here is my blog posting discussing frameworks.

Dijkstra’s letter, short and sweet.