Programming as Poetry
A few brief musings on Antiorp, Kurzweil, and Stallman
David 'jhave' Johnston

Prototype Prelude
Organic models of consciousness are suggestive of waves. Things come into ripeness, pass in and out of balance, find their peak and then slide away. There is a flexibility provoked by continual change; and from the waves of ripenings arise the roots of desire (looking for what is ripe, grieving what is decaying or gone, navigating crests and troughs). It is these organic rhythms, these themes, subtle and diverse, which art (often) emulates and harvests.

Mechanical models suggest sustained efficiency; a calculable performance level from initial production until the end, when somewhere, something (a piece, a part) fails or breaks. Machines are modular. Parts that fail can be replaced. They do not grieve (yet). Or so we think, that thinking machines do not feel.

Numbers and lines have many charms unseen by vulgar eyes,
and only discovered by the unwearied and respectful sons of Art.

(E De Joncourt's 1762 quarto,
On the Nature and Notable Use of the most Simple Trigonal Numbers
cited in B
abbage, Charles, Passages from the Life of a Philosopher, pg54)

main() {
For centuries the separation between arts and science has been generally sacrosanct. Ideologically distinct stereotypes have evolved to ensure the two camps are not confused. The scientist is left brain, neat, tidy, thorough, patriotic, sane and logical. The hair is short; the demeanour, brisk. The artist is passionate, intense, inspired, emotional, non-linear, revolutionary and often insane. The hair is eccentric; the attitude, wild. In actuality, these dichotomies dissolve under casual scrutiny. It has been assumed that disciplines such as programming are cold, rigid, seriously analytical and antithetical to the symbolic, ambiguous, poignant, often excessive realms of poetry. To some degree this is true: there are predominant traits to each discipline. Yet poetry and programming share more than strong affinities. Each is language-based, obsessed with conciseness, consistently evolving, modelled on consciousness, and inscrutable to the uninitiated ( think of James Joyce reading C++ ). Each uses language in ways that involve leaps and circular paths; each requires an arduous concentration that ultimately relies upon reasoning which invokes intuition; and each is closely related by a shared goal of precise communication of complex realities. But in the contemporary world, the number of human languages is decreasing, while programming language are proliferating. This shift in the balance, for those humans whose capabilities draw them toward language-based play, is creating a migration toward the vivid daunting hyper-entropic evolutionary fields of creating computer code. Human poems are for emails or listservs; computer poems are for the compiler and CPU. Integrating ethical imagination into code, a new generation of programmer-poets are implementing hybrid forms that move beyond ancient dichotomies.


Ada Lovelace
The world's first computer programmer.

Netochka Nezvanov(a.k.a. antiorp )

Words: David Johnston
Time:21:32- 4.12.02