God and Computers
February 6, 2003 7:10 AM   Subscribe

In the autumn of 1999 Donald Knuth gave a series of lectures at MIT on God and Computers. You can watch[realplayer] and listen[mp3] to them here (Warning: this is over ten hours of material).
posted by wobh (14 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I saw Donald Knuth give this talk at the Univeristy of Waterloo (a condensed version, for a one night talk) a couple of years ago.

While his 3:16 project was interesting, I found it lacked a certain rigour. For one thing, he was unable to justify his use of the Hebrew canon of the Old Testament rather than the Greek canon which Jesus himself used. (For the uninitated, the Hebrew canon is what you find in most Protestant Bibles, and it lacks 7 books that are found in the Greek canon - what is what you find in all Catholic Bibles). When I put the question to him, the somewhat lame answer was: "I used the Bible I grew up with." Uh, right.

Stick to computers, Donald.
posted by timbley at 7:22 AM on February 6, 2003

Stick to computers, Donald.

MeFi: Heaping scorn on imperfection like only we can.
posted by Space Coyote at 7:50 AM on February 6, 2003

Off-topic: Donald Knuth is one of the most famous alumni of my chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity - Beta Nu chapter, Case Western Reserve University.
posted by starvingartist at 8:05 AM on February 6, 2003

Knuth's a genius and a not untalented musician, but he sure is a tough author/teacher. I haven't been able to complete any of his books, because I'm still working on homework problem #4 on page 9 of his Fundamental Algorithms (published in 1973):

4. Prove that when n is an integer, n > 2, the equation x^n + y^n = z^n has no solution in positive integers x, y, z.

I hear tell there's a trivial solution to this (so succinct that you wouldn't even need to look in the back of the book - the solution would fit in the text margin), but damned if I can come up with it. Guess I'll just keep working.

For those who already solved it and moved on, how're his books?

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 9:07 AM on February 6, 2003

I think my friend Pierre got that one right, I'll see if I can dig him up and ask him...
posted by nicwolff at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2003

fold_a --

I was stuck on that problem for quite a while too, before I figured it out -- the trivial proof is truly remarkable, but this text box is too small to contain it. lol.

I find _The Art of Computer Programming_ to be like an alien artifact: wondrous to peruse and very useful at times -- but more often than not serving as a reminder of my, let's say, *very finite* intelligence.

The good thing about Knuth, esp. w/r/t to this project is that he doesn't seem to have the terrifying dogmatism that many Computer Science luminaries that I've met seem to have, let's just say that I was really stunned to find several of the MIT profs to be so myopic and close-minded to other ideologies.
posted by n9 at 9:34 AM on February 6, 2003

umm, excuse me but isn't

x^n+y^n != z^n

fermat's last theorem? I'm assuming that being a "homework problem" is some type of joke, right?
posted by yangwar at 10:50 AM on February 6, 2003

Space Coyote:

Sorry, you're right. I guess I was frustrated because when I came across this information about the canons for myself, I somewhat reluctantly accepted it for it's obvious implication and it contributed to my eventual change in religious affiliations. I was dismayed to see someone obviously intelligent miss the importance of it.
posted by timbley at 10:51 AM on February 6, 2003

As a christian, it's nice to see stuff like this. I think that a quietly intelligent Christian like Knuth is a far better example of religious behavior than all the loud "in your face" evangelicals put together.
posted by unreason at 11:17 AM on February 6, 2003

I'm assuming that being a "homework problem" is some type of joke, right?

It has triple warning signs next to it.
posted by rschram at 11:55 AM on February 6, 2003

It has triple warning signs next to it.

It should have a smiley face right next to it.

Either that, or the key had better'd read triple warning signs as "potential doctoral thesis and worldwide recognition."

Knuth can be awfully fun to read sometimes, as well as dense. He wrote a book I on John Conway's Surreal Numbers... ( called Surreal Numbers ). It's sortof a novellete -- the exposition is given in the form of conversations between two lovers stuck on a desert island or something. Albeit lovers with an obviously high intellectual/mathematical bent, but it could happen.

The man has an admirable sense of play and curiousity. I admire that as much as the keen intellect
posted by namespan at 12:54 PM on February 6, 2003

He ain't pretentious:
"As far as theology goes, you could say I'm a user, not a developer."
posted by kaibutsu at 3:35 PM on February 6, 2003

Technetcast has a lot of really great things to listen to. One of my favorites is this wacky number, presented by Douglas Hofstadter: "Will Spiritual Robots Replace Humanity by the Year 2100?"
posted by duckstab at 5:15 PM on February 6, 2003 [1 favorite]

Well I've listened to half of it now (day off, nothing better to do) and so far it isn't quite as interesting as I had hoped from listening to the introduction. He spends a lot of time on his 3:16 project, which is interesting by itself. I'm hoping that this is the warm up for some heavier stuff later. Unfortunately I think Knuth will yeild to his modesty. In fact it pretty much says here (which is where I found this by the way) that he does. Anyway, I'm going to keep listening.

(and thank's duckstab, that looks like fun.)
posted by wobh at 8:01 PM on February 6, 2003

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