SICP Book Club: The End

If you had to know everything, you wouldn't learn anything.

Dr. Jon Misurda

I was drinking at an expat bar named Mike's in Boquete, Panama last night. Lonely Planet says the owners met at the South Pole, fell in love, and settled down here. The walls were decorated with world flags, so my travelling partner for the night and I tried to identify them. We got to Brazil. Karen asked me, "Are you going to make it out there?"

"I don't know," I said. "I'm really conflicted. I want to devote a lot of time to Spanish-speaking countries. I also want my schedule to be relaxed enough that I have time to settle in places I like before I move on. So I didn't plan on visiting Brazil, but what if I never make it back to that part of the world?"

"You can't think like that," she said. "You'll go crazy."

I looked up from my Balboa.

She continued, "You'll make it there someday. But you have to make peace with the fact that you can't see everything all at once. You're in Panama now. You're about to see more of South America than most people you know ever will. Be happy with that."

It's funny how it works. Traveling makes me worry I'm not worldly enough. And reading an eye-opening computer science text makes me despair at how little I know about computer science.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs and Turing's On Computable Numbers have been at my side on the Central American leg of my trip. An excellent way to pass long bus rides and rainy days in hostels. They both circle points on my map I hadn't cared to look at before. Out on the edge of town, there's the rabbit hole of CS theory: all the classes of automata, the lambda calculus, recursion theory. And down south in the highlands, there are all these funky ways of thinking about programming that I'd never thought of before: systems of constraints, logic programming, streams, metalinguistic abstraction. I want to ride my bike down every path, but I know I have to move on.

When I was younger, I'd get anxious in libraries. All these books I know I should read, but who has the time? I need to read Hardy, but should I read Borges first? And I know so little about Chinese history!

As I got older (with all the wisdom of my 21 years), I've come to think of it like this. The amount to see and learn in this world can be overwhelming, but think of the alternative. What if there were a finite and small amount to experience, such that you could do it all? What a boring world! I'll take the world of plenty.

So that's why I only skimmed Chapter 5 of SICP. I thought it was boring.