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Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About cover

Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About

Donald E. Knuth

In the fall of 1999, computer scientist Donald E. Knuth was invited to give six public lectures at MIT on the general subject of relations between faith and science. The lectures were broadcast live on the Internet and watched regularly by tens of thousands of people around the world, and they have remained popular many months after the event. This book contains transcripts of those lectures, edited and annotated by the author.

After an introductory first lecture, the second one focusses on the interaction of randomization and religion, since randomization has become a key area of scientific interest during the past few decades. The third lecture considers questions of language translation, with many examples drawn from the author's experiments in which random verses of the Bible were analyzed in depth. The fourth lecture deals with art and aesthetics; it illustrates several ways in which beautiful presentations can greatly deepen our perception of difficult concepts. The fifth lecture discusses what the author learned from the "3:16 project," a personal exploration of Biblical literature which he regards as a turning point in his own life.

The sixth and final lecture, "God and Computer Science," is largely independent of the other five. It deals with several new perspectives by which concepts of computer science help to shed light on many ancient and difficult questions previously addressed by scientists in other fields.

A significant part of each lecture is devoted to spontaneous questions from the audience and the speaker's impromptu responses, transcribed from videotapes of the original sessions.

The book concludes with a transcript of a panel discussion in which Knuth joins several other prominent computer specialists to discuss “Creativity, Spirituality, and Computer Science.” The other panelists are Guy L. Steele Jr. of Sun Microsystems, Manuela Veloso of Carnegie Mellon University, and Mitch Kapor of Lotus Development Corporation, together with moderator Harry Lewis (Dean of Harvard College).

The book includes over 100 illustrations and photographs. The author has contributed additional notes and a comprehensive index.

You can still view the original webcasts (no longer available 3/2010) of the lectures. For more information, please visit Knuth's own webpage devoted to this book.

“Knuth's musings about the interface between computer science and Christian theology are definitely not what one usually hears computer scientists talking about, but I'm glad Knuth was willing to take the risk of discussing them”
--Fernando Q. Gouvêa
MAA Online, February 2002

Read an excerpt from this book.

Translated into Japanese.


ISBN (Paper): 9781575863269

Prof. Knuth's page on this book including table of contents and errata

Translated into Japanese.

Subject: Computer Science; Computers and Civilization; Information Technology--Philosophy

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