The Hub Cool News

Geek Sublime

geek sublimeThe notion that writing computer code is like creating a work of art is at the center of Geek Sublime by Vikram Chandra, reports The Economist (2/8/14). This notion is not entirely new. Back in 2003, Paul Graham, a Silicon Valley programmer and investor, wrote that "of all the different types of people I’ve known, hackers and painters are the most alike." Microsoft’s freshly minted CEO, Satya Nadella, meanwhile says, "The best code is poetry." However, while code "can be elegant, even beautiful," the fact remains that few "programmers are artists" and "fewer artists can code."

Yet it may not be coincidence Satya, as well as the author (himself a programmer), and 40% of all Silicon Valley startup founders, are from India. More to the point, Vikram’s "first book was about the grammatical rules of Sanskrit, an extensive and rigid code not so different from computer programing. Indeed, he is not the first to note the similarities. Indians can make a strong claim to shaping modern computing, and Indian geeks have long discussed Sanskrit’s rules." By comparison, there apparently is not much that connects the rules of English grammar with computer code.

According to Vikram, "Sanskrit scholars understood aesthetics" and the idea of "resonance – a fuzzy concept involving feelings reverberating with soul – and emotional bonding … emotions that will be familiar to anybody who has been touched by a work of art." So, if it is "possible to write and appreciate poetry and literature in as rule-bound a language as Sanskrit," is it possible to do so in code? Sadly, Vikram concludes that it is not, because where code is written to "process and produce logic … the language of art can fracture grammar and syntax," failing to "transmit meaning but still cause emotion."