Date: Oct 6, 2012 11:25 PM
Author: kirby urner
Subject: In favor of teaching "dot notation"

The propositional calculus folks were looking for symbolic
representations of statements with a world modeling function.

"The apple is in the drawer" -- how to say that in symbols, other than
those just supplied?

This seemed important for some reason.

Philosophers bellyached about it. Logical positivists waved that
banner. Sanity itself seemed in the scale.

Lots of history here: Vienna Circle, Wittgenstein etc. See Logicomix
( and Cryptonomicon
( for relevant historical fiction.

They didn't have computers yet (this is pre WW2) so the whole idea of
"cranking through a script" (ala some player piano) was not yet
clearly envisioned.

Ada, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, had done some speculations,
about what programming could be like, and more recently (relative to
Bertrand Russell) we had young Alan Turning, up and coming.

"Cranking through" back then meant something more like "following the
rules of logic". Euclidean geometry supplied the paradigm example.

The idea of a machine behind it all "running the numbers" seemed
remote, like science fiction, far fetched, too deus ex machina.

"Computers" were all human beings back then.

Fast forward a hundred plus years, and we do have many calculi for
modeling. They're called "programming languages".

Some of the more mainstream ones use a notation known as "dot notation":

car.color = "green" shows the noun.adjective = value form of this
grammar, while dog.bark(5) suggests noun.verb(arguments).

Note the "dot" between the noun and the adjective, the noun and the verb.

"Dog, bark five times!" is roughly what dog.bark(5) means. Perhaps a
result is returned meaning a new name (noun) for the namepace:

results = worker.job(inputs) shows a new 'thing', results, deriving
from a worker, agent, actor.

A script or "programme" is like what you have in theater, a sequence
of instructions controlling a performance, as a musical score informs
an orchestra.

The "dot" itself signifies "going within" i.e. has the connotation of
"containment". The thing "contains" these properties, these

A noun (thing) is told to do some job (some work) by activating its
innate abilities, its internalized "verbs" (we often say "methods" in

Retroactively, with the benefit of hindsight, it's easy to see the
focus on propositional calculus as one of the many puzzle pieces
needed for our digital age to take shape.

Today, pre-college students have such text books as 'Mathematics for
the Digital Age and Programming in Python', equally suitable as a math
or computer science book (STEM makes no strong distinctions between

Privileged students learn "dot notation" early these days, and why
not? It's used in every browser running JavaScript, is the basis of
the Internet domain name system. To be illiterate with respect to dot
notation is to be clueless indeed.

They called it the "dot com bomb" for a reason.

"Bomb" because it represented the failure of lawyer-capitalism
(Fuller's LAWCAP) to really "get it" about the engineering of the
future, but also "dot", because of "dot notation" ("com" was short for
"commercial" when the top level domains were first invented i.e. com,
net, org, mil, gov, edu, nation codes).

Most people already know to say "dot" when reading off email
addresses. That's common parlance. They don't say "period".

It follows that STEM courses which reveal the mysteries of "dot
notation" are not rubbing junior's nose in highfalutin esoterica of
only academic importance.

On the contrary, to teach "dot notation" is to help explain "how
things work" on many levels.

So are only the most privileged 1% entitled to this information?
Should knowledge of "dot notation" be withheld from the 99%?

That's a good question to be asking on "Occupy Day" (October 6) when
Portland gave birth to OPDX.

We've come a long way in a year.

Kirby Urner