I believe one of my questions was incorrectly closed:

I am very interested in the power of different languages. Everyone who has programmed in multiple languages knows that sometimes a language allows you to express concepts which you can't express in other languages. You can have all kinds of subjective discussion about this, but naturally it would be better to have an objective measure.

There do actually exist objective measures. One is Turing-Completeness, which means that a language is capable of generating any output that could be generated by following a sequential set of steps. There are also other lesser levels of power such as Finite State Automata.

Now, except for domain specific languages, pretty much all modern languages are Turing complete. It is therefore natural to ask the following question:

Can we can define any other measures of power which are greater than Turing completeness?

Now of course we can't define this by considering the output that a program can generate, as Turing machines can already produce the same output that any other program can. But there are definitely different levels in what concepts can be expressed - surely no-one would argue that assembly language is as powerful as a modern object oriented language like Python. You could use your assembly to write a Python interpreter, so clearly any accurate objective measure would have to exclude this possibility. This also causes a problem with trying to define the power using the minimum number of symbols.

How exactly to do so is not clear and indeed appears extremely difficult, but we can't assume that just because we don't know how to solve a problem, that nobody know how to. It is also doesn't really make sense to demand a definition of power before answering the question - after all the whole point of this question is to obtain such a definition.

So, please vote to reopen my question.

Link to my question

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    Replace "power" with "expressiveness" if that's what you mean. – Bill the Lizard Mar 20 '10 at 12:10
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    You don't seem to have explained what the question was about, so much as simply quoted it again verbatim. – Ether Mar 20 '10 at 15:48
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    Wow. The question may have been good; but the condescending attitude and the lack of defining 'power' left a sour taste in people's mouths. In this case, the community isn't broken, your question was. – George Stocker Mar 20 '10 at 16:00
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    Definitely a contender for "most patronising" question title here on meta. – nb69307 Mar 20 '10 at 16:16
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    @Ether: Actually, it was the other way round. I decided that my explanation was better than the original question so I cut and pasted. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 21:36
  • @Bill: Good suggestion, might clean up some misunderstandings – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 21:45
  • @George @Neil: Sorry, given that I quite annoyed by people closing my question, I really should have read over my post before posting it to make sure I wasn't being rude. I edited it when I pasted it into the answer, but I forgot to edit meta (until now). – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 21:58
  • @George: The question isn't broken, even the original and much less clear form was fine. While I must admit some of my other questions haven't been very clear the first time, I strongly believe that even the first version of this one was to anyone who took the time to read it properly, without any of the comments. The lack of a definition of power may not make much sense to people who haven't had a strong computer science background (strong background != college - I only include people with a strong outside interest), but it does make sense. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 22:06
  • @Otaku: In the original version of this post I wasn't exactly polite. Annoyance at having my question closed + rep-recalc rage + rushing to post on meta before everyone moved on = result – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 22:14
  • @Otaku: Unfortunately that message was written as "subjective and argumentative" instead of "subjective or argumentative". I really wish they would get round to fixing this this so when people close posts as subjective the OP doesn't think that it was closed for being argumentative – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 22:36

I thought your question was specific enough and obviously programming-related. I'd actually be happy to try and work up an answer for it, but it would take a lot of time, and I'd have to dig out my automata books.

So I did what I could do and gave you a reopen vote, 3 more to go.

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The initial phrasing of the title was asking for trouble. It might not be completely fair, but people form their first impression of you question from the title alone, and if contains enough red flag words or concept they may only skim your question body.

Such is life in the fast paced world of Stack Overflow.

That said, you questions appears to be on a topic appropriate for stack overflow (one hurdle passed). However, the two answers you have are non-response, and I have a suspicion that the only response that can be made a lengths appropriate for Stack Overflow is:


(i.e. that this is a field of academic endeavour too unsettled to be dealt with in a short format). If that is the case, then the question falls on the "requires extended discussion" hurdle and should be closed. However, this is not my field of expertise, so I'll hold my vote for the moment.

Finally, you do yourself no favors with the condescending tone you adopted here. None whatsoever.

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  • Incidentally, I try to read the question more carefully if enough "red flag words" pop up, precisely to prevent me from doing this. I end up skimming (and sometimes answering incorrectly) valid, straightforward questions because of this. – Super Long Names are Hilarious Mar 20 '10 at 8:09
  • @Length: I also try to impose such discipline on myself. My results are not what I'd like them to me. Still working on it. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Mar 20 '10 at 8:10
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    If the explanation is long, it would be easy to link to a paper or website or provide the name of a book. This is no reason for closure. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 22:24

I thought your question was inappropriate for StackOverflow, while quite appropriate for ivorytower.com.

The fact that you find it necessary to first explain what the question meant, and the fact that you assume a lack of familiarity with Computer Science theory, pretty much proves to me what I thought when I voted to close - you're in the wrong place.

The Community (that's us, BTW) decides what's appropriate on StackOverflow. You're only one member of that Community, and you don't get to decide it should be open - the Community does, and will reopen your question when it feels like it, if ever.

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  • ivorytower.com seems to be an invite only site. I re-explained the question because people were misunderstanding it - some like the two answerers, quite significantly. I think the explanation I gave here is clearer (as you would expect it to be now that I am aware of the misunderstandings people make) and so I do plan to update the original question as soon as I can. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 8:28
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    Also, I fully agree that the community gets to decide what is appropriate. By posting this question I am simply appealing to the community to correct a mistake - this seems to be accepted practice on meta. I don't understand why you thought it necessary to say that "I don't get to decide" - I know this – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 8:30
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    @Casebash: I should have put "ivorytower.com" in quotes. I didn't mean any real site. My statement "you don't get to decide" was a reaction to your "So, can I get my question reopened?". I read it that you were more ordering us to open it than asking. – John Saunders Mar 20 '10 at 10:05
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    ROFLMMFAO @ ivorytower.com is invite only. kudos to OP for following the suggestion to the letter. – Sky Sanders Mar 20 '10 at 16:25
  • @John: Sorry, I kind of finished writing this question in a hurry and thats the best ending I could come up with in approx. 5 seconds – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 21:10
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    @Casebash: "you get what you pay for", and you're paying for it now. I hope you'll take the opportunity to edit your question to clarify your meaning (it's got two reopen votes as of this moment). – John Saunders Mar 20 '10 at 22:18
  • @Casebash: you may want to look at mathoverflow.com as an example, and create your own computerscienceoverflow.com as an equivalent (if there isn't one already, see meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4/list-of-stackexchange-sites). mathoverflow.com is for math-theory questions only. – John Saunders Mar 20 '10 at 22:50
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    @John: I think that the question is definitely within the scope of this site - it isn't particularly abstract. I think creating a separate site would create too much fragmentation. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 23:30
  • @Casebash: there aren't that many pure-CS questions on SO. Applied CS, yes, but I haven't seen many pure CS questions. This is more of a site used by people who apply CS than of people who do CS. The fact that you feel it necessary to narrow the question to people with appropriate CS background says it all to me - you need a different audience. – John Saunders Mar 21 '10 at 1:17
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    @John: I didn't want to narrow the question - its just that people without the appropriate background started getting involved. Its like asking a Python question and getting answers from people who only know Java – Casebash Mar 21 '10 at 2:23
  • @Casebash: I think it's more like asking a question about theoretical physics and getting answers from electrical engineers - who will have studied the physics, but are not actively engaged in extending the science. I don't know how many active Computer Scientists there are on SO as opposed to Computer Engineers. – John Saunders Mar 21 '10 at 5:09
  • Did not vote but not a big fan of how you went from "The community (that's me)" to "You're only one person." So are you? – djechlin Feb 24 '14 at 2:16
  • I know I'm only one person. I can count. – John Saunders Feb 24 '14 at 4:20

So, can I get my question reopened?

What was your question? There wasn't a question mark in the entire thing. I liked where it was going but there was no climax. I don't know if you were asking about how one would define objective measures, if you were looking for examples of specific concepts that languages express easily (for example python list comprehensives with lambdas can be likened to Linq which can be likened to SQL), or what.

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  • Sorry, when I last edited the question I seem to have deleted the question part. Well, I did say that it is natural to ask..., but this wasn't really emphasised enough. I have fixed it now so that the question is clear. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 22:28

As stated and restated, the question can, at most, be a the start of a fuzzy discussion. It has no 'answer.' As such, it is possibly tolerable as community wiki, and probably best-suited for some other venue altogether.

What appears to be a preponderance of us believe that 'programming' means practical programming. This is several steps away from that:

  1. It has no immediate practical connections at all
  2. It does not pose a factual question; it solicits opinions
  3. The opinions it solicits are not of the form 'I bet there are people out there with scars from dealing with this subject and I would be grateful for their accumulated insight.'

Seems to me that you would be best served by starting a blog, or finding a blog where people engage in this kind of discussion.

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  • The community in general seems to accept computer science questions: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/32000/…, it is just that some individuals disagree. Anyway, moving computer science to another site would just increase fragmentation. – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 23:35
  • This question does have huge practical implications - it is important for everyone who wants to write their own programming language or who wants to decide what programming language to learn next. Would you argue that Turing Completeness has no practical implications? – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 23:37
  • It does pose a factual question - what research is there on this area? However I would welcome opinions - as comments of course! – Casebash Mar 20 '10 at 23:59
  • You could have asked the question 'what research is out there about evaluating the relative utility of languages' in 1/5'th of the space and zero of the sneering attitude, and we probably wouldn't be having this discussion. – Rosinante Mar 21 '10 at 15:08
  • @bmarguiles: I am pretty sure that I have edited out anything that could offend any reasonable person. If you disagree, could you please point to something specific? – Casebash Mar 24 '10 at 9:02

This question (minus the patronizing last paragraph) would be a great fit for Programmers.StackExchange or Theoretical Computer Science.

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