Sunday, December 11, 2011

How come xkcd hasn't addressed this?

I often hear that engineers are literal. This typically includes software developers. I hear this even from people who work with engineers all the time -- you'd think they would take a more nuanced view. But perhaps not many people understand what "literal" means. I'm not even talking about the common, oft-ridiculed use of "literally" to mean "figuratively" -- as when somebody tells you "I literally died laughing" (and they don't have chunks of rotten flesh falling off, so they're not Undead).

Figurative, after all, is the opposite of literal. You can also say that the opposite of literal thinking is metaphorical thinking. Apparently most people don't understand how much certain intellectual activity, such as science and engineering, relies on metaphor. As an example, read this article in Wikipedia about Aspect-oriented programming, and show me even one paragraph in it that does NOT contain a metaphor.

The point is: software design, like any design, models real world problems in some kind of abstract conceptual framework. This is only possible if you think in metaphors.

I really think there should be an xkcd cartoon on this.

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