Simple expressions, combinations & evaluation in Scheme (SICP)

” […] Imagine that you are sitting at a computer terminal. You type an expression, and the interpreter responds by displaying the result of its evaluating that expression. One kind of primitive expression you might type is a number. […]

Expressions representing numbers may be combined with an expression representing a primitive procedure (such as + or *) to form a compound expression that represents the application of the procedure to those numbers. For example:

(+ 137 349)

(- 1000 334)

(* 5 99)


Expressions such as these, formed by delimiting a list of expressions within parentheses in order to denote procedure application, are called combinations. The leftmost element in the list is called the operator, and the other elements are called operands.

The value of a combination is obtained by applying the procedure specified by the operator to the arguments that are the values of the operands.”

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (SICP), ‘1.1  The Elements of Programming

Computational processes, sorcerers and systems (SICP)

“We are about to study the idea of a computational process. Computational processes are abstract beings that inhabit computers. As they evolve, processes manipulate other abstract things called data. The evolution of a process is directed by a pattern of rules called a program. People create programs to direct processes. In effect, we conjure the spirits of the computer with our spells.

A computational process is indeed much like a sorcerer’s idea of a spirit. It cannot be seen or touched. It is not composed of matter at all. However, it is very real. It can perform intellectual work. It can answer questions. It can affect the world by disbursing money at a bank or by controlling a robot arm in a factory.The programs we use to conjure processes are like a sorcerer’s spells. They are carefully composed from symbolic expressions in arcane and esoteric programming languages that prescribe the tasks we want our processes to perform.

A computational process, in a correctly working computer, executes programs precisely and accurately.Thus, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, novice programmers must learn to understand and to anticipate the consequences of their conjuring. Even small errors (usually called bugs or glitches) in programs can have complex and unanticipated consequences.

Fortunately, learning to program is considerably less dangerous than learning sorcery, because the spirits we deal with are conveniently contained in a secure way. Real-world programming, however, requires care, expertise, and wisdom. A small bug in a computer-aided design program, for example, can lead to the catastrophic collapse of an airplane or a dam or the self-destruction of an industrial robot.

Master software engineers have the ability to organize programs so that they can be reasonably sure that the resulting processes will perform the tasks intended. They can visualize the behavior of their systems in advance. They know how to structure programs so that unanticipated problems do not lead to catastrophic consequences, and when problems do arise, they can debug their programs. Well-designed computational systems, like well-designed automobiles or nuclear reactors, are designed in a modular manner, so that the parts can be constructed, replaced, and debugged separately.”

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, ‘Chapter 1: Building Abstractions with Procedures