More on Computer Science and Arts & Sciences

More on Computer Science and Arts & Sciences

Post by Oskars Rieks » Sun, 03 Oct 1993 02:22:21

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The header on my initial posting was misleading, in that I used the
phrase "liberal art" as shorthand for "liberal arts and sciences".  
I apologize for that.
   As clarification, on our campus we have a "liberal arts" requirement
(which is more properly called "liberal arts and sciences" requirement)
for which courses in math, physics, chemistry, biology, sociology,
psychology, etc., etc. can be presented.  But only those courses in
computer science can be counted in this category which are also
cross-listed as math courses, because computer science is considered
a "professional program".
   My argument is:  What is the difference between, say, chemistry and
computer science?  Certainly we hope that our graduates are prepared
for the working world, but then do graduates in chemistry not look for
work in chemistry?  How are we more of a "professional program" than
chemistry or biology?
  It seems that the root of the problem is that most non-computer
scientists first encountered computers in the 60's as "data processing"
devices, think that computer science = computer programming, and have not
the slightest inkling as to the real content of courses such as data
structures, the design and analysis of algorithms, the theory of
computation, etc.  I asked a colleague in the Chemistry Department why
he felt that mathematics should count in this category, but not computer
science.  His answer: mathematics is eternal.  The impression is that
since machines change, new gadgets come out every day, etc., then the
discipline of computer science must be of the same "here today, gone
tomorrow" nature.
   My contention is that computer science not only has drawn much from
mathematics (or as Gene Itkis puts it: "CS ir really the outcome of the
search for foundations of mathematics") but has also been the driving
force behind the development of many new fields of mathematics.  Even a
brief encounter with AI should reveal that this same process of give
and take is true for many other fields of intellectual endeavor, e.g.,
philosophy, psychology.  So, how can one draw a legitimate distinction
between computer science, on the one hand, and mathematics, chemistry, or
psychology, on the other?  Perhaps we should call our discipline
"Computing Science", as they do in Australia, for is it not the "science
of computation"?
   This issue does, however, call into question how computer science is
and/or should be taught.  Recognizing that within certain academic
programs an emphasis on technical knowledge and skills is appropriate,
should that be the sole emphasis in ALL computer science programs?
Even for B.S. programs should we not attempt to teach some of the
intellectual history of computer science (e.g., Hilbert, Brouwer, Godel,
Turing, Church), to give students an idea of where this discipline falls
within the broader sweep of human intellectual endeavor?  Shouldn't we
take up some of the philosophical issues relating to our discipline?
In other words, shouldn't we try to return to the goal of a "liberal
arts education" (as I understand it) to gain some glimpse of the greater
sweep of human thought as a backdrop to the study of our own individual

        - Oskars Rieksts



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