17.143 a typology of infinite loops?

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Jul 08 2003 - 01:43:01 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 143.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 08 Jul 2003 06:37:39 +0100
             From: Jan Christoph Meister <jan-c-meister@uni-hamburg.de>
             Subject: Categorizing loops


    My question concerns a possible typology of infinite loops occuring in
    combinatorial computer programs. The distinction that I have in mind
    is that between

    (a) infinite loops where recursion results in the continuous
    stacking of a processing instruction WITHOUT ever being able to
    output results, and

    (b) infinite loops where recursion is a consequence of continuously
    having to reconsult dynamically expanding data. This happens
    when a combinatorial program manages to instantiate its variables,
    then writes its newly computed result into its own memory as an
    additional 'fact'-clause, and then has to embark on a re-run
    because its combinatorial algorithm will now encounter an unflagged
    (hitherto unprocessed) fact.

    In PROLOG-practice the first results in (a) stack overflow, the second
    in (b)heap overflow. To my hermeneutically afflicted mind the two
    would seem to be logically related (i.e., both are cases of infinite
    nesting), but epistemologically significantly different : (a) is
    epistemologically completely redundant, (b) is epistemologically
    exponential. Of course, philosophically speaking this might very well
    amount to the same thing in that knowing nothing about the world (a)
    is about as bad as realizing that one will never be able to know how
    much it is that one doesn't know, and what proportionate value the
    knowledge produced thus far actually has - this because (b) in
    principle subverts the idea of approximation in knowledge.

    Anyway - does this type of distinction matter to CS and if so, what is the

    Many thanks,



    Jan Christoph Meister
    Forschergruppe Narratologie
    Universitt Hamburg

    ACP - Computer Philology Working Group at Hamburg University

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