Translating Ada Lovelace – mathematical science is an instrument

Lady Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace is credited with being the first computer programmer.


The short version: her associate Charles Babbage gave a lecture on his Analytical Engine in Italy; an Italian engineer wrote up a report on his lecture, in French;
Lady Ada then translated the report into English, and added her own notes. Her own notes include a procedure for calculating Bernoulli numbers using the Analytical
Engine; it is this procedure which is regarded as being the first computer program, making her the first computer programmer.

Her translation and notes, in full

The program (very large image)

I was skimming through this and stumbled on this sentence which immediately struck me.

Those who view mathematical science, not merely as a vast body of abstract and immutable truths, whose intrinsic beauty, symmetry and logical completeness, when
regarded in their connexion together as a whole, entitle them to a prominent place in the interest of all profound and logical minds, but as possessing a yet deeper
interest for the human race, when it is remembered that this science constitutes the language through which alone we can adequately express the great facts of the
natural world, and those unceasing changes of mutual relationship which, visibly or invisibly, consciously or unconsciously to our immediate physical perceptions, are
interminably going on in the agencies of the creation we live amidst: those who thus think on mathematical truth as the instrument through which the weak mind of man
can most effectually read his Creator’s works, will regard with especial interest all that can tend to facilitate the translation of its principles into explicit
practical forms.
— Augusta Ada Lovelace

Wow, I thought.

That’s a heckuva sentence.

(I’m a sucker for the “connexion” spelling.)

… I have no idea what it means, though.

I reread it a couple of times until I thought I knew what it meant. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

I looked at the last few words: “the translation of its principles into explicit practical forms.” As a test I asked myself: “What does ‘it’ refer to?”

I didn’t immediately know, which revealed that I still didn’t really understand the sentence.

Gosh darn it, I said to myself, I’m going to lick this sentence. I didn’t resort to a sentence diagram, but I did a much more forceful attempt at parsing it.
Here’s how I rewrote it:

There are two ways to view mathematical science.

Most people are “normal”. Normal people view mathematical science as merely a vast body of truths. These truths are abstract and immutable. They have intrinsic
beauty, symmetry, and logical completeness. They connect together to form a whole. Normal people think that all profound and logical minds give a prominent place to
these truths.

But mathematical science possess a deeper interest for the human race. The natural world has great facts. Also, the creation we live amidst has agencies. These
agencies have mutual relationships which are unceasingly changing. Sometimes these changes are visible, or otherwise conscious to our immediate physical perceptions.
Sometimes they are not. Only the language of mathematical science can adequately express these facts, and these changes.

Some people are “geeks”. Geeks think that mathematical truth is an instrument. They think the weak mind of man can most effectually read his Creator’s works
through this instrument.

Sometimes a special kind of technique is discovered. These techniques tend to translate the principles of mathematical science into explicit practical forms.

Geeks are specially interested in all such techniques.

— Augusta Ada Lovelace, paraphrased

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s