Blub Crisis

As long as our hypothetical Blub programmer is looking down the power continuum, he knows he’s looking down. Languages less powerful than Blub are obviously less powerful, because they’re missing some feature he’s used to. But when our hypothetical Blub programmer looks in the other direction, up the power continuum, he doesn’t realize he’s looking up. What he sees are merely weird languages. He probably considers them about equivalent in power to Blub, but with all this other hairy stuff thrown in as well. Blub is good enough for him, because he thinks in Blub.

When we switch to the point of view of a programmer using any of the languages higher up the power continuum, however, we find that he in turn looks down upon Blub. How can you get anything done in Blub? It doesn’t even have y.

By induction, the only programmers in a position to see all the differences in power between the various languages are those who understand the most powerful one. (This is probably what Eric Raymond meant about Lisp making you a better programmer.) You can’t trust the opinions of the others, because of the Blub paradox: they’re satisfied with whatever language they happen to use, because it dictates the way they think about programs.

I know this from my own experience, as a high school kid writing programs in Basic. That language didn’t even support recursion. It’s hard to imagine writing programs without using recursion, but I didn’t miss it at the time. I thought in Basic. And I was a whiz at it. Master of all I surveyed.

The Blub Paradox, Beating the Averages, Paul Graham

I have realised in recent conversations about programming languages, and in reflection of my very negative and kind of arrogant blog post about Go, that I have become trapped by the Blub Paradox. I have become dismissive of non-Haskell languages. I think in Haskell. Languages less powerful than Haskell are obviously too limited to get any real work done in, and languages with more advanced features than Haskell (like dependent types) are really just weird and not actually solving a problem I would ever face.

The arrogance! Such a know-it-all!

I have decided to call such a realisation a “Blub Crisis”. Haskell is my Blub. The only solution is to become proficient—actually proficient—in a different language, and once again learn a new way of thinking.