Tech Report CS-91-09

Paradigms of Interpretation and Modeling

Peter Wegner

February 1991


We examine the interpretation of literary texts in Umberto Eco's {\em The Limits of Interpretation}, explore parallels with interpretation in science and engineering, and then focus on modeling and interpretation in computer science. Interpretation in both the humanities and the sciences requires a {\em model} employed by an {\em agent} to define {\em meaning} for a {\em modeled world}. The literary debate between those who ascribe inherent meaning to texts and those who believe that meaning is determined by the reader or critic is analogous to the scientific debate between realists who believe in the reality of the modeled world and formalists who ascribe reality to the model. The debate between realists and formalists takes a remarkably similar form in the humanities and the sciences, focusing attention on epistemological issues fundamental to all branches of knowledge. There are parallels between the literary interpretation of texts, analytic models of science, and synthetic models of engineering. Computer science spans an exceptionally broad spectrum of modeling paradigms, since it employs engineering, empirical, and mathematical techniques. Modeling is the central goal in constructing computer systems, while interpretation (execution) of programs is the primary tool for computing specific dynamic consequences of the static model determined by the program. In exploring modeling and interpretation in computer science we focus on models of computation, paradigms of computation, types versus values, and computational versus software complexity.

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