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2 points by fallintothis 3512 days ago | link | parent

I detect an ugliness with their redefinition being prohibited.

But there's still a conceptual difference: numbers, strings, and characters are not variables to be redefined, but are syntax for constant values -- just like parentheses are syntax for "begin a list" and "end a list". It's like saying you should be allowed to change how the word "hello" is spelled.

Likewise, Arc works to make nil a literal value, (mostly) like a character or a string. Thus, redefining it is nonsensical. t isn't really a literal value, because any non-nil value is boolean true anyway. So, I agree that treating t as a variable could be allowed without breaking the current conceptual model.

I did like the implications of all this on numbers for alists and would be very curious to hear reactions to that

The reason 2 is the same as '2 isn't so much that quote special-cases numbers, it's that quote delays evaluation (which doesn't really happen for 2). On its own, foo evaluates to whatever it's bound to, so 'foo delays that. Compare with 2, which is "self-evaluating" -- as soon as we read it in, we know it's the number 2. Then '2 delays the evaluation of syntax that already had meaning before quote touched it. Hence, '2 is still just the number 2. Similarly for '#\a and '"a string".

You could make quote a special-casing operator, so '2 is different from 2 just because it's useful, but that doesn't let you redefine 2.

You could also change Arc so that there would be a layer between reading 2 and going "hey, that's the number 2". Then '2 would be more sensible and each 2 in your code could be a lookup to some value defaulting to...well, the number 2, I guess. But how do you distinguish 2-the-numeric-value and 2-the-variable if they're both spelled the exact same way? In the face of redefinition, (is (+ 1 1) 2) isn't an identity that would hold. What about extending this to less inductively-defined data types? How do you change #\a back to normal after (= #\a #\b)? Does it make (is "abc" "bbc") true? What if you first did (= "abc" "foo")?

The idea isn't just different, it creates a radically new language. That doesn't mean it's without merit. Off the top of my head, Common Lisp has reader macros that allow some syntax to be redefined, and PLOT (http://users.rcn.com/david-moon/PLOT/) lets you redefine syntax dynamically, though I'm not sure to what extent. But it's arguably one the first types of restrictions mentioned in http://www.paulgraham.com/ilc03.html (I don't mean to appeal to authority; it could just explain why Arc doesn't do this).