Things I Learnt The Hard Way - Cognitive Cost Is The Readability Killer

1 minute read Published: 2019-06-26

"Cognitive dissonance" is a fancy way of saying "I need to remember two (or more) different and contradicting things at the same time to understand this." Keeping those different things in your head creates a cost and it keeps accumulating the more indirect the things are ('cause you'll have to keep all those in your head).

(Disclaimer: I like to use the expression "cognitive dissonance" to make me sound smarter. I usually explain what it means, though.)

To give you an example of a (very mild) cognitive cost, I'll show you this:

So, pretty simple, right? One function sums numbers and another returns a boolean.

Now, what would you say if I shown you this, in Python:

sum(is_pred(x) for x in my_list)

Wait, didn't I say that sum() sums numbers? And that is_pred() returns a boolean. How can I sum booleans? What's the expected result of True + True + False?

Sadly, this works. Because someone, long time ago, didn't think booleans were worth a thing and used an integer instead. And everyone else since then did the same stupid mistake.

But, for you, you'll now read a line that says "summing a boolean list returns a number". And that's two different, disparate things that you suddenly have to keep in mind when reading that line.

That's why types are important. Also, this may sound a bit like the magical number seven, 'cause you have to keep two things at your mind at the same thing but, although that's not near seven, they are not the same, with opposite (for weird meanings of "opposite", in this case) meanings.

<< The Magic Number Seven, Plus Or Minus Two
 
Learn The Basics of Functional Programming >>