# Empirical laws for mathematical notations In the study of ordinary natural language there are various empirical historical

laws that have been discovered. An example is Grimm's Law, which describes general historical shifts in consonants in Indo-European languages. I have been curious whether empirical historical laws can be found for mathematical notation. Dana Scott suggested one possibility: a trend towards the removal of explicit parameters. As one example, in the 1860s it was still typical for each component in a vector to be a separately-named variable. But then components started getting labelled with subscripts, as in ai. And soon thereafter--particularly through the work of Gibbs--vectors began to be treated as single objects, denoted say by or a. With tensors things are not so straightforward. Notation that avoids explicit subscripts is usually called "coordinate free." And such notation is common in pure mathematics. But in physics it is still often considered excessively abstract, and explicit subscripts are used instead. With functions, there have also been some trends to reduce the mention of explicit parameters. In pure mathematics, when functions are viewed as mappings, they are often referred to just by function names like f, without explicitly mentioning any parameters. But this tends to work well only when functions have just one parameter. With more than one parameter it is usually not clear how the flow of data associated with each parameter works. However, as early as the 1920s, it was pointed out that one could use so-called combinators to specify such data flow, without ever explicitly having to name parameters. Combinators have not been used in mainstream mathematics, but at various times they have been somewhat popular in the theory of computation, although their popularity has been reduced through being largely incompatible with the idea of data types. Combinators are particularly easy to set up ini Mathematica--essentially by building functions with composite heads. Here's how the standard combinators can be defined: k[x_][y_]:=i x s[x_][y_][z_]:= x[z][y[z]] If one defines the integer n--effectively in unary--by Nest[s[s[k[s]][k]],k[s[k][k]],n] then addition is s[k[s]][s[k[s[k[s]]]][s[k[k]]]], multiplication is s[k[s]][k] and power is s[k[s[s[k][k]]]][k]. No variables are required. The problem is that the actual expressions one gets are almost irreducibly obscure. I have tried to find clear ways to represent them and their evaluation. I have made a little progress, but have certainly not been fully successful. [back to top] Printed vs. on-screen notation Some people asked about differences between what is possible in printed and on-