SICP Exercise 1.5


October 3, 2020

Exercise from SICP:

Exercise 1.5.

Ben Bitdiddle has invented a test to determine whether the interpreter he is faced with is using applicative-order evaluation or normal-order evaluation. He defines the following two procedures.

(define (p) (p))

(define (test x y)
  (if (= x 0)

Then he evaluates the expression

(test 0 (p))

What behavior will Ben observe with an interpreter that uses applicative-order evaluation? What behavior will he observe with an interpreter that uses normal-order evaluation?


Appicative order

With applicative order the first step is to evaluate (test 0 (p)), expanding (p) by its definition. But that evaluates to itself so the program gets stuck in an infinite loop and does not terminate.

Normal order

We get the evaluation chain:

(test 0 (p))
(if (= 0 0) 0 (p))
(if #t 0 (p))

So it results in 0. Because we expand the definitions in normal order, and the if statement avoids it, we never hit the recursive loop in normal order.