Archive for the ‘epiphanies’ Category
Every semester it seems I have the same realization, sometime during the first week or two, that producing any sort of work to turn in is a long and involved process. This process includes such stages as “the vague feeling of dread when you remember that paper you have to write next week”, and “actively seeking frivolous distractions online so you don’t have to think about that paper that’s due in a couple of days”. And let’s not forgot “not going to bed because you have to stress out about how you are not writing that paper that is due tomorrow”. Still, though, in the end the need to actually do the work becomes stronger than the desire to procrastinate, and a marvelous thing happens: the work is actually fun! Yes, there is a good reason why I go to school where I do, and why I plan on staying in school as long as possible
So, the moral of the story is,for me at least, starting is hard, working is fun. Getting the starting out of the way early is the key for enjoying the work. The funny thing is that I have this same realization every single semester, and yet I still have not learned yet. Maybe it has to do with the subtle changes in the kinds of work I have to do each semester, or maybe it just takes me a long time to “get off the flat part of the learning curve” as my AP Physics teacher remarked about me once.
- email U. Virginia people RE: Tibet
- trim plants
- call tech support about my computer’s insomnia
- make a dentist appointment
- meet with Safa about writing up our data from last semester (!)
I will do them soon, though! Things I did do today included having my JA interview, which was all different kinds of fun/exciting/anxiety-inducing, not to mention my group’s accomplishment of finally getting The Indomitable Tank-Samurai’s (or if you prefer, BeauRot’s) sonar stuff working today. We were in the robot lab until past midnight last night, trying to teach our oft-confused machine to find it’s way to a point that’s 2′ from one wall and 3′ from the other using its sonar. The process of getting it to just work was so unbelievably frustrating, because all of our wonderfully elegant ideas had to be abandoned in the face of time pressure and the inherent complexity of the “real world” including unreliable sonar and inconsistent turning. This frustration with how illogical things can seem, with being unable to understand something like I know I can, is the flip side of the delight that I get by making things that do work with my hands. I only recently realized how very logically I think about things, which allows me to do really complicated and cool things when I “get it” but consequently makes not “getting it” really upsetting and painful.
The prof. I work for as a research assistant told me last semester that one of the biggest challenges of her education was learning to accept that whatever you’re doing, there’s very rarely enough time, or enough money, or enough parts to do it as well as you know you can. In this undergraduate world of always having a few dozen pages of reading above what you can possibly do, or a paper due one day too soon, or so many things to do that you really truly want to do that you can’t possibly do all of them, this is something that hyper-logical perfectionists like me really struggle with. Then again, all things considered, I think I manage to keep perspective pretty well most of the time, but every once in a while I’ll be surprised by something that I simply cannot get my head around, and the more the deadline approaches and the more I struggle the harder it seems to become, and the feeling of frustration cuts deep enough to be transformed into hopelessness. It’s those times that remind me how careful I have to be to keep perspective and be willing to just do what I can at the moment.
The rest of the week is looking pretty good, including possibly going to North Adams with Ruth tomorrow to try to find ice skates, skiing with Steve-o on friday, and a weekend of general fun and relaxation. Finally, a quote from the book about neuroscience/epistemology that I’ve been savoring that really resonates with my thoughts about art and creativity:
Every act of perception is to some degree an act of creation, and every act of memory is to some degree an act of imagination
I got another fun book today, Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler. From the first chapter:
In considering human history, the language community is a very natural unit. Languages, by their nature as means of communication, divide humanity into groups: only through a common language can a group of people act in concert, and therefore have common history. Moreover the language that a group shares is precisely the medium in which memories of their joint history can be shared. Languages make possible both the living of a common history, and also the telling of it.
And every language possesses another feature, which makes it the readiest medium for preserving a group’s history. Every language is learnt by the young from the old, so that every living language is the embodiment of a tradition. That tradition is in principle immortal. Languages change, as they pass from the lips of on generation tot he next, but there is nothing about this process of transmission which makes for decay or extinction. Like life itself, each new generation can receive the gift of its language afresh. And so it is that language, unlike any of the people who speak them, need never grow infirm, or die.
Every language has a chance at immortality, but this is not to say that it will survive for ever. Genes too, and the species they encode, are immortal; but extinctions are a commonplace of paleontology. Likewise, the actual lifespans of language communities vary enormously. The annals of language history are full of languages that have died out, traditions that have come to an end, leaving no speakers at all.
Delightful! I’m really gung-ho about the idea of language defining human communities, and in fact that’s my favorite argument in support of the adaptiveness/natural selection of language
For every little snipped of text from other languages there’s a corresponding, phonetically accurate romanization, which is explained the first time that particular language turns up. The book is long and sort of dense looking but really exciting, just what I was looking for my next reading adventure. A History of the World in Six Glasses was fun, too, but a little light (though, if I really wanted, there is a long list of source material that I could peruse), so I’m looking forward to diving into something a little more scholarly that’s not actually scholarly.
Otherwise, I’m sad to be leaving tomorrow, really looking forward to being back at school, going back to work, listening to music in a decent set of speakers, getting my room properly plant-ified (and my plants properly roomified), and probably seeing Ruth and crew next weekend! A little more seriously, I think I’ve come to a clearer vision of what exactly I want this blog to do/be. Specifically, I see it as hopefully being a window into exactly what is going on inside this head of mine, not so much by explicating said mental states but by showing you, reader, the things that are exciting/stimulating/interesting to me. The object, not the subject! Hurrah!
Steph and I are watching The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. There’s a scene where they’re all on the Nautilus, and they find a record that was planted by the “bad guy,” and Capt. Nemo puts it on his awesome pimped out (Victorian style!) phonograph. The thing that immediately sprang to mind was the record-player-destroying records from Gödel, Escher, Bach. In one of the innumerable, wonderful Carol-esque dialogues, two of the characters are battling it out, one designing records that, upon being played, produce a sound such that the phonograph playing the record is destroyed, and the other, designing phonographs increasingly complex, intelligent, and difficult to destroy. I haven’t read the book in ages but in this moment I was reminded of how enjoyable and stimulating a read it was, so I may pick it up again when I get back to school.
Interestingly, the record from the film does encode some sort of meta-infromation: super-high frequency sounds that trigger bombs all over the Nautilus. Maybe not as direct as the Tortoise’s records, but the effect is more or less the same…
Oh, and EVERYONE SHOULD READ GÖDEL, ESCHER, BACH! No, really.
Being in my room at home makes me feel like somehow time here moves in slow motion, or maybe only when I’m around. This space is a sort of time capsule from when I left home, looking kind of barren but still lived in, letters and bills unopened, pencils still on the window sill, coin jar still mostly full of pocket change.
In some ways I don’t feel like I ever really left home, that home just sort of pauses when I’m gone; when I’m living one life, the other one waits patiently for me to come back to it. I really struggled to carve out an identity that was independent of the circumstances of my life, and I suppose this was ultimately expressed in the claiming of a certain phsyical space as my own. This I accomplished symbolically by painting my room vivid colors and filling it up with my life, even though I knew I’d barely be living there another year.
My cave is what I used to call it, and I found immensely comforting the ability to crawl into said cave and be washed in light and warm colors and…I don’t know, myself, I guess.
What I really wanted to write about was a nice little run in the rain I just had, and the fact that the sun is beginning to peek through the clouds (finally), but this thought struck me when I sat down at my desk to start typing.
I've been reading a lot of papers recently about how humans might learn categories in different ways depending on their structure, and I think that, if this is true, this would have huge implications for education.
The basic idea behind the COVIS (COmpetition between Verbal and Implicit Systems) model of categorization is that there are two systems, one of which is a conscious, verbal hypothesis generating/testing system, and the other a cognitive analogue to the procedural learning system that you'd use in learning how to ride a bike, or type, or swim, etc.
The rule-based system learns categories that are defined by either a single stimulus dimension, or some post-decisional integration of information. So, categories that are determined by simple rules like "If the line is long, than it's in category A," or "If the line is short and steep, it's in category A." These categories are always easily describable by these sort of simple verbal rule.
On the other hand, the procedural system learns what Maddox and Ashby term "Information Integration" categories, in which information from characteristics is integrated before any decision is made. These categories are not easily (or possibly not at all) describable by verbal rules, and are really the most remarkable aspect of human learning.
A consequence of the fact that these categories can't be simply described is that they can't be communicated easily, except through showing and training. So, as wonderful as it is to think about all the knowledge that has been passed down to us from the past in dusty tomes, there's vastly more interesting and complicated knowledge that never passes anyone's lips or pen. This knowledge is only passed down by feedback-reinforced training, which can only happen (practically, at least) with an already-knowledeable being standing over the learner's shoulder, providing the feedback. It can't really be taken out of context and written down…
I was walking back from the coffee shop yesterday afternoon, and there was a small traditional irish music ensemble playing in the alleyway by Images (our little hole-in-the-wall-only-plays-indie-flicks movie theater, for you non-Williams people out there), accompanied by a small but enthusiastic crowd of onlookers. One of these, a wonderful nice old man, turned to me as I hustled by and said “Expose yourself to some culture!” in some sort of charming old-mannish accent. I was caught a little off guard and didn’t really know what to say, so I just kind of chuckled uncomfortably and kept walking. What I should have said was something along the lines of “culture is everywhere,” a thought that occurred to me a few seconds later.
I mean, I hurry around everyday just like everyone else, and am not a “stop and smell the roses” kind of person (at least not consistently). But in some senses I keep having these epiphanies that are of the form “life would be a lot more enjoyable/meaningful if I could just pay a little more attention to _______” (insert mundane, everyday experience). In the specific case of culture, if we think of it as something that has to be foreign and exotic and kind of, well, old, then we miss the our own cultural richness. Because, no matter how much you bitch about America having no culture, that’s impossible, wherever there’s a group of people living together, even for a short time, there’s culture, and probably interesting culture. I think that maybe the insights we’d gain about ourselves and our role in the world from really observing carefully our own culture would be worth quite a bit
“Ithyphallic, winged creature with a snake tail; a fearsome adumbration of psycho-sexual obsession.”
Running with a companion seems to be a good thing for me. Or maybe I'm just in better shape than the last time I ran this route, but I don't think that's the case since I haven't run for a week. In any case, I was definitely running much more comfortably/loosely/fast(ly?). I think having someone next to me makes me pay more attention to pacing and also pushes me more than I'm usually able to do myself. Hurrah!
So yes, running = good, running with other people = good, too, better than I expected.
I'm sitting here, at nearly two a.m., frantically pecking away at the keyboard on this problem set in the vain hope that I will get a somewhat reasonable amount of sleep tonight, nibbling neuroticaly on a hollow, half-eaten chocolate bunny I received for easter, when all of a sudden, out of the blue, it hit me:
I'm happy right now. Just simply happy, contented to be where I am and doing what I'm doing. I don't get to that place very often, and it's always wonderful when I do. I mean, in the back of my mind I know that tomorrow will probably suck, but right now I'm not thinking about that and I'm just happy. Which is nice.
Now back to work.