Smorgasbord (Jul 2018)

Note: Every month from now on, I’m going to collect all the dust and cobwebs in my head, sweep them into one big pile, and sell them to you. Isn’t that great? Oh, and quotations. And links. A lot of them.


Nodules galore

I’m currently drafting a Zen-themed post on type theory and kōans still make me chuckle in confusion. Here’s a sample from The Gateless Gate:

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. “I attained my finger-Zen,” he said, “from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.” Then he passed away.

(By the way, Sacred Texts is a huuuuge repository of mythology and folklore from all over the world and they’re selling a $127 flash drive that contains their entire archive to help cover hosting costs. I think digital archiving is a noble goal and I’d buy one if I weren’t so poor. But maybe you aren’t. So yeah, if you can, have a look.)

Even though I’m aware of the size distortion problems of the Mercator projection, it still surprises me to play around and see for myself the actual sizes of different countries.

Science writing has this weird, formal dress code that doesn’t really help sell its usefulness to outsiders. Sometimes, we just want to smash stuff together and see what happens. I think lolmythesis really captures this innocent, naïve curiosity that really underlies the best science, y’know, the really awesome kind.

I have a thing for manifestos, even those written by the supposedly disturbed. There’s just something so transcendent and admirable about holding yourself to a higher standard (or in some cases, holding others to a higher standard) even if it isn’t a necessarily morally defensible one. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write one someday (though I sincerely hope becoming violent, suicidal, hopelessly ironic or kooky aren’t strict requirements!)

I took a Russian class under a conspiracy theorist. Or rather, a conspiracy connoisseur, who dabbled in Rothschild hating, 9/11 truthing, moon landing denial, gravity skepticism, and flat-earthing. It seems his criterion for belief amounted to “believe whatever is the opposite of mainstream”. It was a fun class, all things considered, and it led me to some really good music.

Wild Mass Guessing

Music is much closer to a language than a mathematical structure in that it’s much easier to generate than to analyse. Inasmuch as you will find it difficult to predict what a “good” sentence is, it will also be hard to predict what a “good” song will be.

Rationality (in particular, x-rationality) is needed in science because it replaces “genius intuition” with “systematic winning”. It can tell you to stop fiddling with your pen-and-paper formulas and consider alternative formulations. It can tell you to when to call it quits and when to persist. It allows you to become strategic in your pursuit of knowledge, to places where your internal “scientific” feelings might balk at due to impurity.

There is causal knowledge unencodable using algebraic equations alone. Hence, the apparent problem of the arrow of time may only be a problem of the unnecessary symmetry in physics equations.

Explorable explanations (cf. Bret Victor) fail because they only eliminate accidental complexity (whereas learning, say, new math contains core essential complexity you can’t abstract away). Furthermore, they are one-off explanations: you can’t compose them like you could with the essential parts of actual ideas.