Diary Entry 318 — Tuesday 24 March 2009 — "Pink Binder"
I remain rather confident that school methodology is horribly, horribly wrong. Many students bullshit their papers, which are read once by a TA and then thrown away. The students get a degree, but what about the opportunity costs? I've wasted enough time filling out worksheets and tests in the service of grades, but Diary, it is difficult to have to rediscover as from scratch what's really worth doing. I keep my math pages in a pink binder. Soon I have to decide: is this binder (and its successors which I hope you don't doubt will exist) to be reserved strictly for pure math, or is it a broader binder to be used whenever I study technical things? The flowcharts I made in the service of writing a Python script in the service of my matrix intrigue are beautiful: surely they belong in the binder. But we would not, I think, want to clutter up the binder with my queries and ponderings on the minutia of Python syntax. But the source code of the finished script—surely that belongs in the binder. On the other hand, someone who wants to be a real programmer would do well to write real applications: not just toys in the service of abstract mathematical masturbation. What should I think about that? With regards to the matrix intrigue, at least, I think that it's a good idea to just hack away at the computer, only making notes in the binder when some particularly interesting thing needs to be worked out. Come to think of it, the binder serves at last two purposes, and I would do well to figure out how to trade them against each other. (Figure that if the two purposes never needed to be traded against each other in any possible world, then really they would be the same purpose.) The binder serves as a repository for my notes in the service of achieving a particular result, as well as serving as an archive of my thought processes on the way to the result, such processes being valued for themselves. Even if you only care about getting to the result as quickly as possible, you might do well to generate many notes, the paper serving as a sort of external working memory.
So what am I really trying to do? Diary, I am ever so lost. I've worked a little bit on the generalized rref-taker today: programming is hard—and there are ever so many other things I like to do! I do want to at least resolve the matrix intrigue this way. All civilized people ought to know how to program a computer. (I mean civilized in the Yudkowskian sense.) And I'm going to need a better job. What you practice, you get good at—and as it stands, I'm spending some thirty hours a week practicing my customer service skills at Safeway. There is a dignity in such market service, but this dignity must be traded off against everything else I could do with that time. I am not a master hacker; IT is not my natural field. But when there's no market for your natural field, then you need to pick something.
Maybe I should relinquish my pretensions of being a generalist. There are simply too many things worth knowing. If I decide that what I want is really to thrash around reading random (not really random) books, then that's fine, but I should at least know that that's what I'm doing. Except there does seem to be some sort of relatively general knowledge: in the course of figuring out what specific thing it is that you're trying to do, it is helpful to have explicit knowledge of (say) the fact/value distinction, or the notion of sunk costs.
However, before running out of space or time for new knowledge, I really need to continue improving my efficiency. I don't know what the limits of what I can know are, so it is useless to worry about running out of space. Just yesterday, while I was poking around the bookshelves in [my sister]'s room (she has textbooks!), I idly looked in come of the Foxtrot collections there, and I remembered having read specific strips. Even if I hadn't thought of a particular strip in years, I knew upon seeing it that I had read it before. Sad, isn't it?—all those clockcycles I [spent] reading Foxtrot when I could have been studying math or something. And Foxtrot is a good comic strip: it's just that life is so short. It is sad also to note that there have been times when I've lost my place in an academic book and subsequently could not recognize text that I had allegedly just read less than minutes before.
So human memory is a mystery unto me: I don't know what I know, and I don't know what I can know. What I do know is that I'm not sufficiently optimizing my time usage, and so focusing on that is where we should expect to see the greatest expected value.
I started reading the outrageous Goldberg book yesterday: I'm actually kind of impressed. Goldberg is very explicit about what he's saying and what he is not saying, and he makes the fact/value distinction very clear. The introduction ends: "I hope you find this trip illuminating and enjoyable and remember that nothing here commits you to any moral or political view you do not like." This is the kind of clarity and rigor that I'm just not used to seeing from the likes of Bettina Aptheker. Still, I should worry that my reading has been unbalanced. More worrisome: I say (as Goldberg says) that I take the fact/value distinction very seriously, but I should remember that humans aren't built to do this consistently. Could I be developing racist or misogynistic attitudes? It's practically a standard failure mode: science-minded young man holds disdain against women for (he thinks:) not being as smart and science-minded as him. I'm not at all like that, but—well, one of the big themes of my grand dream-of-a-novel is that it's possible to be mistaken about what you really are. So I think it's important to have an image of who you want to be, as distinct from how you-the-physical-system actually are. The former can be whatever you want it to be, whereas the latter is a belief-of-fact and must be determined only by the evidence (and your prior—although I fear Bayes is mostly still but a password unto me). So I have to ask the question as if it were any other ordinary question, such as about rocks or something: do I have misogynistic attitudes? If it makes sense to speak of stripping away my autogynephila and my explicitly egalitarian-individualist ideology, would my very soul be revealed as male? And if so, what can I do about it? What violence could I inflict upon me to make me my self?
I don't think I ever told you: someday it would be nice to experiment with some androgen-blocking drugs—you know, to see what it would feel like to be on them. But if I'm going to do something like that, it would be nice to have a better job and not be living with my parents—oh Diary, how it all hangs together! Oh, Diary, how ridiculously stupid we all are! —[real initials redacted]