30 November, 2010

Simplicity and complexity

The greatest thinkers are able to grasp ideas of serious complexity and yet explain them in a relatively simple manner. I've always been in awe of these people and admired their brain power and presentation skills. Today, however, I was seriously bored at a lecture, arguing that "it's so simple, I keep falling asleep!" But later I thought, how could I know if it truly was a simple thing that was being taught? What if it was instead a highly complex issue, and now because my lack of concentration I will not grasp it?

Should be striving for simplicity or complexity? Too simple things are usually a bit boring, but once you get them they're easy to remember. Too complex ideas, however, are hard to get. Surprisingly, even they can be quite easy to remember once you just need them often enough. But if you don't, well... For example, I can't really remember very much about a lot of math stuff I've had the pleasure of doing before.
“For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.”
- Henry Louis Mencken
Mencken, as a satirist, was quite rightly referring to the complexity of human life and society. Nevertheless, it serves as a nice remark for researchers and thinkers as well. No matter how much you like Occam's razor, sometimes simple might just be too simple. Simplifying and generalizing too much will lead to conclusions being non-descriptive and self-evident. By not categorizing and just generalizing, you'll do away with all the distinctive argumentative power. Having said that, I'd never advocate for the kind of this-stuff-is-nonsense-so-I'll-just-make-up-bucketloads-of-concepts-and-hope-nobody-notices research. Concepts are important, but trying to confound deliberately, that's just intellectual fraud. 

In the end, I guess the same approach we use with business works with explanations too. If it's too cheap, I mean simple, it just might be too good to be true. If it's too expensive, screw it - you can do better if you look beyond the first marketplace.

27 November, 2010

New outsides, new insides

Hey, new layout! I got seriously bored of the old, boring brown layout that made me feel like I'm watching something made in the 70s, hastily digitized by the original creator. Pure horror. So, enter new slick layout, which seriously tested both my HTML and photo editing skills. Hope I can coerce somebody to draw me a new logo in the future, too. I can't even draw a stickman myself.

Layout is just the perceptional layer, however. And my ramblings have never been about changing the outside, I strive to write about changing the inside. Every once in a while I get asked "why do you write?". It's quite simple, really. I want to change my inside layer, too. I want to think better, think more clearly. I want to argue better. I want to know, how I really feel about something.

And if anybody reads my text and feels a tinge of improvement, gets a new idea, a new perspective or has a laugh, I already feel I've justified the trouble. Regardless if that anybody is just me, just one other person or 5000 people, even one mind on the way to more clarity, better arguments and - hopefully - a notion of happiness is a victory.

24 November, 2010

Trust your instinct, obey your thirst of knowledge

I've tried to keep myself on the track of gathering knowledge, reading, and what you, I guess, could call "self-improvement". I have to say, that I've discovered it's a damn load of work.

Somehow, back when I got this idea that I need to read more, write more and think more, I thought it was going to be quite a straightforward business. I mean, how hard could it be? Read a couple of books, write some stuff - and hey presto, you're a much better person!

Well, it was a fallacy to think that, obviously. First of all there's the time issue: countless hours are spent on WIkipedia, on LessWrong, on reading various books. Secondly, some of the stuff I've come across in books, blogs etc. is just so damn complex, that I end up thinking about it for days, feeling just even more confused afterward! But still, I've got the same feeling that it's good for me.

It's really hard to rationally justify all this effort. The progress (if it exists) seems to happen in infinitesimal steps. But still, I know that there was a day, when I couldn't write. There was a day, when I knew nothing about Aristotle's political theory. There is a change, but it's just so slow that I end up forgetting it's happening.

However, there is no knowing if all this will lead to me being "a better person". I embarked on this Quest about 1,5 years ago, and have felt a lot better since. But does feeling better equal going in the right direction?

I guess I just can't know what I will know in the future, and how it will profit my growth. I'll have to trust my instincts in being a rationalist.

21 November, 2010

Hike-life parallels

I went for a hike up and over the "home mountain" of Graz. Schöckl, peaking at 1450 metres, has some rougher terrain testing your physics but also rewards the effort with some really beautiful sights. This time, however, the weather was extremely foggy, with visibility dropping sometimes to less than 10 m. Luckily, the clouds in the air seemed do make the clouds in my head vanish for once.

I reflected some bit on the weather and realized, how much the hike actually resembled life in general: at times you work extra hard and still it seems that the steep incline is endless. At times you're completely in the fog and can't really see at all where you're going. You might even take a wrong turn and wander in the fog for a while before figuring out how to get to the main road. Feeling adventurous, you might also get off the main highway, just to discover a beautiful forest path almost unused.

And just you're getting back down, damning the cursed fog to the depths of hell for spoiling everything: a gust of wind and the fog clears, revealing some of the most beautiful sights you've ever seen. And you instantly know remember why you chose that path - because you knew the sights were there. You had hoped for the fog to clear. And then it did just that.

03 November, 2010

That's what the lecturer said


What he said
What he meant

"This subject is very important basic information for anyone looking for a career in business."
"You won't learn anything useful, but it's a mandatory course so you'll just have to sit through it."

”This course will be a lot of work, but it will also be rewarding once you learn all of it.”
"I cannot understand that students have a life outside this classroom.”

”Even though the lecture notes are available on the Web, I still encourage you to read through the course book.”
”Hey, even I haven't read it. But I'll still put a question in the exam regarding one nitpick piece of it, just to force you to read it.”

”I hope you will ask questions and comment as much as possible.”
”I don't really know what I'm talking about so I hope you'll do the teaching for me.”

”I will keep the theory part as short as possible.”
either ”You are idiots and wouldn't understand it anyway.” or
”I don't really understand it myself, so I can't teach it to you.”

”That's a good question, but in the scope of this course we won't go further into that conversation.”
”I don't have a clue how to answer that.”

”I think you have an interesting viewpoint into this.”
”I think you're an idiot.”

”I think we can agree to disagree.”
”I think you're an idiot – besides, I'm right.”

”That question cannot be answered with the knowledge of this course.”
”Hey, I'm the one with the PhD! Who's criticizing who here?”