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Sunday, 18 September 2016

Quinze ans?!

It was SmTn's birthday... oh... maybe about a month ago? I sent the customary happy birthday email, one of our 3-4 yearly communications. I didn't expect much more than a quick thank you email but I got nothing in response. While this shouldn't bother me, it somehow does. I understand we don't talk much and he has a life to tend to and yet just acknowledging that email wouldn't have taken an awful lot of time, would it? Maybe it was verbotten, but then again it shouldn't be. Should it? I thought we were past that. I thought we were in strictly platonic friends mode, as evidenced by the incredibly scarce and shallow nature of our communication. I didn't hint at anything, I didn't reference anything naughty. I made one reference to the late nature of my email and used an inside joke (wizard smile). I briefly filled him in on this education project I've taken on and how I intend to go to school again. I wished him the best and left it at that. 

The lack of response tempted me to do a bad thing: I looked at his facebook profile. He doesn't post anything, other people post on his profile. One of them being the girlfriend-who-may-very-well-be-the-wife. There's an old timey picture that has been uploaded, one of the two of them sitting on a bench somewhere, holding hands. No translation or further reading was needed to guess that it made a reference to how they've been together for 15 years (maybe more, it seemed to refer to the picture). 

Well, fuck.

While I'd like to believe it changes little in our just-friends dynamics, it does seem to ground the emotional cheating as a much bigger deal. I figured they'd been together for somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 years when I met SmTn. But it now turns out they'd been together for about 10. Shit.

Way to go, me.

Way to go, SmTn. 

I feel it's not entirely rational, but this upsets me. 

It makes me feel dirty. Dirtier than before. Worse than the prostitutes from Les Misèrables. Not like them, worse. What kind of fool am I, exactly? I'm finding out, in mathematical terms, but not in real life terms. What kind of fool falls for this nonsense interaction and follows through for 5 years even if it's only 2 or 3 that were the truly bad ones? What kind of fool tries to justify any of this?

A naïve one, for sure. An ignorant one. One who really doesn't know better. Not even aware that I should have known better. An ignorant-and-unaware-of-it fool.

*sigh*

Monday, 5 September 2016

Where's Waldo in maths

Maybe now's the time to write this post. Seems about right, since I was headed that way anyway, and it just seems like a good way to start.

I've been absorbed by education theory of late. Education theory branching out into philosophy, psychology, neurology, sociology, anthropology and many relevant in-between fields. Innocently enough, it was part of a project I must complete if I want to get the last raise I qualify for, in a job that will not grant me a full time position as is and has absolutely no "benefits." It began with learning about better tutoring practices, but once it went beyond "be professional and be nice" it started getting interesting. I hadn't felt like this about anything in a very long time. I felt excited, I felt like I suddenly understood a lot, I felt like my mind was literally being opened with each new concept and I could feel my brain growing as it soaked all this new information in.

One particularly inspiring conversation had to do with Vigotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, also known as "what you can learn with a little help from someone who knows more than you." It's meant to be a fluid barrier of just how much you can reach with just the right nudge. Its strongest weakness is the requirement for this second more knowledgeable other, for there are things you can learn that no one has learned before and that's where all the most beautiful ideas are. I wondered if there was something like a method to coming up with new, creative ideas. Turns out I'm not the only one and there's no one good answer. Descartes tried, Leibniz tried, countless others who escape my memory (and bias) at the moment, failed. There is no perfect method (or if there is, it continues to elude us). 

Every little bit of information I found on the subject was fascinating to me and I started taking notes on a notebook, buying books, downloading scholarly articles. I was doing work while I was at work (and not really working, so I might as well) even though I also had the choice to just play on my phone or otherwise entertain myself with the usual websites for amusement. The best way I can describe this feeling is, perhaps, with an anecdote of when I was in 6th or 7th grade in school. We hadn't learned about algebra yet. The classroom we were in was assigned to maths classes, including grades above ours and someone had left behind an algebra worksheet. As a dare, "to prove how smart I really am," my friends told me try solving one of the problems. Truth is I couldn't. The language was foreign to me and none of it made sense to me. When the time came for us to learn algebra, I found a guilty pleasure in it. I solved equations and felt a thrill when I finally found the answer, not so unlike when you finally find Waldo in a very large illustration. It's not the greatest of achievements and perhaps you're alone in your triumph, but there's no denying just how gratifying the experience is. It's a feeling I strive to feel again when doing maths and I became determined to teach myself how to be a better maths student, that I may find the thrill, the beauty and the creativity I've fallen behind on.

As a starting point, I used that very experience to put forth a hypothesis: learning makes people happy, and this is perhaps an evolutionary advantage. I set out looking for manuals on how to learn, now to solve problems, how to spot patterns, now to use them, how memory works, how to go beyond memory. As a small by-product, I found the answer: dopamine is involved in learning processes by signaling to the brain that certain things are important. By then, however, I'd already changed tracks and had started pursuing other questions. 

There is, for instance, the matter of metacognition. You can't get good at something if you can't measure yourself up to someone who's better at it. There's the matter of epistemology: if truth is justified true belief and all three of those words can be broken down into essays, then the search for truth gains a lot of meaning. There's meaning, on its own, as a subject. There's boredom, as the lack of meaning, but with physiological consequences. There's the idea of talent, which may not actually exist and could be attributed to extraordinarily fast learners. There's the numerous definitions for creativity and the studies on incubation periods as the time where ideas develop and brew. There's still the matter of where creative and ingenious ideas come from, but I think it's all ultimately a problem with misattribution and misunderstanding from an outside perspective. From an outside perspective it's easy to think it was "easy" for a person to come up with something clever, and we might call them a "genius." We don't see the time spent working, quietly or not.

One could over-simplify the problem-solving process by describing it as a "fit all the available keys into the lock until one works." However, even in that analogy we might realize just how vast the alternatives are. There could be too many keys, and it is therefore important to filter, sort and organize them first. These mechanisms are clever and complex and may be subject to numerous biases. The ideas you're likely to try first are based on prior experiences, they're shaped by your education and what you've been exposed to. Another problem could be the fact that the right key does not exist, in which case you will have to somehow manufacture one out of the blue based on what you know about the lock. Many would give up. Many would fail to find importance or meaning in whatever might be hiding behind that lock because they wouldn't deem it worth it. They might trust someone else's stories about what lies beyond and stop there. 

What's interesting, and what seems to keep me going is that I've found ways to incorporate many ideas I've had for a while, like the thought that analogies are the equivalent of fraction simplification, or my blank sheet of paper experiment. 

I can justify the following statement, but won't for the sake of brevity and focus: virtually all life paths involve both teaching and learning, and not at a school level. You can look at that any way you like. Careers and a school system are an obvious one, so we'll skip over it. Consider everything you ever learn, from language to walking to performing every day life chores and tasks. You had to learn them somehow. There's a reason why there are so many YouTube videos with DIY and how-to tutorials. There's a reason why it's not the ones who get it right immediately that are popular. In fact, I daresay that those videos where failures are documented result in higher views and it's not only out of schadenfreude, but rather because those mistakes are learning experiences that we don't have to live through. 

I will have to write more in the future and I just want to get myself back in the habit of it. I need to find my voice again. I may draw comics to go with this. I may just write essays. I may make it a blog or website. I may want to be ambitious and do videos. I may just ask to collaborate with someone who seems to have gotten ahead of me. I'm not sure yet. I can't say when it will be done but I'd like to have a plan in the next couple of weeks. I just haven't decided on the format.