Monday, November 24

Vacation! All I Ever Wanted...

Well I'm back from Hawaii. (You did know I was going to Hawaii, didn't you?) Overall it was a nice trip. I have a little trouble totally enjoying vacations since I became a father. Unconsciously I compare them to the vacations I took before I had all the responsibilities of children. Without children you simply decide what you want to do on a vacation and then you go do it, subject only to time and budget constraints. With children I must consider what the children will be doing while I am enjoying whatever activity I want to do on vacation. Think I can just sit on the beach? I can't; I have to make sure the boys don't wander of down the beach, or get sucked away by the rip tide. Think I can sit by the pool? I can't; I have to play with the boys in the pool. Think I can read my book? I have to make sure the boys don't get stir crazy and damage themselves or the hotel room.

Really it's not better or worse it's just different. Vacations with kids just include different activities than vacations for adults. I think there are different vacations for kids of different ages, and as you get older your vacations naturally evolve until they are adult vacations. When you have kids it is a huge leap backwards in the vacation evolution, and that takes some adjustment.

I like to read on my vacations. Betsy, my wife, gets mad because I like to take four or five books for a one week vacation and decide which one(s) to read while on vacation. (Frequently I switch to a second book with out completing the first.) On our last one-week vacation before we had kids I think I read about 1000 pages from two different books. On this vacation I read about fifty pages from one book. The only quiet time to read was during the kids' naps, but that was also the only time to nap myself (I must have my naps while on vacation). We had two six-hour plane rides where I the only reading did was glancing through the in-flight magazine, the rest of the time was spent trying to convince Elijah he wasn't really bored out of his mind.

We were able to spend a lot of time with aunt Brandy (Betsy's sister), and uncle Mark who live about half an hour from the hotel we stayed in. Aunt Brandy stayed with us for three days and babysat the boys for a day so mom and dad could go on a snorkeling trip. We saw lava tubes, and lots of tropical fish and coral, and we swam with a green sea turtle, which was pretty cool. It seemed to be completely unfazed by people in the water with it. Apparently it is illegal to touch green sea turtles in Hawaii (so I didn't lightly touch him with just my finger, no sir, not me, uh-uh, ... , at least not after I learned it was illegal, and not before either, really! I don't know what your'e talking about!) so the turtle wasn't afraid of us.

In other news: I will be receiving my master's degree in Applied Mathematics from Cal State Fullerton on January fifth. Yay! Apparently I passed the writing proficiency test.

Monday, November 10


Clay Shirky has an article on a fairly esoteric concept called The Semantic Web. He makes several interesting points, as usual. However, the most interesting part for me was the following.

The people working on the Semantic Web greatly overestimate the value of deductive reasoning (a persistent theme in Artificial Intelligence projects generally.) The great popularizer of this error was Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories have done more damage to people's understanding of human intelligence than anyone other than Rene Descartes. Doyle has convinced generations of readers that what seriously smart people do when they think is to arrive at inevitable conclusions by linking antecedent facts. As Holmes famously put it "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

This sentiment is attractive precisely because it describes a world simpler than our own. In the real world, we are usually operating with partial, inconclusive or context-sensitive information. When we have to make a decision based on this information, we guess, extrapolate, intuit, we do what we did last time, we do what we think our friends would do or what Jesus or Joan Jett would have done, we do all of those things and more, but we almost never use actual deductive logic.

This illustrates a theory that I have held for a long time that we humans are no where near as logical as we think we are. Which raises the question why do we think we are so logical? Do we believe that if we just knew the right facts, and proper techniques, we could reason out how everything works and the universe would unfold a myriad of treasures at our feet? Or we believe that logic is the only tool for comprehending the universe and other people? I think at some level we do. I think logic has been hyped for centuries as the cure to all ills, and the above reference to Descartes illustrates how long the hype has been going on. While logic is obviously a useful tool, it falls far short of most this hype, and even in the arenas where it is useful it is often much more tedious and unwieldy than we want to believe.

The first place I heard the statement about eliminating the impossible was not from Sherlock Holmes, but from from one of his many intelecual heirs, that paragon of "space age" logic, Spock. But Spock and Holmes, are only two characters in a long line of "super logicians". Some other popular super logicians, James Bond, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and Doc Savage. Frequently we accept the "super logician" myth while simultaneously mocking it. For example Buckaroo Banzai, or Austin Powers.

Truly great logicians respect the limits of deductive logic. For example, Einstein said "Where math describes reality it is not precise, and where it is precise, it does not describe reality."

Obviously, I'm not advocating abandoning logic completely. Logic is a very powerfull tool, but it is probably one of the most misused intellectual tools, especially when trying to figure out how and why people do what they do. The biggest abuse is when we try to figure out why not everyone else thinks as "logically" as we do.