I’m trying to figure out a systematic way of going through my older stuff, as I mentioned a few posts ago.
I’ve been scanning and rereading it all, a task that I’ve always felt somewhat conspicuous about enjoying.
It’s kind of a funny thing. I’ll write here, do some token editing until I’m sick of looking at it all then hit publish. But the second I hit publish I race to the live view of the website and reread what I wrote a couple times in rapid succession while tabbing back and forth to statcounter to see if anyone’s looking. (Yes, I’m a shameless attention whore.)
Like I mentioned, I’ve printed out everything I’ve published in the last year and have been going through them. But I’m not finding what I’m looking for. It’s just a pain in the ass to actually slog through it all looking for “I’m not sure what.”
It may very well be that I’ve set myself an impossible task.
It reminds me of someone I know. He’s a really good guy. But I watch him struggle with really really basic stuff, making excuses for why he doesn’t understand things, not really understanding that he just doesn’t understand.
He runs head first into things that are a bit beyond him to either understand or do, over and over again. But his reaction to those things leads me to what I think is an inevitable conclusion for him. There are “magical thinking” reasons for it, every time. It’s never something that he doesn’t understand or has to work at. It’s always the fault of the designers of the thing for coming up with something that’s messed up, or the writers that are no good at explaining themselves.
Watching the tortured gyrations of his mind to avoid with everything he has the idea that it might be beyond him is just the proof that it may actually BE beyond him. It’s sad to watch because the pattern is just so obvious that it’s painful. But we all have war with our own demons and it’s rare to find someone whose are the same as yours.
Watching the dynamics of people not understanding things has always been pretty interesting to me as it serves as a great mirror for me to help diagnose my own head and how I behave in such circumstances. Our ego’s ability to make excuses for ourselves is really something else.
A long time ago I took a class called Finite Math, dealing mildly with statistics and probability. I loved it. The content in the class was absolutely obvious when it came across my eyes. It wasn’t anything I’d ever learned before. But the truth of it was so fucking self-evident that I literally couldn’t comprehend not understanding.
Well I was a dumb kid back then and confidence generally pretty low, so the fact that I was just sleeping through this led me to do some seriously dumb shit in the name of my own fragile ego, to the unending frustration of the teacher. (is a community college night teacher a “professor” necessarily? I’m never sure what the boundaries of that title really are.)
Let me see if I can rip this forward 32 years in time.
The idea in this case was a basic question of probability. A “Game” she defined in this context as something that had a finite number of defined possible outcomes. The idea she was trying to put forward is that just because a game had a limited number of outcomes, it didn’t mean that each outcome was equally likely.
So if a game is “flip a coin” the odds are “close enough” to even that if you perform the experiment a sufficient number of times on a fair coin, you’ll tend towards an even distribution of outcomes between heads and tails. All good.
But when she said there were other games you could play with two possible outcomes, it was not necessarily true that the likelihood of either outcome was 50%.
The class could NOT get it. Now THEY thought, with every failed iteration of her talking it through that it was some hopelessly complex concept they coudn’t get their minds around it.
I couldn’t fucking take it. “But this stuff is EASY!” I barked.
She, already frustrated (by her OWN ineptitude frankly) said “Its easy for YOU.” And holy SHIT did the class turn on me. I’m not at all sure I didn’t actually hear someone growl.
I drove home that night fantasizing about having done the following: (Note. This did NOT happen. But it’s one of the great “I shoulda…” moments of my life that doesn’t involve a girl.)
I get up and walk to the board, erasing a bunch of shit she’d written.
“Okay. Here’s one game: For $10 we roll a ‘fair’ six sided die. You win $10 if the die comes up 1-4 and I win $10 if it comes up 5 or 6. Do you play the game?” Now, that was going to get most of the class, but not everyone.
The people that DON’T get it wouldn’t “not get it” because they didn’t understand. They’d not get it because they had already framed themself as “not understanding” so I’d move on to the next example.
“Here’s another. The sun is either going to come up in the morning or not. Two possibilities. Now, is the sun going to come up tomorrow?” mumble mumble “Well, what would make the sun NOT come up? Now I don’t mean an overcast day. I mean the sun literally not coming up.” mumble mumble “Well, either someone blows up the sun or the earth or stops the earth from turning. Now is that GOING to happen? Of course not. Is it literally within the realm of possibility? Yes, of course it is. But you’d all take the bet because the odds are NOT 50/50.”
And once that was done I could see the jock up front who was most angry with me (who was the most frustrated that he didn’t get it) just light up and say “wait…that’s it?” … “Yeah man, it’s not your fault she didn’t describe this easily enough.”
That would have led the teacher to lose her fucking mind. But it wasn’t my damn fault she couldn’t teach.
Of course none of that happened. Instead I just drove home stroking my own ego and continued until this day congratulating myself for how much smarter I was than the teacher.
But see that’s different than watching someone try and wrestle with something that’s actually beyond them. At least I think so.
It seems to me, and may be false, that the person who encounters something utterly beyond them just doesn’t know it. THAT person flounders, coming up with excuses and weird near-mystical explanations for what’s going on. The one who has just had something explained to them poorly KNOWS something is wrong. They KNOW they’re just missing something because they can see the negative space in their understanding.
And I think that distinction makes all the difference in the world.
This all brings me to what’s kicking around in my head about it: Have I reached the limits of my abilities in this peculiar (and admittedly ill-defined) quest I’ve taken on to find the underlying themes in what I’ve been writing over the past however long?
The idea I lobbed up a couple paragraphs ago may just be a self-serving egoism, that I clearly can find out because I see the outline of a conceptual shape in the fog of my mind.
I could create a piece of software, easily enough, that looked for patterns of words across my entire universe of posts. It would be pretty easy. Hell I’ve done it before. I’d been avoiding it in favor of just reading through it all, thinking that would be a more useful and organic approach to it. But it may simply be that “the thinking that got me here has created problems that thinking can’t solve” as a function of necessity. I’m not sure. I don’t THINK that’s the case. But how the hell would I know.
It’s frustrating as all hell to just not know how to proceed.
As I’m keen to say: “You must always ask yourself the question: If I was wrong, how would I know? The only wrong answer is ‘I’m not.'”
And to accept that it might be true that I’m wrong about there being enough in “all that” to extract into Something Interesting would be certainly be a blow to my ego, that’s not to say I should stop looking.
If I exhaust the ideas I come up with to try and sift through it and THEN make that concession, that’d be one thing.
But I’ve clearly not done anything close to that.
So now I’ve talked myself into the realization that I’m wavering because I haven’t had immediate results.
Because let’s say that my initial suspicions are correct, that there IS something there worth sifting for. Finding it would absolutely be a level jump for the tools I have at my disposal. Finding it, regardless, requires that my brain stretch from its current shape. If that’s the case, then I’m being something close to lazy, looking to bail because I haven’t found the answer after an admittedly cursory effort.
The software solution seems to me at first blush like a cop out. It may be that I write this little set of scripts (it’s really not a lot of code, all things considered) and a bunch of stuff jumps out at me plain as day. Once I see that it may all just “become obvious” that I had to turn the gemstone a little to change my perspective to look at what would become the obvious perspective to see what I needed to see.
So there’s really no excuse not to do that, even though it feels like cheating, like I’m looking for a literal answer key. THAT dovetails into this weird prediliction I have to do things the hard way so that I don’t cheat myself out of the learning experience.
But that’s a conversation for another time.