Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Come closer my dear

We recently bought a new oil painting for our apartment. As I was examing it, I was struck by the fact that, when looking closely, the picture itself looses focus and you are only able to notice the individual paint strokes. Only once you have backed up enough do you see the picture again. This is most likely due to the fact that when you are too close, your brain is unable to group the brush strokes making up the tree and identify them as representing a tree. If you back up, your brain is able to see enough to fire 'tree' in your brain. 

Much of life appears to be like this, examine something too closely and it starts to fall apart. For example with language and words, when examined they start to look and sound like nonsense. This can easily be experienced by saying the same word over and over again out loud. We start to pay attention to the sequences of sounds we are producing, rather then the meaning behind the word. The picture we are creating with our words starts to fall apart and look like nothing.

A similar phenomenon can be witnessed by looking at matter. The closer and closer we look, the less and less it looks like anything. Seems to be mostly empty space scattered with probabilities of something being there and that something turns out to be not much of anything as well.

Yet there still appears to be something there. Just so long as I am not looking too closely.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I wonder if the current method of teaching in the  University system is the best way. To a degree, seperating knowledge and skills into different areas, makes a lot of sense. Group like with like. But in most cases, life invovles an intersection of multiple disciplines and experiences. 

I remember taking two math courses and a physics course one year, and all three spending the begginning of the courses talking about the same subject - vectors and basic matrix math. That just seemed to be a waste of time, teaching the same lesson three times in three different courses. The advantage of this is the ordering of the courses and the option of them being required is flexible, because none of them are dependent on the others, creating a more flexible and modular structure. Given the central importance this subject was to the course, having them taught in each class ensures that a certain level of competance is reached. But how often does this pattern occur through out the courses, and with subject areas and related subject areas being so intertwined, does breaking them up into seperate and discrete classes really make sense. Do alternate models of education exist which are more efficient and capable of producing higher quality of graduates?


I found the intersection of math/computers and human activity/life to be a bit of a quandry. Essentially math and computers like to be nice and tidy, where as life tends to be messy. One cannot put life and human activities into nicely organized boxes and theories. Yet computers become most useful when they support and create useful human activities. Something simple like this blog/journal entry for example. 

Yet in the teaching of computer science, most students are only presented with math type tpy problems. This does make sense, because these types of problems are easy to understand and can be used to convey certain concepts about programming, but I wonder if this limits the way we think. Expressing human activity as math and functions, does not seem to be the best fit. This is just a germ of an idea, that will need further developing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

It Works

I have been reading "An Introduction To Systems Biology - Design Principles of Biological Circuits" by Uri Alon, over the past while and I am finding it fascinating. My first reaction was seeing how much DNA is like code, only so much more. DNA and all the surrounding mechanisms, are like code which writes code which writes code, that then finally executes to do something useful. This produces a system with a high degree of flexibility that is capable of dealing with the many variations of life. The other realization is that life is not random, or at least not completely, that life is the way it is for a reason. This does not mean that, if we were to start all over again that everything would happen the same, but that common motifs and themes would arise, similar to what we see today.

Everything around us is there because it works and does something useful. It may not always be optimal and free of negative consequences, but when you consider the sum total of everything, it come out positive. If it did not work, then the behavior would be changed by random mutations, that could happen at anytime.

Quick Intro

For those of you who have stumbled over to my corner of the world, I thought I would give a quick introduction about my blog. My primary purpose is to record my thoughts in some fashion and give them some life outside my head. I am writing for myself, but hope others my benefit from them. I am a Software Engineer by profession, but I spend most of my time thinking about and observing life in general during my free time, and what follows are my ramblings on the interconnected web of life, with concepts grounded in my profession and other experiences.