Self v Other re: Ideas

There will come many times as you progress through life where the other will present opposition to the self.  This is not surprising in the main, but it will potentially be in the specific.  It can come at any time and it can work to pull out that proverbial rug.  Proceed with caution.

I was taking guitar lessons from a guy I knew.  Not much of teacher, really, but he had his certain skills as a guitar player.  At any rate I informed him when we were first starting out about how I was developing my finger-picking style.  It was a style that involved all five fingers of the picking hand.  He dismissed this as not being finger-picking but perhaps merely some gimmick and proceeded to inform me of a two-to-three finger-picking style (such as he used).

Subsequently I read about other finger-picking styles, some of which included five-finger styles.  Perhaps he wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t all that right.

When I was a young driver I received a negligent driving ticket.  This is a criminal as opposed to a moving violation, and as such is subject to trial by (short=8 person) jury.  I told my mom I would be defending myself in court and she proceeded to inform me that I would be up against professional attorneys and would surely lose.

This is the only time I swore at my mother.  I scolded her for not believing in my abilities.  Subsequently I won in court.  The assistant prosecutor said to the prosecutor “his jury instructions are better than yours” when I arrived at court prepared for court the first day.  The prosecution motioned to dismiss.  No one objected.  The case was dismissed.  Perhaps she wasn’t wrong but she wasn’t all that right.

During my time studying architecture at the University of Washington I remarked to a professor that I had surmised architectural perspectival drawing was a type of geometry.  He assured me that was not the case at all.  I could not imagine a way to reconcile these disparate notions; surely it must be a kind of geometry.  We even built each line according to a set of rules!  Alas, he said, it was not.  Even Euclid, primarily famous for his Geometry, wrote one other book to secure fame and his place in history:  Optiks.  No, not geometry.

Subsequently, I read this passage in “Math through the Ages (A Gentle History for Teachers and Others)” by William P Berlinghoff and Fernando Q Gouvêa (page 36):

Somewhat related to all this was the discovery of perspective by Italian artists.  Figuring out how to draw a picture that gave the impression of three-dimensionality was quite difficult.  The rules for how to do it have real mathematical content.  Though the artists of the Renaissance did not subject these rules to a complete mathematical analysis, they understood that what they were doing was a form of geometry.  Some of them, such as Albrecht Dürer, were quite sophisticated in their understanding o the geometry involved.  In fact, Dürer wrote the first printed work dealing with higher plane curves, and his investigation of perspective and proportion is reflected both in his paintings and in the artistic work of his contemporaries.

As you can see, many did not know that what they were doing was geometry but yet some did.  Perhaps my professor wasn’t wrong but he wasn’t all that right.

Also at the UW, I had a philosophy professor who let me know that what he was doing was philosophy but he was unclear as to what I was doing.  I suggested my philosophical leanings were more narrative to his more analytical leanings.  He also insisted this was incomprehensible, assuring me that he was doing philosophy and having no idea what I was doing.  I could hear Nietzsche cringe, I’m sure of it.

It’s hard not to believe people, especially those whom you respect for any reason, when they tell you that your brilliant idea is shit.  It’s always a challenge to disagree with the other and all the more challenging in this kind of situation.  Often these folks are trying to help!  They are not nefarious.  They want you to succeed!

Of course, just because this pattern exists doesn’t guarantee the self is justified or correctly imaging the world at large.  But it may well be worth your time to scour the literature or other evidence to see if there isn’t a modicum of vindication available.  And, as always, proceed with caution.

As a peripheral tale, when I was in grade school and bored with the math homework we had been assigned (four-digit multiplication) I sought to make it more interesting by doing the assignment in Roman numerals.  I don’t know if you have ever tried doing any sort of math with Roman numerals but they are not well-suited to long multiplication, let me tell you!

Also from Math through the Ages (but page 70):

Of course, it’s not impossible to compute with Roman numerals.  It’s just complicated.  Logician Martin Davies tells that

“In 1953, I had a summer job at Bell Labs in New Jersey (now Lucent), and my supervisor was Claude Shannon [a computer pioneer and the creator of the mathematical theory of communication].  On his desk was a mechanical calculator that worked with Roman numerals.  Shannon had designed it and had it built in the little shop Bell Labs had put at his disposal.  On a name plate, one could read that the machine was to be called “Throback I.”

Though we still use Roman numerals for ornamental purposes, there is no chance we’ll ever abandon the compact, convenient, and useful Hindu-Arabic system.  The power of the Hindu-Arabic system stems from its efficient positional structure, which is based on powers of ten.  That’s why we call it a decimal place value system.

I managed to complete only one of the problems assigned.  The teacher made no mention of these efforts.  I was disappointed.  I thought “look what I did!” and no one cared.  Story of my life, I guess.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *