I haven’t studied any of the natural sciences since 8th grade. So I really think that physics is all about objects going up, falling down, being pulled, being pushed, or being tied up by zero weight strings and done strange things to. Biology is whatever Kamil says it is. Chemistry is about soap.
Computer Science was never that obscure for me, even though I started studying it less than three years ago. It seemed clean, simple, logical – and it truly is.
The human brain is, thankfully, nowhere as clean, logical and simple as computers, as they currently exist, are. Suppose you go to the supermarket, and you only want to spend x ruppees. Buying things makes you happy, but all things do not make you equally happy. You want to maximize your happiness. What would you buy? Most of us solve problems like these every day, and we end up solving them pretty quickly and easily. A computer, on the other hand, would go berserk trying to solve this problem.
Computer Science deals with problems of computation, of how a big problem can be broken down in to a small number of steps which, when repeatedly applied can solve this big problem. Practically this ends up being about, firstly, helping an extremely stupid, clean, simple and logical machine solve problems that we don’t want to spend our precious brain power on anymore. Secondly, it ends up being about using the strengths of an extremely clean, simple, and logical machine, i.e. its utter stupidity, to figure out problems our illogical, unclean, and complex brains find hard. Either way, it’s all about creative problem solving.
But, yaar, computers can’t save us from ourselves. They might predict the colossal and destructive consequences of our actions, like they do in Day After Tomorrow, or Catch 22’s sequel, Closing Time. They might even directly or indirectly cause our colossal and destructive end (example). What they cannot be taught to do, however, is understand the madness that laces our everyday life. Here’s an example from Catch 22:
"History did not demand Yossarian's premature demise, justice could be satisfied without it, progress did not hinge upon it, victory did not depend on it. That men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance, and Yossarian was willing to be the victim of anything but circumstance. But that was war." (Chapter 8)
Catch 22’s set in the Second World War. Its sequel is set in the 1990’s. Closing Time’s not half as awe-inspiring, funny, sad and brilliant as Catch 22 is. But just like Catch 22 captures the absurdity and insanity of our times and institutions, Closing Time captures a chest hollowing and tear inducing sense of loss and helplessness, and not without humour.
So let’s add that to our list of things computers cannot be taught. We now have, a, the insanity of our social institutions and self, and b, chest hollowing, tear inducing, tragic humour.
Of course, there’s more. But this page was supposed to be about me.
These days I’m reading two books. First is Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I find the author’s name really hard to pronounce. She will henceforth be referred to as the Nigerian Writer. You can read a short story by the Nigerian Writer here. Second is Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre. That’s also really easy to read, but I haven’t really gotten around to reading it past the quarter point for a month now. It’s a coming of age story about a boy who likes wearing fancy trainers. Once I restart reading it, I might change my mind about what it’s about.
One fine day I’ll also restart reading Godel Escher and Bach which is an extremely interesting, but extremely heavy, book that aims to highlight common themes in the works of a logician, an artist, and a composer and through that demonstrate how systems could have meaning and coherence, even if the parts that compose them don’t.
And I’m going to restart dancing. I started learning Khathak dance in the summer. It’s fun. My instructor’s been teaching me dance pieces to the Tien Taal beat, which like most of Khathak, seems funnily obsessed with powers of two, especially the number sixteen. It’s a very CS centric dance in that sense.
I will also bake this winter. I will bake bread, and cake, and soufflé, and muffins, and pie, and French desserts the names of which I do not know how to spell or pronounce.
And I love Bob Dylan.
Navigate through Maheen's Blog Posts:
Potential Senior Projects
Why Turing is Your Daddy
To iterate is human, to recurse divine
Happy Valentine's Day!
A Softer World
Because TV wastes time
New Yorker's Fiction section
Fifty Two Stories: A story a week