Wednesday, July 26, 2006

An Introduction

You may know me from my other blog as a hyper-logical debater, grounded in skepticism, and concerned first and foremost with the question, "What is true?" In my professional life, as a software engineer, I by necessity focus mostly on questions of logic as well. While good software code has an elegance and beauty in itself, my employers understandably care more about its logical correctness.

I've created this second blog in order to remind myself of my other, more Romantic side. I want to focus on things which are beautiful and inspirational or ugly and hateful instead of dicing things into smaller and smaller pieces in an effort to gain a complete understanding which is impossible to achieve.

I don't mean to denigrate logic. It's essential to many of the technological and moral advances we as a species have made over the last few millennia and it's indispensable as an aid to understanding this universe. It's an extraordinary tool and it needn't take away from our Romantic sides.

Richard Feynman, the Nobel-winning physicist, once wrote:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars -- mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is 'mere'. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination -- stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern -- of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

As an atheist and a materialist, I continue to believe that ultimately, given infinite time and infinite intelligence, everything could in theory be broken down into the smallest pieces and understood perfectly, at least until the Uncertainty Principle kicks in. In practice, however, our time is not only finite but quite short, and our intelligence, while capable of great feats, is not equipped for the big task.

Like many computer scientists, I have a passion for the game Go. Go is famous (among computer scientists) for its complexity, particularly as compared to chess. While the strongest computer chess players now rival the best humans, no Go program can beat even a decent human amateur. The reason for this disparity is that in chess, there are only 64 squares with a couple of dozen possibilities for each move. In Go, there are 361 intersections with almost hundreds of possibilities for most moves.

Given infinite time and infinite memory, one could quite easily solve the game of Go -- it is completely deterministic, like chess and tic-tac-toe. There are no dice, no shuffled decks, and no random number generators involved. What makes Go so fascinating though is how intuitive we must be in order to play it well. Since most humans couldn't examine every possible move for even a single turn, let alone a few dozen turns in advance, we must rely on intuition and general rules of thumb.

Go is a beautiful metaphor for life in that regard. Perhaps, two centuries from now, a team of neuroscientists, linguists, psychologists, and physicists might, after decades of study, be able to completely understand the precise intended meaning of a single sentence uttered by a man to a woman. It would then take another few decades to completely understand what she heard as compared to what he intended. And even then, the scientists' description of what precisely happened would be so complex and span so many scientific disciplines that no single human being could completely understand it.

Consquently, it makes much more sense to turn to Shakespeare in order to understand dialogue or to Woolf for glimpsing what goes on in another's mind.

I'd like to use this blog to focus on the parts of life for which logic is insufficient. I'd like to look at beauty in a way that's less simplistic -- less reductive -- than some attempted explanation from evolutionary neuropsychology. I'd like to write about inspiration and love and hate and greed and lust and ambition -- all the passions which drive us and make life so damn interesting.


At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> I'd like to use this blog to focus on the parts of life for which logic is insufficient.

What, you mean like religion? ;)

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Don't worry, anon, I'll get to that. :-)

At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Marina Grace said...

I'm excited to read more of your thoughts, and this post sounds like a wonderful beginning.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Thanks marina.

At 4:48 PM, Blogger dbackdad said...

As usual JA, great blog.

At 1:53 AM, Anonymous Benjamin said...

As somebody who has played the Yahoo! go Forums on occasion, I can say with near perfect confidence that I suck. I guess I don't have that intuition...


I'd warn you that the touchy-feely blogs, while interesting, can be misapropriated.

At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Some Guy said...

Ever see the Anime Hikaru no Go. It was pretty good, and was apparently responsible for a resurgence in Japanese Go playing. For myself, I really dislike "thinking" games, because, well... I can't think. But I do like the fantasy of imagining that I am actually a great Go or Chess player, and that I could sit with a cigar and a glass of scotch, and play slow and profound games with interesting people.

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Jewish Atheist said...

Thanks dbackdad. :-)


A lot of it is experience, too. Pattern recognition plays a big part. But it's definitely not for everybody. I know a very smart PhD computer scientist who's a decent chess player who cannot for the life of him get the hang of Go.

Some Guy:

I'm aware of it, but I haven't actually seen it. And you might try sitting with a cigar and glass of scotch and playing a slow and UNprofound game with interesting people. Still sounds fun. :-)

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous Ozzie said...

I have always enjoyed playing Go.


At 11:46 PM, Blogger Stacey said...

Love the new blog. I, too, am a software engineer (double-majored in that and math) and a Jewish atheist.

Richard Feynman is one of my heroes.


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