Archive for May, 2006

Academics is about intellectual pleasure

I just realized something: academics is pure pleasure. It’s hard to imagine that I’m saying this directly after working on my thesis all night, but it occurred to me while perusing a photography exhibit moments ago. Liberal arts academics is pure, intellectual pleasure. Or call it “quality” from the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance perspective. We study ourselves and our world because it’s *interesting*. It feeds the mind.

A guy did a photography project on “body terrains”. He was looking at the similarity of landscapes to human bodily forms (it so happens that my girlfriend was one of these bodily forms, but that’s besides the point). He said there was a lot of “work left to do” in the field of representing landscapes as bodies. I thought, wow. This is just pure intellectual pleasure. At some point in the past, I would have degraded it because it seems so useless from any “practical” perspective. But now I see that it is full of quality. Mind food.

Someone was saying the other day how Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club, had the best job in the world: he gets to spend his time doing what he loves, wilderness sports — and it’s even healthy! But Joe Cruz has said the same thing about Philosophy; it’s mind food; pure pleasure; intellectual delicacy. I guess it doesn’t contribute to physical health, though.

But it seems clear that this point about pure pleasure gets lost on students starting on day one. What they don’t realize is that all the assignments, the exams, the dissertations, are mostly about finding the people who are most able to intellectualize, and get the most pleasure out of doing so. This is true at least in the framework of applying to graduate school. Sure, your ability to succeed in school is related to your ability to succeed at an intellectual job. But I think I understand a little better now what that grad student at Penn meant about caring more about the research than the location. For him, the pleasure of the thoughts was more important than the pleasures of the friends or the city or whatever else is determined by the location.

I guess it’s just so ironic that students everywhere complain so much about school work, when really it’s all about pleasure.

Today I attended my very last class at Williams College. I’m going to miss this place, for the friends, the fun, and the intellectual pleasure of it all.

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Networks vs. Hierarchies as representations of thought and language

My intuition says that creativity is network-based and rational thought is hierarchy-based. Note that a hierarchical tree is simply one form of network or graph.

Also, there is no fundamental difference between graphs and matrices. This could explain why natural language researchers have not been so excited about latent semantic analysis (LSA), which is simply one way of representing a graph in a format that the computer can operate on naturally. This graph represents certain relationships in “meaning” between words.

Finally, an LSA/graph approach may or may not be more appropriate than a hierarchy/grammar approach, depending on the specific problem to be solved. Graphs are less constrained and therefore seem most powerful, though also potentially need a lot more computational resources. Also, human brains appear to be general networks, not constrained to hierarchies, but that may or may not be important to know.

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