And Everything

Hello readers!

It has been an eventful two weeks. At some unremarked time in the past I developed a psychological need to blog, so that with every layer of daily happenings I’ve had to keep telling myself: just hold out until Tuesday. It is Tuesday, hallelujah! All of this build-up, however, means that this post will likely be chronologically, stylistically, and semantically mixed. Consider yourselves warned. Here we go!

You know when you get in those anxiety spin-cycles when something has grabbed your attention and it keeps on interrupting your thoughts? Like, some hitherto unimagined social thing has happened, and all of a sudden you can’t focus at all because you get stuck in the they-said/I-said/they-thought/I-thought loop. I don’t know if this happens to other people, but I suspect it does because all of us feel discombobulated and out of our previous realms of experience at some point. In my case, I treated this situation as I’ve treated all such situations in the past: stop what I’m doing. Take a couple of hours break. And run a heck of a lot of mental simulations, rationalizations, theory of mind analysis, and sort this into something reasonable, dang it, there has to be reasons for everything that happened. (Actually, when I was younger and hadn’t yet developed these methods, my solution was to run to my mother and demand she list out the requisite social rules for me. Now I’m independent, hear me roar.)

It’s been a while since I’ve had one of these spin-cycles. It’s mostly because they occur when something very unexpected happens, and as I’ve had more experiences my models for what happens in the world have expanded. I’d kind of forgotten what they felt like, actually— I’m not a chill person, I pretty much never run out of energy, but spin-cycles are basically my brain dialed up to 11. It has the same effect as the efficiency stuff I was talking about two weeks ago, but it’s very focused and it’s hard to do simultaneously with other things. It also is unique because I’m trying to simulate things I by definition don’t have experience with, so there’s a lot of inherent uncertainty. I also come up with a whole bunch of new thoughts I’ve never had before, which is my favorite, so once I wrestle the emotions down into logic it can be fun.

Sometimes I still feel like a child trying to grasp at this grown-up world. I’ve gotten much better at a whole host of adult things over the past five years—it’s almost as if all of this stuff comes naturally. Many social things—ways of interacting with people, considering others, how to deal with power structures, etiquette, gestures, etc.—have become intuitive to me now or don’t require a lot of mental effort. I’m much better at self-managing as well—I was just noticing the other day that I’ve gotten rid of a lot of my minor OCD tendencies.

But sometimes we’re back to the beginning again, sitting there scratching my head, trying to figure people situations out. At least I’m not alone in this—trying to manage situations with people in them has to be one of the most common topics of conversation humans have. I’m just so used to having judgments already lined up for me. It’s one of my failings that has been pointed out to me many times: I come at practically everything with pure, unevaluated confidence. This has been expressed as “the world is so simple to Monica”, “oh you know, Monica said it in her usual confident way”—and everything seems pretty simple to me; I have no trouble immediately generating an opinion and expressing it even when I’m wrong.

Sometimes I’m sitting there in a discussion and really wish that other people didn’t have the same problem. Communication is so bizarre—we all have some specific subsets of experiences, and we express these experiences as generalizations. For example, my opinions on British vs. American schooling systems come specifically from my experience with one elementary school, one middle school, one high school, two American colleges, and one British university. Pair that with the few articles I’ve read in the news, the mostly similar stories I’ve heard from my friends, and you have the sum total of my experience. Now say I get into an argument with someone else who has opinions on British vs. American schooling systems. She has gone to one specific elementary school, etc. And we can agree on a generality, in which case neither of us learned anything new and it’s all boring. Or we disagree on a generality, and neither one of us can listen to each other because we’re insisting on our opinions based on our own experiences and if we’d had the other person’s experiences we’d probably have the opposite opinions. But when we listen we feel like we aren’t being heard, and so we talk more, which makes the other person feel like they’re not being heard, and we end up at this very frustrating stalemate because neither of us came in ready to listen.

Both sides have to be ready to listen. It doesn’t work if one side is—I was recently in a half-an-hour long conversation where I only gave prompting cues and made the other guy monologue. It was interesting, which was why I didn’t break out of the conversation, plus I was stuck at the table and in the mood for it and kind of amusing myself with how long I could get him to keep it up. I was also busy trying to figure out if he was a Democrat or Republican, and how it was crazy that I put so much judgment in that since people are not binary or good or bad based on their political affiliation, and wasn’t that a silly bias that I was entertaining.

But it’s subtle, this listening thing. It’s so subtle. One of my new favorite probes for this is to bring up sexuality, because this is something that is entirely subjective, but people feel they know exactly what everyone’s talking about based on their own experience. How people react to this is a great giveaway on how willing they are to listen—in that moment, but also in general. My recent experience is that how people react when presented with a new, foreign concept is similar across domains. Some people entertain the new ideas immediately, some reject ideas immediately, and most of the people I interact with will listen to a point and sort of bend it and try to convince you that’s what you meant, but are willing to listen more if you insist. I have a small sample size though, so I’ll continue to evaluate data. (Who even knows what I do. I know what I strive for, but it depends on my mood.)

But anyhow, back to the spin-cycle thing. I do have to say that one of my favorite parts of having a “problem”—some situation that I’m not confident I can solve on my own—is that I get to call on my network of people. I love having this sort of reason to talk to my friends, because it’s such a learning experience all around. I obviously have exhausted all of my thinking by the time I get to talking to them—I can’t get the anxiety to down-spike until I’ve come to some conclusions, so I’ll have down-regulated myself into something reasonable by the time I end up setting up and having meetings. Moreover, I won’t contact people if I think they’re going to have the exact same perspective that I am, so I end up getting new opinions and perspectives from my friends. So it’s great on my end. Plus, people enjoy this stuff. They like giving advice, they like feeling important, they learn stuff vicariously, we end up feeling closer because we’re talking about something meaningful. So it’s interesting on their end, really relieving on my end, and everything works out.

Hmm :). Something I quite like thinking about is how people deal with internal conflicts. I’m a talker—ever since I can remember my strategies (which tracks back to middle school), if I’ve had a problem everyone around me is going to hear about it. This includes people who could-be-friends (I see it as a way to build closeness, as I was mentioning above), and also includes strangers, because usually I just want to talk about it until some solution manifests and I can move on. (Some issues I never move on from, and I have no idea why I still bring them up. Usually those are the events that still affect how I interact with the world today.) Since middle school, I’ve gotten better at who I talk to—at limiting the blast zone as it were. This is largely to make sure no one gets hurt, and also because there are certain perspectives (certain friends) that better fit certain situations.

It’s also obvious that I’m a talker—for example, I’m discussing this situation on the internet. One of my friends once called this “brave”. It doesn’t feel that way. It doesn’t feel like one of the hard things that I do, the stuff that require a lot of self-motivation and prepping like going to a dance class or traveling or asking a question at the end of a lecture or walking into a weight room full of men. But I know that it’s easier for me to ask a question at the end of a lecture than the majority of people, and it’s tremendously easy for me to talk about stuff on the internet—I actually have to use a lot of restraint to make sure I try to not say things that accidentally hurt someone, and I’m sure I do. (Please let me know if I do. I’ll get stuck on it for ages but it’s really good for me to be wrong so I don’t continue to be hurtful. Guilt sticks really well with me—I’ll do my best not to do it again.) My comfort zone is ridiculously flat in other ways though—it must be very spiky and interestingly-shaped.

I just want the emotions out of my head and sorted into rules and boxes. My mother once said that I’m not as logical as I think I am, and I kind of know I’m not. I’m human, I’m an emotional creature (but what is the role of emotions? What is their evolutionary purpose?) but I know I’m prone to thinking, or overthinking, my way through these kinds of problems when I don’t think that this is typical. What is typical, though? People certainly talk about issues they’re having all the time and try to help each other reason through it, try to figure out what the other person is thinking, what will work and what doesn’t. It’s likely the same principle. Books are typically understated—I mainly get the sense that people endure. I’m sure that internal conflict methods also change with the scale of the situation. I’m talking about small-scale stuff here—not even problems usually, just unexpected situations, problems in the sense of being intellectual questions to work through, small-scale optimizations. I don’t know how I’d deal with a traumatic life event.

I love, most of all, that we can perturb the system. I’ve spent a lot of time monitoring myself and analyzing my responses to different situations, and so if I’m feeling a certain way, I know what actions I can take and how effective those actions usually are. But the absolute best part of having this mind of mine is that not only can I observe it, but I can affect it. Psychotherapy works—when you tell yourself stories, you can CHANGE THE F***ING SYSTEM. This astounds me and makes me so, so happy. Like, my thinking processes have visibly changed since I started reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and having all of these new rationality resources. Moreover, being at Berkeley has had profound impact on what I usually think about. I’m constantly challenged to work really hard, to think really hard, to think about new things, to be curious; I’m surrounded by a new set of people who are subtly and not-so-subtly altering who I am. The differences and the new things I’m trying boggle my mind. I have a tendency to think everything is always going to be the same, but it’s not: I can change my life, and even more special to me, I can change my brain.

(Did people ever think I wasn’t going to be a scientist? Not that this stuff is the definition of science—it’s more philosophy, really, or like self-indulgent self help / psychology. I like thinking about strategies / representations / structures of things though. What am I good at intellectually again? Carson called me “mysterious”, and I was like: I am not mysterious, my thoughts keep on cycling back to the same points, all I think about is weird social stuff through a very specific lens. And have a lot of other traits associated with me, but thinking-wise it’s pretty clustered. I think. Then again, people keep on telling me a) I have broad interests, and b) that I think really weird and “can I record what you’re saying right now? This is hilarious” so there must be something there. I just can’t figure out what in particular is special here and how to describe it. That knowledge would be particularly useful for both personal reasons and research-wise. Personal reasons because I’m always looking for what people value in me so that I can try to push those traits more. Research-wise because I love that my research has started intersecting with what I normally think about so much—which, again, would make figuring out what I’m good at and what I care about particularly useful for defining a research area / topic. Not that I’m fishing for compliments, ha. Things I seem to fail to be interested in or do particularly badly would also be for both purposes: negative examples are often more helpful than positive ones!)

Hm :). I actually hit a bunch of points in that parenthetical paragraph I’d like to expand on, so let’s just meander on :).

First, HPMoR, i.e. “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” by Eliezer Yudkowsky. This is a fanfiction book that is the story of what would happen if Harry Potter were raised as a scientist and went into the magical world, with almost everything the same except Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, and Professor Quirrell getting massive intelligence upgrades. It is excellent. I’m a slow reader compared to my sisters because I get stuck on things—I enjoy trying to track how the author is doing what they’re doing. This doesn’t often work, because authors operate at a level of meta that I frankly do not comprehend. The only reason why I’m having any sort of success with HPMoR is because this author is ridiculously explicit with what each of the characters are thinking, and it’s really, really great for someone like me, because it’s a crazy complicated system but the author lets the interested reader give a good old try at it.

It’s just—okay, in Chapter 30, the chapter I just finished tonight, the author is alternating perspectives between Draco and Harry, in a situation in which Draco, Harry and Hermione are directly competing with each other and trying to predict each others’ behavior. He describes Draco and Harry’s differing reactions to the exact same situations in pitch-perfect alignment to what he’s built up their personalities to be. He presents some evidence of what’s going on with Hermione, and then describes Draco and Harry’s interpretations of the situation, which the reader gladly follows along with. Then all of a sudden, he astonishes Draco, Harry, and the reader with the knowledge that the evidence should have been interpreted differently and in my fact Hermione outsmarted everyone. Then there’s a coda in which Hermione describes how she knows how Harry thinks and another character on her team describes how he knows what Draco thinks. Meanwhile, Prof. Quirrell is the mastermind of this whole situation and has fed information to make everyone think what he wants them to think, while Draco and Harry were trying to figure out what he was thinking. And the reader is completely drawn along in all of this logic, and I, at least, am incapable of figuring out where the plot’s going or what anyone’s thinking because it is dang hard trying to keep up with everyone’s opinions of what everyone is thinking.

(This also happens to me in arguments. I’m almost never going to issue a repartee, because usually when I ask a question I’ve got an opinion but not a firm grasp on this opinion, so if you give me an answer, any answer at all, I’m going to be too busy trying to model what you’re thinking to figure out what I’m thinking and present an objection.)

I… can’t. I can’t write this kind of thing. I think I might give up on the creative writing idea, actually, because my favorite books do this and I can’t on many levels. I can’t keep track of a plot, first of all. My purpose in creative writing is usually to express an idea, but that idea is usually something pretty abstract—like the idea of manipulating other peoples’ souls, or changing the world to be optimum, or having peoples’ personalities floating above them like balloons. (I kid you not, these are the focuses of three (out of like, five) of the longer stories I’ve finished.) I usually have to put characters in a pretty convoluted world for these kinds of things to happen, and I get very impatient with the “getting-there” stage and then all the stages after I’ve gotten them to the idea point. Second, I’m really bad at holding onto characters. I just don’t model them very well—there’s very few people I can predict in real life, and I’m equally bad at figuring out who characters are and making them consistent and complicated. So I’m bad a plot—especially plots within plots, or anything long-term—and I’m bad at characters—who usually define the plot—and I end up usually feeling very impatient with the whole thing because I want to get to the “good parts” (i.e. the idea parts) and because my characters have to talk too much to get there, which I find annoying. In conclusion, not only am I not currently good at this, but I don’t think I even have the right goals. The stories like HPMoR or “Ender’s Game” or “Cryptomicon” present are darn complicated, filled to the brim with great ideas and consistent and complicated characterizations and structures upon structures upon structures, and I just cannot imagine maintaining all of that in my head. I can barely contain a character in my head—I usually have about half a character—I can’t maintain a series of situations, especially hierarchical situations, where they interact with each other.

Simple stories, yes. I can write simple stories with an easy plot device and easy characters. I like to analyze these stories because they’re accessible and I can actually draw conclusions on how authors write. But the big ones, the ones I like the most, the ones that I’d like to write… they’re too big. I’m starting to suspect that my brain doesn’t actually work that way. I’m usually of the opinion that there’s nothing I can’t do if I spend enough time on it, but I actually think that even if I worked forever on this sort of thing, it wouldn’t be particularly good, or if it was, it’d be like pulling nails every single day and I would feel repressively overwhelmed most of the time. (It still wouldn’t be good then. I doubt I’d be able to write well about ideas if I was constantly demoralized.)

Why can’t my brain work that way? Why do I have such trouble with characters? (Or plots, for that matter. But the only reason I’d have trouble with plots is that they have to be presented in a way that your reader is a character, and you’re fooling or informing your reader as you go along. And trying to model the reader character is even more trying than figuring out what a real character is doing in the imagined world.) It might have something to do with how I can find myself about a level up from where I should be when I interact with people. (I’ve gotten very familiar with what level of “meta” people accept with regards to talking about what we’re talking about. The answer is “low” in order to not be awkward. Meaning, you’re allowed to say “and we’re back to the same topic again” but you’re not allowed to say “and I’m saying this to show interest”. I appreciate these rules, and now find it awkward when other people go too high as well.)

And that “up one level” is what makes my ideas about social psychology interesting research-wise, which is great because that’s totally an upside. On the other hand, Eliezer Yudkowsky in HPMoR manages to be about four levels up and simultaneously down on the ground level where characters actually say things that fit in with their personality. Dang. It.

Well, it could be that I’m simply not smart enough. Which is fine. No one ever tells me I’m a genius—my compliments are often “bright”, “ambitious”, and “self-motivated”, which is good enough for me. And it probably helps to be smart, but I think good story writing—and I’m talking about stories which are packed with ideas and with complicated, intelligent characters, which is a very particular type of “good story”—requires a very particular type of intelligence. These stories are pretty special to read though. One more reason why I’m so happy to be alive, to be thinking, to have the great fortune to be able to do really fun thinking work all day, to be challenged.

Something else I’ve been thinking in regards to specific skills is what the balance is between what skills we value and what skills / traits we have. For example, I value mathematical and computer science abilities a lot. I also immensely value curiosity. On those lucky occasions where I meet people who are truly curious about the world, I get to feel inferior because I’m not curious enough. Likewise, I like mathy / CS-y people who are more qualified than I am. This seems like kind of a backward way to do things. I like people who are better at the things I value than I am, but I’m also working on improving these skills myself because I value them, so it seems like I’m trying to hit a kind of upwardly-moving target. And then I both adore these people and feel vaguely bad when I meet these people because they’re closer to the ideal.

That kind of thinking is not going to converge to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Then again, it’s not like I feel that bad about it—my respect for those traits far eclipses any negative feelings, and in fact one of the reasons I like hanging out with people like this is that they motivate me to do better. And I wouldn’t want to change anything about the situation even though it seems really strange, because my overall goal is to always keep getting better, and so I have to keep chasing people who are better at it than I am.

And there are people who are always going to be better at curiosity, for example, than I am. And that’s intrinsic—for some people, it’s not one of the traits that they have to work it, it’s just who they are. Take my best friend Tiffany, for example. She’s just fundamentally a really good person. She’s immensely giving, and it’s not something conscious—it’s just who she is. She’s the ideal and she’s going to stay the ideal—she’ll always be someone to live up to in that respect.

And it’s weird to think about what people respect me for, because I like to think it’s some combination of the things I work at and the things I’m wired for, but it’s probably more for the things I’m wired for. The things I respect about myself are that I work hard, I try to think a lot, I try to improve, and I try to be nice to people. I like that my brain can come up with ideas, and I generally like what my brain thinks about and do my best to maintain that. Meanwhile, what people respect about me (based on miscellaneous forms of feedback) do include these things, like niceness, ambition, being hard-working, being smart, and also things like genuineness, friendliness, having a voice in writing, optimism, and energy, things I was lucky enough to be handed. I hardly feel like I can take any credit for the latter traits, because I am not putting forth barely any effort to make them happen.

(…and I notice I conveniently lack a list of things I’m bad at. Which now includes fiction writing! Which, actually, looking back at an email from my creative writing professor three years back, is precisely what she said. She said keep to the non-fiction, and keep to the writing about fiction, because I’m good at that but I don’t have proper fiction topic yet (though I could in the future, she advises.) Cool beans. Also, I’m bad at modeling people. I also know friends who have never accidentally hurt anyone, only hurt people on purpose? Now that’s a skill. I also can be unreasonably my-way-or-the-highway, and insensitive. And brutally honest when I shouldn’t be. And can’t keep secrets. And am weirdly inflexible on some areas like food, and am not good at recognizing sarcasm at all, am not witty, haven’t figured out big groups yet, can be annoying one-tracked, have some strong ingrained biases, don’t often help people fit in better, have no sense of calm, am arguably interested in not-perfectly-relevant things, am way too obsessed with things like efficiency and not-dying-before-accomplishing-stuff, am almost always self-serving, don’t listen most of the time… oh, nevermind, I know all sorts of things I’m bad at, excellent :). I always worry that I’m getting too one-sided, because I occasionally collect (and hoard) compliments but people don’t usually give me negative feedback (unless it’s context-specific, and therefore usually confusing and not in generalized form). Not that people give compliments in general conversation, either. Have you noticed that? Recently I found someone who does compliment people in conversation, and then I’ll echo it, but I wouldn’t do it with anyone else because no one else does it… I suppose I could start :)).

Regardless, it’s funny to think of everyone having different value systems, how we develop what we care about, and what traits we end up appreciating in the end.

All right, I have now reached the end of the points I wanted to make that are at all vaguely-related to each other, and will finally get to the kind of bullet-pointy structure I was envisioning at the opening of this massive document. Here goes the rest :).

My sisters are awesome, and my family is awesome. Last weekend I flew into Boston to meet my sisters (both at Wellesley!), and my parents and us all drove up to upstate New York where we went to the wedding of our old babysitter in Minnesota. It was splendid, both the wedding itself and spending time with the family. It’s only by talking to others that I realized how much I lucked out with my family. I was talking to Stephanie in Cambridge about this, and I said something like: “Yeah, aren’t all parents who love their kids good parents?” and she was like: No, and then I reflected on this and this response is definitely true. I’ve now conditionally decided that being a parent is about both loving your kid and also accepting your kid and providing the opportunities your kid wants / needs, and all of a sudden parenting just got a heck of a lot harder in my mind, and my parents are awesome, and my sisters are awesome, and I’m really thankful for all of those relationships.

I was recently in a situation in which a parent (not mine) completely dismissed me as uninteresting and that was kind of novel. I’m used to parents being ridiculously socially selfless in general, but even with strangers I rely on getting some kind of recognition as a student at prestigious universities. This is arguably a bad thing to get used to, but it doesn’t happen very often so our egos can’t get too inflated. The reason is that academics exist in bubbles where everyone is at about the same level. School names don’t at all matter in this context except with respect to what researchers exist at those schools. On the one hand, the degree of isolation is absurd, and on the other: it’s so cool to be surrounded by people who are working crazy hard and thinking crazy things and I feel like I have to match their intensity. But this particular situation was interesting, because places like Cambridge don’t hold merit in Silicon Valley (kind of opposing world views) and I wasn’t fully a student at MIT, which is what I usually use if I’m trying to be impressive. Recently, I’ve learned that some people don’t consider Berkeley impressive and I’m perceived to be going down the rankings. …This whole thing is ridiculous. I want credit because I work hard and think a lot and those things can be difficult to do. Lots of other people also do this in lots of different jobs and though I enjoy occasionally getting a special benefit for going to brand-name schools, I’d be good with just deciding to equally credit everyone who works hard and thinks a lot, and also equally credit everyone who does equivalent difficult things. It’d be fairer that way, I think. Much thanks to that parent though—it’s situations like this that pull out all of these unconscious biases and expectations and make me figure out if they’re valid.

I love hanging out with the Caltech kids, because they’ll just casually use computer science terms to describe things. Some CS terms just describe things more concisely than natural language (e.g. English) does—occasionally it’s a nicer representation for the world. One of my friends was saying that he adopts whatever style of language the person he’s talking to is using, and that he feels “freer” when someone is using this type of vocabulary or science vocabulary. I’ve heard this sentiment expressed by a mathematician friend, as well—he says that it’s easy to explain a mathematical concept to someone who knows nothing (express simple concepts using simple vocabulary) or someone who knows math (express complex concepts using specialized, concise vocabulary) but it’s the middle-level person who screws you over, because you have to try to express the complex concepts but using none of the concise, useful words.

(Also, I was recently interviewed for an article in the Berkeley Review and apparently I cannot talk. The interviewer recorded me and then transcribed exactly what I said, which resulted in a format that I’m very much not used to. Any time I think of myself transcribed, I think of this blog—which is informal, sure, but at least the sentences use words that express thoughts. Slightly edited quotes:

  • “I generally don’t think that you should just because that’s kind of what I’ve seen.”
  • “I didn’t know that there were any resources that you could do about this sort of thing.”
  • “Then you’re like, ok, but who actually does that?”
  • “It was both useful to have all of the resources put out, and then also this affirmation from fellow students being like ‘yes, you should, this is what most people do, this is what your peers are doing.’”

This discovery that I cannot speak in person is new to me. Sure, the message gets across in context, but I’ve transcribed Prof. Griffiths before, and he comes up with beautiful paragraphs that could come out of textbooks with two “you knows”, and in his conversations with me recalls the words I used before and changes his language to match that. Ug. Although it’s interesting to know that I use the “a, b, [artistically omit conjunction] c” format in emphatic speaking as well as writing.)

You know how two weeks ago I was saying Carson “got me” because he was giving me new information that fit into my existing mind-frame? The people in Prof. Griffiths’s lab are WAY outside my mind-frame. Like, I have no idea what they’re talking about usually, because they have this understanding of various types of machine learning and modeling that has built up over years of PhD work and sometimes in their undergrad majors. Well, when they finally do end up “getting me” I’m going to be super pleased, because that means I’ll have worked my way up to “getting them” and it’s going to be awesome. It’s about time I got thrown into a completely confusing situation—it’s been at least a year since that machine learning class at MIT.

(Ps, I know Carson knows lots of stuff outside my mind-frame, but he’s been interacting one-on-one with me so he’s been filtering. The Griffiths Lab has been interacting with themselves, so there’s no need to simplify. And it’s not everyone who knows everything—the Griffiths lab has kind of an hour-glass shaped structure, with a lot of almost-finishing people and a lot of new people—but the people who do know stuff dominate the discussion.)

(Pps, a lot of people in the Griffiths lab have been great to talk to. I worked out with one of them, Rachit, yesterday, and I’m sore and annoyed to be so. Apparently those are the same muscles I use for biking up my hill in my ride home, so I was grouching all the way up in addition to complaining all day :)).

I asked Christine why she reads books about sad people. Christine said that more was described in these books other than sadness—and that the writing was beautiful in how it expressed the range of emotions. Tragically beautiful. I can buy that as reason to read a book about a husband mourning his partner. She described the Great Gatsby this way as well—as characters who were very well-described, and failed beautifully. When I was reading the Great Gatsby, I had a profound sense of “I’m missing the point here, I just know it” all the way through. Tragic beauty. I could buy that.

Okay okay okay so I just heard the expression “turtles all the way down” as describing infinite recursion—otherwise known as the “chicken and the egg” problem, or when you’re trying to describe something but need to describe something else to describe it which in turn needs to be described, etc. I now want this sticker on the back of my laptop. Or taped to my leg or something. Cute animals + CS topics + recursion = Monica’s newest obsession. TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN.

Other things I’m really excited about: I’m fascinated by the content I’m learning in Prof. Griffiths’s class, “Computational Models of Cognition”. It’s all epistemology (thinking about the structure of what we know) and representations of information and the history of the study of cognition. We get to write discussion notes based on the readings we do for class, and then we discuss them. It’s approximately the coolest thing ever.

(I love being a computer-based grad student. I wake up and drag myself over to my laptop when I wake up, and I’m on my laptop when I’m going to sleep. A few days ago I was sitting at my desk with my cookies and my empty Tupperware and water bottle and laptop and reading stuff and writing stuff and had my organizational websites going on my browser and three social media sites up with earplugs in and oatmeal and boxes all over the floor and drawers pulled out, safe in this tiny room with the light on, sneakers under a shirt under my laptop charger draped across the floor… a grad student, a computationally-oriented one. I’m just so happy sometimes.)

I was analyzing something I read in HPMoR to Carson a few days ago, and he described the concept that I was describing as “deontology”. There’s a word for that? There’s a concept and established consensus and structure for that? I really want to make a list of terms that have been described beautifully in various fields (especially CS) that describe things in every day life, and write them all out, so that people can make their representations of these ideas more concise in their heads, which will enable them to more easily manipulate these ideas in their heads, so that they can think deeper about them and fill this freed-up reasoning space with more ideas, and we’ll get closer to a universal representations of how we think and keep on getting smarter and smarter…

I went to the Neuroscience Retreat at Pajaros Dunes Resort this weekend. Berkeley grad students, post-docs, and PIs all attended. We listened to talks during the afternoon, ate a lot, and partied at night on the beach. It was my favorite beach experience in recent memory, and I managed to lure some people away from the groups for one-on-one conversations (those are the best), met some of the older grad students, and generally had a great time. The Berkeley grad community is wonderful and unique and funny and warm, and I feel very lucky to have the chance to be here.

Night all :). Thanks as always for reading, especially a document this massive; it means so much that you listen. By the way, if you happen to see me in person and have opinions on anything in this post, I’d love if you’d bring it up so I could hear your opinion! This is all the stuff I care about, and you already know what I think: it’d be great to have my mind expanded :). Hope you all have great weeks, and best wishes,

Monica

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