You'll find these in reverse chronological order because I'm not insane
[ Insert Greeting Here ] Yesterday, a certain fiery-haired force of nature sent some information my way that was altogether Earth-shattering. Not necessarily for me, but more so for XFA, which has latched on to a part of my brain and gained consciousness. What information could possibly be so important? Well, after a true whirlwind of emotion, it appears that Grimes and Elon Musk are in fact dating, and that Elon is in fact that father of Grimes’s child.
There are several housekeeping matters to which this information forces me immediately attend. Firstly, several posts ago, I made a heart-felt apology for wildly spreading misinformation regarding the nature of Elon’s and Grimes’s relationship. I would like to formally and forcefully revoke that apology, and may I add simply in spite that I was never sorry in the first place. Secondly, I believe I blamed one Lizzy Dube as being the source of this misinformation. Lizzy, while I have absolutely no reason to believe you have ever heard of an ex fizz assist, I feel inclined to formally apologize for casting such blame.
For then, let’s get to the juice. In this particular instance, the “juice” refers to me wildly speculating about this child that is about to enter the world.
A decent place to start regarding the child is its name. I don’t believe Grimes has said anything about the gender of her child, so I’m just going to say she’s going to be a girl for reasons that will become clear in a second. The internet has fallen into a mad fuss regarding the child’s name, and intriguingly enough, it appears that Grimes and Elon are rumored to name their child Influenza.
Now the truly unfortunate fact of the matter is that I know neither Elon nor Grimes personally, so I have no way to determine if these rumors are in any way true. For those of you down-to-earth readers who may be wondering why I’m choosing to believe the internet that Grimes is about to name her child after a virus, I have two responses. 1) If you have even barely watched Grimes talk about her life, you will know that naming her first child “Influenza” is exactly the sort of thing she would do. 2) It happens that I’m actually remarkably gullible in such matters, and as this particular matter doesn’t directly affect my day-to-day life, I’ll choose to believe what I want to believe.
Now then, there are naturally some logistical issues that arise when your child’s name is Influenza. Perhaps the most prominent is the awe-inspiring number of syllables in the word “Influenza.” Needing to pronounce a four-syllable word whenever you need to call your child is simply bad business, there’s no way around it. There is also the practical concern of your child being confused with the world-famous virus. This could lead to some messy misunderstandings when the child becomes old enough to want to hang out with other children her age.
What I’m getting at is that the child Influenza will need a darn good nickname. And from my perspective, there are only two logistically feasible options. The first is, of course, “Flu.” Yet while we’ve reduced the syllable count, we haven’t escaped the child-virus concern. This leads me to the second viable option: “Enza.” Now we’re cooking. “Enza” is a wildly compelling two-syllables long, and it has a dangerously cool vibe to it. If nothing else, it sounds like the female version of the Ferrari Enzo, which is one of the more majestic vehicles ever to grace asphalt. The formal nickname “Enza” will take this child from being confused with a virus to simply being the coolest kid in school. That is my humble prediction.
Now that the matter of name has been visited, it is now time to begin speculating about what this child may become.
The first and most obvious option is that Enza is destined to lead the Earth’s space fleet to Mars. I know, I know. This option is so painfully obvious that I sound like a Bleating Bethany for even suggesting it, but it had to be put in ink. In this particular reality, Enza will have absolutely trounced her peers in school from an early age and will have progressed to Collegiate levels by the age of 14. By the age of 15, Enza will have determined that college is a wild waste of time and start pursuing her own endeavors. Naturally, at least one of these endeavors will be in the realm of aerospace engineering. After showing her plans for the first fuel-less rocket to her father Elon, Elon will deem her to not only be in the top 1% of humanity but the top 0.1% intellectually and place her in a position of authority within SpaceX by age 20. Naturally Enza will outperforms even Elon’s high expectations for his workers, and it will become painfully clear that the only reasonable option for Enza would be to place her in command of the Space Fleet that SpaceX will have built by that time, and naturally Enza will be the one to lead said fleet to Mars.
While I imagine having Elon Musk as a father leads to interest in sustainability and aerospace simply by osmosis, the simple fact of the matter is that Grimes will be this child’s mother. This will likely mean that Enza will be exposed to a diverse collection of art forms at a very young age and will likely also gain a much greater experience with different cultures than children her age.
This could obviously lead to Enza being a hugely successful artist in some capacity, but we must remember that Elon is her father and that technology is in her very veins. The natural speculation is therefore that by the time Enza is a teenager, she will have gathered a very good impression of the principal forms of sadness and suffering throughout the globe and will make it her passion to address these issues. Basically, imagine Bill and Melinda Gates, but much younger and more in touch with pop culture, and more relatable to the younger generation. Or, alternatively, Enza could become a Greta Thunberg-esk figure, but perhaps with greater technological experience.
I’m at a very modest three-and-a-half pages, put I’m hungry and I want breakfast, so Imma wrap this bad boy up. Basically, keep an eye on Enza. She may be your first world chancellor.
Ding, Ding, Ding! Who’s that at the door? (The door being a metaphorical construct for the web page you’ve just opened). That’s right! It’s me, Danny! Remember me? Who cares! Let me tell you about someone who isn’t me, namely Ben Awad.
Actually wait, hold up. I’ve been lying to all of you, and I need to clear my conscience under the witness of the heavens above and the hells below. I am not a triple major. After taking a math class this semester, I have determined that my time would better spent on other classes than math. I suppose I should probably change that on the web description. Now while I know this earth-shattering revelation affects precisely 0% of you readers, I thought I would clear those matters up before the Jersey Devil caught scent of my malfeasances and deceptions.
K, enough about me. Let me tell you about Ben Awad. Those of you especially exalted readers who have been regularly keeping up with my postage (I can’t imagine that’s proper usage, but who the frickedy frick cares) will know that there are several people who I regard as loves of my life. Grimes, Elon Musk, Corey Schafer, the usual suspects. But let me spin you a tale, (hopefully) enraptured reader, of a boi forging an app who got lost in a deep deep sauce, saw no way out, but then was saved by an unsuspecting YouTube channel.
It all started last week when I essentially finished the bulk portion of the front end for SSAP (super-secret app project). I was in a state of high glee, and I decided it was time to turn my attention to user authentication and registration.
Now then, for most of you schmeags, all authentication is to you is the simple action of hitting the “sign in with Facebook” button and having all your life problems solved. For me, authentication was nothing less than a zombaic dire wolf lurking in the darkness, waiting to sink its teeth into my left shin (this particular dire wolf has an affinity for the left shin. Experts are unclear why it would go for the left shin instead of the right shin, which is known to have potent healing properties, but I suppose you’ll have to just contemplate that on your own time).
Let me pop out of my narrative for just a moment because I imagine that discussion of a metaphorical dire wolf has entirely derailed my train of discussion. Why is authentication such a butt? Because, as I imagine you sensible readers know, this is where ruthless hacking and spamming can occur. In order to prevent this, there are all sorts of protocols and practices in place like OAuth, JWT authentication, refresh tokens, API throttling, to keep this from happening, but it’s a scary world. Alright let me hop back into my train of narrative.
There I was, in the metaphorical darkness, my ears bleeding for any sound of the dire wolf lurking towards me, when there, above the horizon, I saw a light. As quietly as I could, I crept toward this light. As I approached the source of the blessed warm rays of light, I heard a snuffling to my right. I was able to fling myself upon the ground just moments before the dire wolf leapt toward my left shin, eager for developer flesh.
As luck would have it, the dire wolf sailed over my body, and I scrambled toward the light, blood pumping in my ears, adrenaline coursing through my veins. The wolf must have taken a nasty tumble, because I was able to make it to the center of the wonderful luminesce. And there, shining like a beacon in the night, were the words “Amazon Cognito.” I thanked all the unknown divinities watching over my passage through the night, and looked closer at the glorious words, wondering how I might be able to use this magnificent tool. But to my horror, upon reading the fine print, I learned in order to use Cognito, I would have to give up not only my first born, but also my second born child. I sank to my knees, and wept bitterly, wondering how the universe could be so cruel.
Ok, let me pop out of the narrative again. So basically Amazon Cognito is an Authentication as a Service (AaaS) platform that handles all the various aspects of user authentication for you. This is obviously pretty great because you, as the developer, don’t need to worry as much about security concerns with respect to your application. The catch here is the “as a Service” portion of the title. While Cognito is initially free (up to like 50,000 monthly users! Dang!), after that, it starts to cost you a butt ton of money. Also, from what I can tell, it’s either difficult or impossible to transfer your user information out of Cognito, so once you start using it, you’re basically locked in. Back to the narrative.
There I was, a broken man, lying close to a source of glaring brightness. The brightness, however, had lost its cheery glow and now only cast a cold, lifeless glare over the surrounding forest. Utterly defeated, I managed to glimpse another source of light further into the forest. I could hear the wolf snuffling in pain from its earlier fall a good distance away, so I stumbled back into the dark forest towards the other light source.
I approached what looked to be a similar shining object as Amazon Cognito lying on the forest floor. Slightly squinting, I could make out the words “Auth0” shimmering up at me. Wary from my experience with Cognito, I carefully read through the pricing model of Auth0, and once again I was struck with a sense of galactic brutality as I read the Auth0 requires their users into slavery in exchange for its services. I maliciously cast Auth0 back to the ground, and hunched my way back into the forest, looking for anything.
After several more hours, I found one last source of life, “Okta.” Okta was similar to Auth0 in its terrible price, so I slumped back through the forest and eventually lay down at the base of a great tree, waiting for the dire wolf to find me and relieve me of my left shin.
Hopping out of the narrative. As you may have guessed, Auth0 and Okta are also AaaS. From what I can tell, they have more features than Cognito, but they’re even more expensive. It’s honestly egregious. Let me tell you, I’m not a fan. Hopping back into narrative.
For hours I lay at the base of the great tree waiting for the wolf. Delirious and starving, I thought I was dreaming when I heard the faint glittering of bells toward me right. As I lay there, powerless to stand, I glimpsed a glowing figure approaching me. The figure knelt down beside me, and gently placed a hand on my chest. As though I had been touched by the very hand of the divinities, I felt strength rush through my body. I staggered to my feet, and even as I watched, my arms and chest began swelling with thick cords of raw muscle. Not my legs though, because even supernatural forces can’t save you if you skip leg day.
I looked over my powerful new body, feeling my deltoids flex as I stretched my arms around my body. I looked at the glowing figure, and saw that he was hooded. From within his robe, he withdrew two swords.
“This sword is called ‘Json web token,’ and the other’s name is ‘Argon2’,” he told me. “With these weapons in your hands, not even the dire wolf will be able to stop you.”
I took the swords from him and tested their weight and balance in my hands. Even as I did so, he unsheathed a dagger and offered it to me as well.
“This dagger’s name is ‘Graphql.’ I offer this as a gift and a peace offering, for you to use it as you see fit.”
As I sheathed the dagger, the hooded figure turned away and began walking back into the forest.
“Wait!” I called, “Why have you given these to me? Who are you to do so?”
The figure turned back to me, and I could faintly see a smile playing across his lips.
“I am Ben Awad,” he said. “Freely I give you these gifts. Now go, defeat the wolf and reclaim your destiny!”
He raised his left hand, a badly scarred yet powerful looking appendage, and made a thrusting gesture towards me. I yelled out in surprise as the forest folded in around me, in a suffocating, yet potent display of sorceraical dominance.
For exactly three seconds I hurtled through a mottled darkness, unable to move even my smallest finger, but then, as quickly as it started, reality unfolded, and I found myself standing in the light of Amazon Cognito once more.
I squinted, my eyes adjusting to the bright light, and I heard it before I saw it. I put a hand over my eyes to guard against the glare, and there before me lurked the dire wolf, in deep crouch.
Even before I could prepare myself, the wolf leapt. I dodged to the right, but not before the wolf grazed my left shoulder with one of its front claws. I staggered to the side and drew Json web token and Argon2 from their sheaths.
The wolf had regained its footing and was already pouncing at me again. I was able to crouch to the side, and I swung Argon2 over my head as the wolf sailed overhead. I felt the sword thud against the wolf’s pelt just before a sickening yelp escaped the beast.
I had lost my footing when the Argon2 had struck true, and before I could get to my feet, the wolf had already turned and was hurtling back at my unstable form.
And in that instance time slowed to an ungodly creep. Twenty feet above the ground, Ben Awad was levitating, a hand held outstretched. I lowered my eyes back to the wolf, to see the monster flying towards me as though through a thick syrup. Murder gleamed both in the dire wolf’s eyes and teeth, its terrible glare fixated on my shin.
Though my arms moved at agonizingly slow rate, I drew both Json web token and Argon2 and directed them towards the wolf.
In those final moments, I could see that the wolf recognized his error. The murderous glare in its eyes turned to fear as it hurtled towards my outstretched swords, powerless to stop the inevitable.
Overhead, Ben Awad made a clutching motion with his hand, and time quickened to its standard pace. The wolf slammed into me, and I felt my swords slide through its unprotected body. The beast made a horrific gurgling noise, and then its lifeless form fell on top of me. And even as I lost consciousness from the exertion of the battle and my wounds, I knew that with Ben Awad’s help, I had just conquered the dire wolf of user authentication.
Ok, concerned readers, I’m well aware that we just hit the eighth page. This is a new record. So then, in a manner horrifically similar to high school English classes, let’s sit down and quickly unpack this. Basically, after realizing that Cognito, Auth0, and Okta were all no goes unless I wanted to do the equivalent of dropping cash off a cliff, I desperately hunted through the internet looking for ways to properly approach user authentication. After literally hours, I randomly stumbled on a YouTube video about using Json web tokens (JWT) for authentication. As you may have guessed, this video was by a lad named Ben Awad. It was a veritable bucket of gold. I’m not sure where Ben Awad works, but he’s an American Hero at the very least. His videos are really just well-distilled alfredo when it comes to clear descriptions of authentication flows and implementation. As you might have guessed, Ben Awad is the lomlofm (Love of My Life of the Month).
To keep this from going to nine pages, I’ll wrap this up by saying for the 0.5% of my readers who care about server programming, Ben Awad is your boi. Check him out, smash that subscribe button, ask for his hand in marriage, all of these are appropriate. Mahalo nui loa.
Hi. You know how all the kids are saying “it’s been a minute,” or “it’s been a phat second?” Well, in the name of bad floutations, it’s been an hour since I last wrote about my super-secret app.
I know the progress of some random schmeag’s (my) app is a top priority for most of you casual readers, so I’ll have you know it’s generally going quite well. I continue to be stunned and amazed at React Native for so easily allowing for the creation of masterpieces in the form of JSX tree structures. Frankly, I think might compose a poem for React Native. Here goes:
In the beginning I was lost,
With no clear way ahead,
Then a new software I was sauced,
Which silenced all my dread.
For Lord Facebook gave to us,
A tool most creative,
To end app-making fuss,
The glorious React Native.
Components are my brush,
And renders are my canvas,
With Stylesheets so lush,
I emerge out of the madness.
So lavishly use props,
Keep careful tract of state,
Your app will reach the top,
For React Native is the gate.
I think that’s probably one of the better things I’ve done. So yeah, I like React Native. Nothing new there.
I’m just now realizing that because I can’t reveal any other details of the app at this time, these posts are essentially just becoming a software review. Well, I suppose that’s good for me. In my experience, there’s nothing that really speaks to the hearts and souls of the worldwide population more than a software review. That said, buckle up kids, and let me tell you about the cutthroat world of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces).
Let’s talk about Google. Now I know most everyone at this point is at least a little apprehensive about Google. Recently they used their truly staggering stores of data to analyze the spreading of COVID-19. Great, except for the fact that it gave the general population a truer sense of how much data they’ve unknowingly given away to that great glutted pig.
Perhaps less known to the general population are the wide range of software and computing products Google offers outside of their basic search engine. I’ll certainly give this to Google: they’ve open-sourced a ton of incredible software like TensorFlow and Android, and that’s pretty great of them. However, their APIs are so expensive. One aspect of my app deals with determining a user’s location based on their GPS coordinates. I wanted to use Google Places API, until I realized that it costs a metric butt-ton. It’s kinda insane. I guess that’s the sort of stuff you can do when you’re a multi-billion dollar glutted corporation.
Let’s move on from Google, and let’s talk about WebSockets. While I don’t have the same feelings for WebSockets as I do React Native, they’re pretty darn close. Now I bet you probably think WebSockets are just another nerdy thing that nerdy ol’ Danny likes. Yes, you would be absolutely correct. However, you like them too, you just don’t know it. All of you online gamers out there, ever wonder how a bunch of different people can play the same game at once? WebSockets. I was going to give another relatable example of how WebSocket are used, but I don’t wanna. Basically any real-time feature of an app or software is best done with WebSockets. What are WebSockets, you ask?
Well, inquisitive reader, WebSocket is a computer communications protocol that allows for two-way communication using a single TCP connection. I know, I know. I can feel you trembling in excitement. So was I when I first learned of them.
In real-people language, what this means is that people created a wicked fast way to transmit information between various parties, which is really just the best thing ever when you’re developing an app that has a variety of real-time features.
Hmm, I’m trying to think if I’m using any other juicy software. Well, I guess this isn’t a particular dependency in this project, but a general shout-out to Jet Brains for forging some of the illest, dare I even say trillest IDE’s this side of River Styx. Some people I’ve talked to don’t like the bulky overhead associated with modern IDE’s (@IntelliJ), but it’s the only home I know. Bless your frikin’ souls. I do not exaggerate when I say that every single time I open WebStorm or IntelliJ, I’m filled with a sense of calm and joy. Well done.
At this point, I’m just grasping for straws, but let me give a shout-out to the haversine formula. What is the @#$%#ing $%^^& is the haversine formula, you ask? Well, enraged reader, the haversine formula is a formula that allows you to calculate the distance between two points using their latitude and longitude. It really makes developing geo-features a blessing.
Well, I’m done, I think I will take a seat, but before I go, here’s one last beat. (That was the last lyric to the first song I produced at Berkeley. Talk about a flashback). Peace!
Goodnight! I, of course, mean that as a greeting rather than an adieu in a highly purposeful floutation of linguistic norms, seeing as it is 11 at night as I’m writing this. No need to dally, let’s jump right in to where we left off. If you haven’t read my last post, I would encourage you to do so, even though I doubt this post will be inaccessible for those of you who refuse. To easily get to the last post, go to the bottom of the page where you’ll find a link to the previous post shaped like a bra (I am referring to the “bra” of Dirac’s “bra-ket” notation for Quantum Mechanics, not the garment. If you think I’m pulling your metaphysical leg, I would encourage you to look up “Dirac bra-ket notation,” and I believe you will find all the answers for which you have ever sought).
In the last post, I (somewhat exhaustingly) took you on a trip through a rough picture of how the brain works. To summarize, the brain well and truly is a wonderfully complex pattern recognition system. There. Now you know how the brain works. Take that to the teacher at the front of the room and get a golden frikin star.
Given this rudimentary understanding, I would like to now explore our human notion of “Understanding.” I am specifically referring to the term within the context of someone saying “…to get a better understanding of [you fill in the blank] ….” Specifically within the research community, you will frequently hear researchers throw this phrase around, usually when they’re trying to convince other people that their research is worthwhile. In my current line of work, you will frequently hear people say something to the tune of “We do [blank] in order to get a better understanding of the early universe.” But what the blue heck does that even mean? I understand you might think I’ve taken some cuckoo pills, but answer me this, cynical reader, can you tell me, in clear language, what researchers mean when they say “…to get a better understanding?” “Sure,” I can hear you saying through the walls of time and space, “here ‘understanding’ basically means broadening our knowledge about a particular subject.” But, oh great reader, what is knowledge? Really think about that for a second. And if you answered “truth” then I’ve got you cornered.
The fact of the matter is that we do not have access to fundamental truth. There’s really no way around that. Now then, I imagine some Christian readers may be slightly flaring up at that distinction. After all, didn’t Jesus purport to be the way, the truth, and the life? Even if Christianity is the absolute fundamental truth of the universe, I still firmly claim that we do not have access to it. If you’re still doubtful, let me pose this question: if Christianity was the fundamental truth in the universe, and human beings did have access to this truth, then why isn’t everyone on the planet a Christian? Surely that would be the only logical option. So then, I think I’m perfectly correct in asserting that as Christians, you in some way or another believe that the tenets of Christianity are associated with fundamental truth, even though you yourself do not have access to the fundamental truth of the universe.
As a brief side note, I’m only mentioning Christianity here instead of other religious traditions and practices because I myself was a very serious Christian for the better part of 20 years, and it was my attempt to forcibly associate Christianity with fundamental truth that caused me a great deal of mental health problems. If you take issue with anything I’m asserting on the basis of any other religious tradition, feel free to email me, as I would love to hear your thoughts. It would also be a wonderful change to not get a spam email from XFA for once.
In order to continue in any meaningful fashion, I believe I should attempt to define “fundamental truth.” The dictionary says truth is “that which is true in accordance with reality.” However, I would like to take this a step further. My conception of fundamental truth is untouched by human constructs, particularly human knowledge and understanding. I will talk more about these two entities shortly, but hang tight for the time being.
Furthermore, if there are any aliens in the universe that are at all similar to us humans, then I would imagine that fundamental truth should be untouched by any of their constructs, or what they might consider “knowledge” or “understanding.” With this in mind, it’s actually quite difficult to define what fundamental truth even is.
When I talking to other people about this sort of thing, I usually define fundamental truth as a “piece of knowledge that would allow us to make predictions and claims about reality with 100% certainty.” But even that is somewhat wrong because it assumes that fundamental truth can take the form of “knowledge” as we know it.
So then, while I can’t give you a precise definition of what I mean by fundamental truth, I hope I’ve sort of cultivated a connotation for what I’m trying to describe. In many ways, I feel that fundamental truth is equivalent to the fundamental structure of reality. You may have noticed in some previous posts that I have an obsession with order and structure, and this is really where it comes from. With this in mind, we actually don’t have any guarantees that our reality actually even possesses fundamental truth (or structure, or whatever you feel you ought to call it).
At this point you may be asking yourself, “But what about things that I know are true, like the fact that the object in front of me is a computer, or that the big fiery ball above my head is called the sun?” That is an excellent point, intellectually gifted reader, and it provides a wonderful Segway back to the original discussion about the brain.
At the beginning of this post, I asserted that the brain is a pattern recognition system. If that is the case, then I imagine that you would probably agree that our conceptions of “knowledge” and “understanding” are intimately connected with the notion of a pattern. I would like to take this a step further by asserting that what we think of as “knowledge” and “understanding” are simply patterns themselves.
I think the best way to explore this is through an example. Let’s say that a couple millennia ago, there was a cave man called Danny schmeaging around the mountains. Danny looks around him and sees a bunch of hard looking objects with generally similar brown and grey appearances. Danny doesn’t have anything better to do with his time, so he picks up one object, and hits it against a different one. When he does this, the two objects make a distinct “ckk” sound. This greatly amuses Danny, so he does it again. Danny soon realizes that he can actually make the sound “ckk” using his own mouth. He practices it for a couple minutes until he can confidently make the same sound as the two objects being hit against one another.
Pretty soon, another cave man walks by, lets call him Elon. Danny looks excitedly at Elon, points around him to all the different hard objects around him and makes the sound “ckk.” Pretty soon, Elon too knows that all the objects around Danny make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against one another.
Ok, let’s take a step back. What just happened here? Without even realizing it, Danny made an implicit association between the sound “ckk” and the objects around him. In the centuries to come, other humans learn to instead refer to the objects as “rock” instead of “ckk,” simply because many objects make a similar sound when hit against one another. So then, the auditory sound “rock” is now associated with an object that makes a “ckk” sound when it’s hit against another such object.
Let’s take another step back. The only way the word “rock” is useful to other cave men is if all the objects that are rocks make the sound “ckk” when they are hit against each other. This implies that there must be consistency for this piece of “information” to be useful. In other words, the only reason that the term “rock” is useful is because all rocks are characterized by a series of patterns, i.e. all rocks look the same, all rocks feel the same, all rocks hurt when someone else throws them at you.
Through this example, we see that what humans think of as “information” is simply a series of classifications of systems with consistent behavior. These classifications can themselves represent the consistent behavior of the interactions between other classifications. I would also like to firmly stress that this “information” is entirely a human conception. As far as we know, there’s no inherent connection between objects that make the sound “ckk” and the word “rock.”
So then, you are absolutely correct in saying that it’s true that you’re looking at a computer, and it’s true that the fiery object overhead is called the sun, but these are only true within the scope of truths manufactured by human beings. If you define the term “computer” to represent a system of hardware and software that performs logical operations on data, then it tautologically follows that it is true that the object in front of you is in fact a computer.
So then, going back to my original question, what does it mean for us to “gain a better understanding” of something? The something in question is simply a human-constructed classification, so “gaining a better understanding” of that classification is simply finding more patterns associated with that particular classification. For example, once you classify green, fuzzy plants as “moss,” then one example of gaining a better understanding of something would be to state “most rocks are covered in moss.”
Ok, I think I should probably wrap this boi up. I suppose the main takeaways of this post is that what we think of as knowledge is entirely a human construct. Furthermore, people generally talk about research as a field of discovery, but I would like to assert that research is just as much about creation as it is about discovery. But, to get meta on you, even that depends on how you define the term “knowledge.”
Finally, this is a topic I actually care a great deal about, so if you have any of your own thoughts on the matter, or disagree with me on any of these points, then for the love of Alexandria, can you email me? Like, please?
Well whatever. Let me try to regain the air of aloofness I’ve so desperately been attempting to cultivate. Deep breath in, deep breath out.
Ok, I just hit seven pages, and its 12:34 AM, so I feel the strong desire to perform a swan dive directly into my sheets. I love you all dearly. Geisz out.
A most aggressive “Shalom” to all you wonderful readers. Actually, now that you mention it, it has been a wonderful morning, thanks for asking. I was up until around 1 last night working on the app, and I had a lovely breakfast with my family. Afterwards, I did my laundry while listening to Flume’s self-named album and dancing about the laundry room wildly. I am now in my swamp room (if you don’t get the reference, it’s your own fault you aren’t on my email list), still listening to Flume at volumes that would make Percy Granger weak in the knees.
Now then, I had a very interesting discussion with my mother this morning about the nature of the mind, and what we know and don’t know about it. This discussion reminded me that I have had at least three thoughts in the past two weeks, and roughly two of them have to do with this very concept. I’m going to now pretend as though you are contractually obligated to read this post in its entirety, and I’m going to now launch into a pompous expose on my own personal thoughts regarding the nature of the mind.
To begin my civil diatribe, I would like you all, treasured readers, to think about what it means for a human being to learn something. Perhaps the accumulation of knowledge comes to mind, or perhaps, alternatively, the accumulation of experience. I would now like to humbly, yet domineeringly launch into my own meta-physiological understanding of what it means to “learn.” And to do that, we necessarily must have a one-way Socratic seminar regarding the brain.
The brain is gloriously dense pattern recognition system. That’s really what it is. I watched a TED talk on it, so I’m pretty much a professional. I’m sure most of us who’ve at least somewhat recently been in school have some notion of the brain being a collection of neurons in which “connections are formed.” Sure. That’s all fine and good, except that it’s too abstract to actually mean much of anything.
In order to understand how the brain actually learns, it’s best to cultivate a slightly more rigorous formulation of brain functionality than the statement “connections are formed.” Also, I’m only talking about the part of the brain that learns stuff over time. I’m not talking about the part of the brain that’s responsible for keeping all your internal systems in check.
Now then, I want you to think of the brain as a computer with a ton of USB ports. Your optic nerve plugs into one of the ports, your auditory nerves plug into another, your olfactory (smelling things) nerves plug into yet another, and so on. So basically, we have a computer hooked up to all of your sensory nerves.
All of these connections are constantly sending information into the computer, and the computer’s only job is to try to find patterns between the various inputs. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re about one year old. Your dad has placed a piece of paper and a box of crayons in front of you. Your dad picks up the red crayon, and says the word “red.” You’re one, of course, so you don’t have a flip shack frack what’s he’s talking about, but let’s look at what’s happening in the computer that is your brain.
When your dad says “red” and picks up the red crayon, your vision is being directed on the crayon in front of you, and hence your optic nerve is sending the visual information corresponding to a red crayon into your computer-brain. At the same time, your ears are sending the auditory information corresponding to the word “red” into your computer-brain.
Now then, your brain can’t tell one information source from another, so it does is form a correlation between the visual information corresponding to the red crayon and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
You can probably see some issues with this. Does the word “red” correspond to the wavelength (color) being emitted from the crayon, or does it refer to the short waxy thing your dad is pointing to? At this point, your brain has no way to tell.
Now then, you turn your attention away from the crayon in your dad’s hand to the blue crayon lying on the table. When you look at this new crayon, your optic nerve sends the visual information corresponding to the blue crayon to your computer-brain. While the image isn’t exactly the same as the image of the red crayon in your father’s hand, it’s similar enough that the image of the blue crayon turns on the connection that your brain-computer formed between the image of the red crayon and the word “red.”
So then, while you don’t have a clue what’s happening in your computer brain, when you look at the blue crayon, the word that pops into your head is “red.” And because you’re a semi-useless one-year-old and you have nothing better to do, you confidently point to the blue crayon and say “red” out loud. Now then, because your dad has no interest in having his child think “blue” is “red,” he says “No.” He then picks up the red crayon, and again says “red.” He then points to your red shirt and says “red.” He finally points to your red couch and says “red.” Each time he does this, your computer-brain creates a new connection between the visual information of each object and the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
Now here’s the real kicker. Your dad then picks up the blue crayon and says the word “blue.” The exact same correlation happens as before, but this time, the auditory information corresponds to the word blue.
Now then, you look across the room and see your mom also wearing a red shirt. While the shape of the shirt itself isn’t similar to that of a crayon or a couch, the wavelength being emitted from the shirt is the same, so when the visual information corresponding to your mom wearing a red shirt is sent into your computer brain, the aspect of the image that corresponds to the color “red” is fired, and once again, the word “red” pops into your head. So then, once more, your proudly proclaim “red” to everyone who’s around to hear. This, of course, makes your parents excited, and they say “Yes! Red!” which only serves to strengthen the connection between the visual information corresponding to the red wavelength of light with the auditory information corresponding to the word “red.”
There’s no universal connection between the word “red,” and the color red. This exchange could have just as easily occurred in a Spanish or French speaking household with the words “Rojo” or “Rouge.” All the brain is therefore doing is forming connections between different stimuli, which can be strengthened or weakened over time. In other words, it’s an incredibly efficient pattern recognition system.
How does it actually work? Instead of actually being a computer with bunch of USB ports that’s been programmed to find patterns in different sources of data (which is literally just machine learning, btw), your brain is a collection of around 86 billion neurons that are connected to one another. All neurons do is fire an electric stimulus to the other neurons it connects to when it has itself received enough electric stimulus from the other neurons that connect to it. So basically your brain is just a chain reaction of neurons causing other neurons to fire. Now here’s the kicker: once a neuron fires, it actually becomes easier to fire again. So then, going back to the previous example in less gruesome detail, when you see a red crayon and hear your dad say “red,” your optic nerve fires a huge amount of neurons corresponding to the visual information of the red crayon, which sends a huge chain reaction cascading all throughout the brain. At the same time, your ears fire auditory neurons corresponding to the word “red” throughout your brain, which causes a similar blossoming chain reaction.
Now here’s what’s super cool. Some neurons are fired by both the visual and auditory chain reaction. Because it’s easier to fire neurons after they’ve already been fired, this forms a strong “pathway” between the visual and auditory information in the sense that neurons along this pathway are more likely to fire in response to similar visual and auditory stimuli.
So then, even though your brain can’t tell the difference between visual data and auditory data, it can find patterns between the two sources, which translates to you knowing that the color of the red crayon is red.
At this point, I was going to launch into a greater discussion of what this means in terms of human knowledge, and what it means to “understand” things. However, being a decent human being, I can quite clearly see that I have just broken the 6-page mark, which is usually my sign that I should probably wrap things up. I think I will continue this discussion in the next post.
In closing then, contrary to Justin McElroy’s incessant pleading, I would urge you to not kiss your dad square on the lips, because that seems like a great way to spread coronavirus, which is generally inadvisable.