One MIT Twist Further

The introductory class of Course 10 is 10.10.
> The introductory class of Course 20 is 20.020.

Maseeh Hall is at a building that used to be called Ashdown House.
> Maseeh’s mascot is the phoenix.

54-100 is not at a level that one would expect a 1st floor to be.
> It’s actually on the 1M floor.

the capital letters of EAsT camPUS
> the lowercase letters of EAsT camPUS

All the undergraduate dorms on Dorm Row have first letters next to each other on the QWERTY keyboard.
> So do all the undergraduate dorms not on Dorm Row.

Buildings 36 and 38 seem very close to 180° rotations of each other.
>>Buildings 36 and 38 are both called the Fairchild Building.
>>> Buildings 36 and 38 used to be the same building, before Building 34 was built separating its halves.
>>>> Despite being labelled 34-600, the hallway at the top of Building 34 is shown as part of Building 36’s sixth floor on floorplans.

The MIT Science Fiction Society has a non-misleading name: it is, in fact, a social circle of science fiction enthusiasts.
> Of student groups in the student center, this is unusual.

Given that the Heinz Building is W59, Simmons Hall is W79, and the MIT Police station is W89, clearly the new building built between the Heinz Building and Simmons Hall should have been numbered W69.
> The building’s a daycare center.

Posted in MIT

We, the Villains

After I watched Guardians of the Galaxy last year, the main thing I walked away with is the realization that we have decided that even on a galactic level, in a team of heroes hailing from every corner of a vast congregation of stars, the beings of this planet earth see one its own as the likely leader of this group of greatests throughout the galaxy. As is plainly seen, numero uno of the protagonists, Star-Lord Peter Quill, hails from Earth, and additionally is quite clearly American (he also happens to be a straight White male, but I’m not even trying to get to that here) (oh, and he also happens to be an asshole). Is it so that we think so highly of ourselves that we can be this confident that we stay on top of all the food chains even at the galactic scale? What exactly is the size of our ego?

Today is, on the Gregorian calendar, September 11. Our country usually on this day remembers the nearly 3000 innocent people that lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on this day more than a decade ago. If you have read my blog for quite a while, though, you know that I do something different on this day. I think of, and I wish you to think of too, the over 100000 innocent civilians of Iraq that lost their lives as a result of the American-led invasion of Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism. And in most of America, these 100000 lives we took are not given nearly the attention the 3000 lives we lost get, because they are not us. But they not being us does not mean they did not deserve to be, and we, America, performed a terrible, criminal deed when we invaded Iraq and stole nearly 50 times the number of innocent lives that they…did not take from us (zero of the perpetrators of 9/11 were Iraqi).

If America is the greatest country in the world, then it ought to be able to afford to spend a little bit in introspection. We’re better than most of the world at this already, and freely discuss more of the uncomfortable parts of our history than many other nations are willing to, in this world of proud humans. But just because everyone else does worse does not mean what we do is enough. Maybe we should acknowledge in the movies we watch and the stories we tell that we aren’t always the greatest heroes, in ability or in sense of justice and morals. It is crucial to be able to see us depicted as antagonist, because that is when we can learn something negative about who we are in the eyes of others, something that if we fix could probably immensely improve our relations in the world, and even if our stand in the world agrees not, understand why we are hated. When we venture to understand negative views of us rather than just cast them aside as extreme without thinking about them, we have taken the first step to no longer being enemies with them, or even if that is not something we desire, it allows us to have a better peace of mind in understanding what fuels the actions of the peoples that view us as the evil ones. And there are definitely those who do so. And definitely those that are justified in doing so. Because over the course of this arguably still young but far achieved nation’s history, there were many more than just a few episodes in the show of the civilizations of earth in which we, America, were clearly the villains.

You Shouldn’t Need To RTFM (YSNTR)

You are unable to figure out how a tricky little gadget works. (Or maybe it’s an app, or a computer tool.) So you ask someone nearby, maybe a friend or an instructor. They ask if you’ve read the manual. (Or maybe it’s an instruction booklet, or a help page.) You tell them you didn’t, and realize you already know the reply. They tell you to RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual!). You say “oh right”, and quickly get to reading the manual.

While you do so, you wonder how you’ve forgotten that, of course, what you are working with comes with a manual, and you could reference it. You feel like you’ve been through this before, that somehow a hidden confidence in being able to do things without a manual carries over, and something in your mind tells you you really don’t want to have to resort to the manual.

Your thought processes are actually justified, and it is so because you are a human. As a human, the manual is supposed to be your last resort. A manual is a useful item to have, but it is only supposed to be useful after you’ve exhausted the much finer mental and cognitive resources available to your human mind.

Have you ever used a manual to operate a doorknob? When did you consult a manual to climb the stairs? If you climbed straight stairs your entire life, and suddenly came upon a spiral staircase, do you need a manual to figure out that your steps should no longer follow a straight trajectory? You probably assumed just how you should adjust the typical way you climb stairs to scale this novel helical creature.

You are made to usually not need a manual. The human is able to make well-judged assumptions based solely on clever comparison rather than just confident fact, to be able to derive a solution to a situation not experienced before. To assume is not what makes an ass out of you and me; it’s what makes humans out of us. It is what makes us as intellectually productive and efficient in decision-making as we are. The power of the human is in its ability to find patterns, and from these patterns to make conclusions that approximate likely best solutions amazingly well for the amount of time and effort invested into the problem. This is what powers our tremendous progress in understanding and innovation.

Sometimes, the wrong patterns are looked at, and an unfortunate conclusion is reached, sometimes because of a failure to find the most relevant pattern, but oftentimes just because the means of conclusion by pattern-finding is purposefully not perfect and sometimes produces errors, because the process is so much more useful in exchange for the small discrepancy in accuracy. When we find patterns, we cut the corners where it’s least likely to matter to us, the places that are the reason why explaining something to another human is often much easier than programming that same something for a computer to execute. When we communicate with another human, we are communicating by pattern, where there’s a lot we can leave out and reasonably rely on context and experience to fill successfully most of the time, for which we don’t have to pedantically specify all the exceptional cases that we must explicitly tell to a computer, with which we are communicating like a manual. We figure things out; we just need the right clues to be able to. The actual problem is that cluing is tricky: it’s often hard to trigger the right mental processes, and even harder to trigger the right mental processes for everyone, across varied stages in education and across cultures, and without accidentally giving false clues at the same time. An excellent, thorough, and precise manual is nice, but a lack of necessity of a manual is even better.

We are the animal of the pattern. With this philia for patterns, we humans are prone to misjudging randomness, diving into rabbit holes of conspiracy theories, creating hurtful stereotypes, and other means of counterproductive assumption. But we have a far greater ability to use this trait productively, and have made it this remarkably far in life exactly because we have exercised it. And if we want to continue raising civilization upward at the breathtaking speed in which we have, we must acknowledge that this power in us is what fuels our progress, resist the urge to excessively curb assumption to account for every cranny and corner, and realize that rather than tell people to RTFM, we should ask how we can change the design of a tool to make people not need to resort to the manual, because that’s not what the human is made for.