Sunday, May 25, 2008

I am now convinced that the professional hallmark of a scientist is not an interest in solving problems, an interest in finding The Truth, having faith in oneself, having faith in the existence of an objective reality, or any such thing, although some of those things are important prerequisites. It is simply the ability to bounce from experimental failures by thinking obsessively about how to proceed from there, be it troubleshooting by adding control experiments, complete abandonment (usually not an option unless something was seriously screwed in the original setup), or restarting from previous step(s). It's the thing that seizes you by the throat and kicks your brain into gear so that you respond to failure with the great sunniness of "oh so what shall we do next? hmm. Think thank thonk thunk click gear on hummmmm", which goes way beyond stoic forging onward with nerves of ice and steel. It's almost as if one doesn't experience pain with such a life. It's quite attractive. Inhuman, but attractive.

I'm not quite there yet - I still spend an hour or so fretting after each experimental failure. But I can feel the thinking getting into gear . For sure when all that gear-clicking becomes an automatic response, I'll no longer have any semblance of a life. I'll work throughout the night. I'll talk enthusiastically about the latest cutting-edge papers in journals during lunch. I will sit down at a computer fully intending to just check my personal email and end up troubleshooting work for the next 3 hours and surfacing from that wondering where the time has gone. Oh no, wait. I won't wonder where the time has gone. I would actually think this was a worthwhile way to spend a Saturday evening.

At this rate, I'll never get married or have kids. I don't know if this is a worthwhile trade-off. My heart, you know that thing that gets bashed about by all the clanking gears, is presently shrieking no! no! but its cries are getting more muted by the day.

*holds head in hands*

Right now my experiments are running and somewhere in my abused heart I am praying that it will be finished in unrealistic time so that I can see the results and go back to that pain-free world of clanking in an endorphin high.

There's something seriously strange going on with me, and I don't know if I should stop it, or if I can.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

For my own reference.

"There are, in these four measures, only two underlying chords I and V, the tonic and dominant. Of course, the basic chords are not so plainly there as they would be in a harmony exercise. Music would be dull indeed if composers were not able to disguise, vary, and adorn the bare harmonic frame.

You should realize, however, that composers apply this same principle not for four measures only but for four movements of a symphony. That may give you some inkling of the problem involved. In the early days, the harmonic progressions of a piece were fairly well established in advance, by virtue of common practice. But long after the conventions were abandoned, the principle was retained, for whatever the harmonic style of the music may be, the underlying chordal structure must have its own logic. Without it, a work is likely to lack a sense of movement. A well-knit harmonic framework will neither be too static nor overelaborate; it provides a steady foundation which is always firmly there no matter what the decorative complexities may be.

The harmonic principles outlined above are, of course, a greatly simplified version of harmonic facts as they existed up to the end of the last century. ..."
- Aaron Copland, What To Listen For In Music
McGraw-Hill (Mentor Books), published 1953
pp. 44-45

Friday, May 16, 2008

Miscellaneous notes of the past week, which has been a blur:

Monday - received news of where I would go for my attachment. Realized I had books from NUS library due on Wednesday. Ate with P. Had somewhat unusual conversation with A. Bee sick.

Tuesday - forgot to bring books to return due on Wednesday. Good news: Bee better! Received news that collaborators would be coming to our office to have a nice fruitful discussion also on Wednesday. Panicked at the thought that nice fruitful discussion might be disturbingly non-fruitful. Felt thrown into the lions' den. Meanwhile also smsed DSG to request some time to discuss more on place of attachment. Surprised when DSG replied almost instantaneously to say yes and ask when. Decided that since was probably dead meat with collaborators anyway, set time with DSG for Wednesday morning.

Wednesday - woke up late. Realized phone had low battery, had to go to office to pick up charger, then went to NUS lib to return books. Called DSG at set time. DSG unfortunately unexpectedly busy. Returned the books. Bumped into old colleague HS on the bus, he had his spinal surgery in the UK and is now fully recovered, gave him namecard (quantity = 1). Went back to office in time for collaborators' meeting. Ridiculous phone tag with DSG all day (but hey dude if you're reading this no worries, stuff happens). Meeting went pretty much as expected although did not get anywhere near the point of being dead meat. Set appointments for Thursday with collaborators to talk further in their labs and meet their people.

Thursday - attended talk at 10.30 which was ... quite enlightening in certain aspects. Finally ate with usual lunch pals although very quick because had to run to collaborators' labs in the afternoon. Spent nearly whole afternoon there. Remarkably productive afternoon. Gave more namecards (quantity = 2). Ran out of cash and namecards. Went back to office to set an experiment going - the usual results. Remembered to replenish cash, did not remember namecards. Had final tutorial at night, realized namecard stock drastically low, gave tutor my spare namecard (quantity = 1). Got home at 11.30. Slept at maybe 1?

Friday - ZONKED. Finally managed to catch DSG in the morning although sleepy. Productive chat. Noticed disturbing correlation for sane mind to dissolve into exhausted jelly pudding whenever talked to DSG in real life (n = 2), hope this will not become trend. A came for lunch. Played Foldit. Read papers. Finally remembered to replenish namecards.

Two men have apologized to me within the span of three days. This is definitely some kind of record.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Jax, I think I love you very much. Kick me again if we drift apart again, alright?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I must confess that I have approached blogging here with some discomfort ever since you'd told me out of the blue that you read this blog, in mid-February this year. The posts I've written here since reflect that unsettled edginess by not coalescing well in the coherent flow I always try to build in wherever I write. I think it is because I know you best through our mutual profession, all attempts to the contrary not being very sustained thus far. This blog, however, has never been about that mutual profession - my work is kept far away from here, until now, when I feel the impetus to talk with you to know you more.

Not all things reach an equilibrium......

Saturday, May 03, 2008

"Despite the difficulties, there is some comfort for those who think that they have a revolutionary insight that remains largely ignored: history has nearly always proven that, in the end, truth prevails, as the stories of great scientists such as Darwin, Heisenberg and Marshall show."
-- the triumphant conclusion of this article, EMBO Reports 9(5):416-418.

It went fine until I saw the word "truth", and choked. No. NO. There is no truth. I'm sorry to disillusion the people whose heart's-blood work in science is based on that premise, that they are working on truth. (But I must have apologized for that at least three times now in recent memory. Yes, here, on this blog.) I'll say it again. There is NO truth to be found in science.

Kuhn say, The world is lexicon-dependent, and this problem of lexical dependence is often called the problem of meaning variance.

But never mind about the meaning variance yet. I give you long quote to tell you what is lexicon. It can no longer wait if even EMBO Reports publishes this rubbish. The real philosophers of science should slap them with a large trout.


... The terms to be learned, furthermore, are seldom applied to these situations in isolation, but are instead embedded in whole sentences or statements, among which are some usually referred to as laws of nature. ... Among the statements involved in learning one previously unknown term are some that include other new terms as well, terms that must be acquired together with the first. The learning process thus interrelates a set of new terms, giving structure to the lexicon that contains them. (p. 67)

... one or another of the examples introduced during lexical acquisition can, when occasion requires, be adjusted or replaced in the light of new observations. ...

Clearly, however, only a certain number of examples may be altered piecemeal in this way. If too many require adjustment, then it is no longer individual laws or generalizations that are at stake but the very vocabulary in which they were stated. A threat to that vocabulary is, however, a threat also to the theory or laws essential to its acquisition and use. Could Newtonian mechanics withstand revision of the second law, of the third law, of Hooke's law, or the law of gravity? Could it withstand the revision of any two of these, of three, or of all four? These are not questions that individually have yes or no answers. Rather, like Wittgenstein's "Could one play chess without the queen?" they suggest the strains placed on a lexicon by questions that ... did not anticipate its being required to answer. What should one have said when confronted by an egg-laying mammal that suckles its young? Is it a mammal or is it not? These are the circumstances in which, as Austin puts it, "we don't know what to say. Words literally fail us." Such circumstances, if they endure for long, call forth a locally different lexicon, one that permits an answer but to a slightly altered question: "Yes, the creature is a mammal" (but to be a mammal is not what it was before). The new lexicon opens new possibilities, ones that could not have been stipulated by the use of the old. (p. 72)

Each of the resulting lexicons then gives access to its own set of possible worlds, and the two sets are disjoint. (p. 74)

Evaluation of a statement's truth values is, in short, an activity that can be conducted only with a lexicon already in place, and its outcome depends upon that lexicon. ... the world itself must somehow be lexicon-dependent. Whatever form that dependence takes, it poses problems for a realist perspective, problems that I take to be both genuine and urgent. Rather than explore them further here - a task for another paper - I shall close by examining a standard attempt to dismiss them. (pp. 77-78)


- Possible worlds in history of science, in The Road Since Structure, Thomas S. Kuhn, eds. Conant and Haugeland, University of Chicago Press, 2000.

And then he goes on about the interesting example of water. (What is water?)

What is water? Is water at the triple point, water?

And finally, to make the truth-huggers a little happier, Fleck say, "Truth is not 'relative' and certainly not 'subjective' in the popular sense of the word."

and then follows it up immediately with "It is always, or almost always, completely determined within a thought style." a "stylized solution". a "stylized thought constraint". (p. 100, Fleck)

Think about it.

Personally I don't find any problems proceeding with my work if I think of science as 'normal science' with its associated rigidity that serves the purpose of allowing increasingly esoteric explorations within a paradigm (or lexicon) and hence discovering anomalies that do lead to regime change. I mean, paradigm change. Paradigm shift. Change is the only constant.

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