Moontower Munchies #7
There are some domains that select against “fuzzy” thinking. Coding instructions for a stupid box of transistors to carry out. Pricing an arbitrage down to a 1/2 penny. Building a literal bridge.
The opposite of fuzzy thinking is computational thinking. Google sponsors a course by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) called Introduction to Computational Thinking for Every Educator.
From the description:
Computational thinking (CT) is an essential skill for students and educators alike. This systematic approach to solving problems is at the foundation of not just computer science, but many other subject areas – and careers – as well…Through this course, you’ll increase your awareness of CT, experiment with CT-integrated activities for the subject areas you teach, and create a plan to incorporate CT into your curricula.
I’m not steeped in educational pedagogy, so I’m taking liberties when I say computational thinking is a sub-category of what I’d just call “rigorous thinking”. One of the defining attributes of said rigor is being methodical in your thought process. The code, the argument, the theoretical price, the ruling — they should all be laid out in steps that lend themselves to debugging. From this perspective, good writing is as much a child of rigorous thinking as computation is.
The merit of such thinking shouldn’t need much support. You are able to read this on a phone or computer because ingenuity employs rigor. But if your day job isn’t in a STEM field you may think it’s impertinent. Judging from the sludge that spills from the mouths of politicians or partisan hacks (and then gets repackaged into memes), it’s pretty clear their reasoning brains are intentionally shut off out of convenience. They're hacking humans, not computers. And the nature of success means there are enough blind squirrels finding nuts that one might conclude vision is overrated.
But if you care about calibration and making decisions with a tighter link between input and output (life is such that it will never be as tight as the artificial world we grow up in where grades dictate your “ranking”) rigorous or computational thinking is a useful skill. If anything, to help neutralize bullshit.
In Place Value As Soulcraft Montessori advocate Matt Bateman writes:
Interestingly, in Montessori math, the target of mastery is decimal place value. The whole Montessori math curriculum is geared towards developing a cognitive, habitual, almost physical understanding that going past 9 means that something changes (similar to Alpha math emphasis on physical). Is your mind made of routines that are alien incantations that you mysteriously “work”? Or is it understood, made up of independently cognized algorithms, which you can mull and interrelate, and in which you have earned confidence?
It matters for your relationship with the world, a world that is increasingly mathematical. Even if your life’s work isn’t particularly mathematical, being alienated from math means being alienated from progress. Montessori writes of the increasing importance of math, in a passage that could have been written today:
“Mathematics are necessary because intelligence today is no longer natural but mathematical, and without developing an education in mathematics it is impossible to understand or take any part in the special forms of progress characteristic of our times period a person without mathematical training today is like in illiterate in the times when everything depended on literary culture. But even in the natural state human mind has a mathematical bent, tending to be exact, to take measurements and make comparisons, and to use its limited powers to discover the nature of the various “effects” that nature presents to man while she conceals from him the world of causes.”
It matters for your soul. Math is the realm of precision, exactitude, quantity, measurement, and logic. If that’s the realm you’ve populated with secondhand incantations, that will invariably transfer to areas of life in which those things are cognate. (Which is every area.) The exactitude of the mind, the quality of judgment of the mind, and the independence of the mind are interrelated.
When you say “There goes a man of vague mentality. He is clever but indefinite,” you're hinting at a mind with plenty of ideas, but lacking in the clarity which comes from order period of another you might say, “He has a mind like a map. His judgments will be sound” in our work, therefore, we have given a name to this part of the mind, which is built up with exactitude, and we call it “the mathematical mind.”
I love the expression “alien incantations”.
The last few years have been a bull market in alien incantations. Fuzzy thinking, Cathie Wood-math and crypto word salad (my favorite was listening to normie tradfi rent-seekers in neckties slither up next to believers and regurgitate their incantations but forget everything past the first stanza).
Not to overextend a finance metaphor but maybe things really do get that weird near the zero bound.
[Afterthought: misheard lyrics like the oft-chopped chorus to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” are called mondegreens. Modern discourse, not just crypto, feels like mondegreens having sex with each other. It’s funny to think of their children as mule-thoughts that will then be trained on by large language models. Like an extended game of Buzzfeed telephone where the substance is long lost.
A flood of written “content” is coming. The value of rigorous thinking is going to increase on a relative basis because smart-sounding, but ultimately pattern-matched writing will cost nothing to produce.
Ted Chiang’s ChatGPT Is a Blurry JPEG of the Web is worth your time. It’s a clever analogy and well-written.]
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What is computational thinking worth without abstraction, Finnish speed metal? Maybe the singularity is when people can see the relationship between the two, because we really cannot disregard either. And I have argued regularly the most cynical pols spewing the worst of it are spewing the most sophisticated data driven divide and conquer computational models of them all. Hacking humans is a more complicated endeavor than busting scripts, and common grifters like Wood are simpletons in comparison. Both abstraction and order thought processes are tools of manipulation and creation at once, for good or ill. But hey, you have a knack for touching on the topics I've got in the works, products of our environments and all that I suppose.
While rigorous thinking as presented is important (I’m all about computational thinking) , the flip side is when it is taken to other domains, like dealing with relationships and people, it needs a balance. See pascals spirit of finesse vs geometry. Or sociologically, Sherry turkles alone together. The humanity of content created will shine forth in the sea of rhythms generated by al gore