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Thursday, December 04, 2003

In My Head

My little laptop has been very hot the last few days, thinking very hard.

When I first heard Jack Nicholson's reference to women in As Good as it Gets, "I think of a man, then I take away reason and accountability", the meaning of "accountability" wasn't entirely clear to me. Over the years it has become more clear, and in this last year it has finally crystallized for me into the gem it is. If I had to sum up Jack's quote in a companion phrase, it would be "it's your fault I'm unreasonable".

Accountability means taking responsibility for one's own person and actions, and it often comes down to the choice between being in control and at fault, or being out of control and not at fault. Hence, perhaps, the division between men and women, since men have such an ego investment in being in control, whereas women often find it easier to simply not be at fault. Whatever power vacuum that leaves for women is often filled by using blame assignment as a form of control.

Men who end up that way become politicians.

The accountability thing has direct bearing on honesty, particularly in a relationship. There is a balance of control and trust that needs to be struck, and honesty is the fulcrum. Some find balance with "don't ask, don't tell" (otherwise known as "what I don't know won't hurt me"), others find their balance feeding egos with white lies. And at one extreme, deceit can be the glue that holds a relationship together, while at the other, a mere white lie could undermine a foundational trust.

In our casual encounters, it's easy enough to adjust this balance dynamically--to only give people as much honesty as they wish to receive. But in a relationship it becomes a balance of identities--people are either matched, or they aren't. (However, these matches can be quite non-obvious--the girl who can only handle a fairy tale world where everyone is kind at heart and honest to a fault is a perfect match for a guy who will lie through his teeth to her, since a genuinely honest person would inadvertently crush her under the cold hard truth of the real world.)

Looking back, I think I have suffered the strain of a mismatch here more than once in the past. I'm really only comfortable with people who prefer, and deliver, the world straight up--people, as Clare* says, who I can trust enough to be honest with. And I'm glad to know as many as I do now. Honesty among humans is a continuum, and honesty-first is a relatively rare extreme.

In other news...

I am thinking of writing the Simon Papers, a collection of technical essays that explain in solid intuitive terms things that are generally poorly understood, such as complex numbers, gyroscopes, relativity, and some more esoteric but nonetheless useful stuff like Fourier transforms, Bayesian probabilities, arithmetic coding, and so on. It always annoyed me that the people teaching these things didn't really seem to understand them, and thus couldn't explain them, in terms of fundamentals--they only really knew the math and maybe the applications, but not the underlying principles that made sense of their very existence to begin with. Granted, only INTPs would care to read this, but I'm all for targeted literature.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... I'm still vacillating between Maui and New Zealand as my choice long-term destination. I've been annoyed already by administrative restrictions here in Sweden (e.g., many things categorized as nutritional supplements in the US are treated as drugs here and hence cost thrice as much or simply cannot be had). I need to look into this sort of thing for New Zealand. Also there is the subtler tall poppy issue, which is a real inspiration drain. Mathemajician* commented on this recently:

In NZ you can be better than the rest of the world but not better than the guy next door. We love to hate people who see themselves as "winners". I remember Bono from U2 talking about the difference between Ireland and the US: "In the US the poor guy looks up at the rich guy in his big house on the top of the hill and thinks 'One day I'm going to be that guy', while in Ireland the poor guy looks up and thinks 'One day I'm going to get that guy'". I think New Zealand is similar. In NZ you can be different, but only in certain ways. So in New York I actually felt more at home in many ways which was kind of strange. I'd tell somebody that I did mathematics and artificial intelligence and used to be a ballet dancer etc... and they would think that that was pretty cool.

Conversely, Maui is getting crowded and expensive. I rarely regret decisions in life, but I wish I had bought that 4 acre bit those few years back--not because it would be worth more now, per se, but because I could afford it then and I can't now. And because I'll likely not find a comparable parcel again... it's a very small island, and that was a very cool lot.

So, I'm rambling. Off to bed for me.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com