I follow the Trolley Problem Meme on Facebook. For those unaware, it’s a “utilitarianism dilemma.”
The idea is this. A train is on some tracks bound to kill five people who can’t get off. You come to a switch knowing that if you pull this switch, the train will divert itself to a different set of tracks. The five people will be saved. The catch is, this train will kill one person also stuck on the tracks.
The dilemma is this. By leaving the train alone, you’re not interfering with cause-and-effect, so you are not (morally) responsible for those five deaths: they would have died whether you don’t pull the switch or you never even came to the switch. By pulling the switch, you are directly causing someone to die.
Several people hold the utilitarian approach: five lives are worth more than one. However, by changing the problem to a train going to kill five people, and you are on top of a bridge overlooking the tracks, and there is a very large person whose body is somehow able to stop this train, would you push him? the answer changes. By having physical contact, things are more personal (there was this neat video on YouTube explaining this sort of thing).
I used to be utilitarian. I think many years ago when I valued intellectualism and intelligence over “just being a human.” In fact, I’d have remained if I didn’t stumble into a quote on a professor’s door:
“When I was young, I sought and valued intelligence. Now that I’m old, I seek and value kindness.”
Like most OH-SO-WITTY sayings/comics/images posted on teachers’ doors/offices, I ignored it. But then I had a class with this guy and saw what kind of a person he was (years later). I did a double-take on this quote, and I realized something.
People, especially those who are not at all adept with numbers, math, and statistics, have a very “mechanical” viewpoint of the world, as if they are more machine than human. They see the world in abstraction: things can be weighed according to their weights. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (I mean, until politics come in line; then this whole thing is reversed). They seek to find some strange “optimal efficiency,” min-maxing, max-mining, maxing, and mining their way through life. “Eat X Calories and make sure your macronutrient ratios are %/%/% for an optimally healthy life,” says this keto diet I’m playing with. You should be doing X activity Y hours/minutes per day.
“Follow these steps for a best life,” say the people who probably hated following steps in Pre-Algebra or Algebra I. They’re algorithmic by nature.
But the biggest fault with utilitarianism, and the biggest fault with most philosophies, is that the beliefs are derived like a scientist, observing a system from the outside-in. Physics (especially thermodynamics) behaves very differently when you’re detached from the system (how we learn most of our physics) as opposed to when we become part of the system.
To the Utilitarianist, I ask this question:
“Would you still give up your life for five complete strangers if it were you on that one track and someone else had to make the choice of pulling the switch or not?” There’s no real point in holding a philosophy if “things change” just because they now directly affect you.
This is also why identity-labeling is such a mess. The obvious conundrum is politics: “Well, I consider myself X Side, but then these other people on X Side make X Side look bad...” Instead of just being YOU with YOUR ideas, there’s this (almost desperate, often desperate) need to belong. This is true of society and civilization: we need to belong to it to participate in it, and we evolved in such a way that we can feel pretty bad when we’re shut out from it.
But we never evolved a strong need to define ourselves with a laundry list of identifying nouns and adjectives. That comes from vanity and narcissism. This is why I generally don’t concern myself when someone whose “summary” is a bullet point list of words is mocked from others.
But back to utilitarianism, a utilitarian should fully accept his/her fate as that one person on the tracks with pride: through their death, others may live.
There’s a more hilarious one on the Facebook I saw wherein a sadistic serial killer sort would feel pleasure from letting those 5 die in a greater amount than those 5 would ever feel if they lived, so the utilitarian should be perfectly accepting of the guy allowing those five to die with glee.
Because the entire point of utilitarianism is that the sum of all happiness should be maximized. That’s why 5 people should have 5x the happiness of 1 person, and why letting 1 person die is okay. But if someone can feel 10x the happiness of one person because they’re particularly eccentric, that’s even better (because the guy is only happiest when the most people die. If 5 people die, we have 10x + 1x happiness with the one person on the other tracks living. If 5 people live, we only have 1x + 5x happiness, where the guy’s 10x dropped down to 1x ‘cuz he didn’t maximize deaths. 11 > 6, and so there it is).
Of course, I’m a trying-Humanist after thinking hard on that quote. A Humanist desires to see the good in others and come to solutions rationally. I merely try to, since I concede that, being a human and thus an emotional creature bound by social mores, I’m going to get emotional about this or that. Just so long as I try not to hurt anyone in a direct way.
BUT LABELS, MAN. LIKE I JUST DID THAT TO MYSELF, MIRITE?
Haha, I love deprecating humor (and it continues); that hasn’t gotten OLD AT ALL, WITH EVERYONE TRYING TO CONSTANTLY BE SNARKY AND ONE-UP EACH OTHER IN oh-so “clever” witticisms.
The 90s were all about XTREME, the 2000s were all about gritty reboots (still waiting on that gritty Captain Planet reboot), and the 2010s are all about deprecation. What an era to live through.
So, I’m in this Recent Developments in Statistics course, and we’re doing Time Series Analysis for the semester. They did it two years ago or so with a different professor, and they did a different topic last year.
These sorts of courses, these "Recent Developments,” these Seminars, these Special Topics—they’re very disjointed in not having any real prerequisites. This is a good thing because people of all backgrounds can get in (mostly those Statistics majors who need another class to satisfy hour requirements, where our Stats department is really lacking).
Unfortunately, we’re an experiment, wherein our professor is trying to turn his notes into a textbook. Some prerequisites are extremely mathematical (which, for our school, our statistics students are not), and we also need a pretty thorough knowledge of different distributions.
We just got our first homework assignment on Tuesday. It has 9 problems. The last two require the use of MATLAB, and the first of those is a pretty simple, straightforward “just do this, make a graph, create a function” that I’m sure I’ll learn how to do once I get myself willing to install MATLAB. The other problem will require some particular programming technique that I’m sure we’ll go over next Tuesday.
The other seven problems, however, we’ve officially learned how to do them, and man-oh-man, are they a nightmare.
Two typos that, without the corrections, make two problems impossible, and I must have spent about 5 or 6 hours trying to crunch through them.
The nice thing is that every single problem had the exact same first few steps. If you knew how to set it up, you could at least get that far in all of them (which, admittedly, was about 30% of the problem). Time consuming and tedious, but it’s there. The rest is all just “statistical algebraic” manipulation. Algebraic manipulation means you use certain rules you learned in algebra, like factoring out a common factor (the reverse distributive property) or cancellation of numerators and denominators because of exponents or the like. Statistical algebraic manipulation is the same, only you’re using your stats rules (like how expectation is linear, so E[aX+Y] = aE[X] + E[Y] ). But you’re typically doing these things twice because you’re doing it on a time series, so you’re doing it on Cov[big function for now, same big function but from earlier].
Eventually you’re done doing statistical algebraic manipulation and just using normal algebraic manipulation (advanced algebraic manipulation, like cos(x) = +/-1 if x is a multiple of pi). And we’re doing this all on very, very demanding functions.
No, sir! First homework, testing out our rules on a few basic functions like aX+Y and then ramping up our skills on harder problems? Naw, let’s just dive into the hard ones.
So once again I’m in a class that’s consuming a great deal of time. I keep thinking I’m done with these, but then I wind up in a class that I go “Oh, that’s neat. I bet that’d be interesting and useful” and regretting it. I was only supposed to have two more that would take up my time, and thanks to this debacle, I’ve extended it to three.
Oh, well. I have to fulfill my Stats minor somehow. I have to take 4 classes in Stats for a minor, and this is my 2nd one. I plan on topping it off with Multivariate Methods and then maybe some dumb class I can ace because Multivariate, Time Series, and Regression Analysis are the only three useful stats courses for me given where I will likely wind up. Ideally I can get into Introduction to Spatial Statistics (a split-level grad/undergrad course with a lab) because that would also be quite useful for me (particularly the kriging). If not, I’ll just take Linear Models or Nonparametric Stats because whatever I’ll be done with it.
So, I’m definitely one of “those guys” who made a New Year’s Resolution involving weight loss.
I’ve put myself on a keto diet and am using a shovelglove workout. I’m not sure if I’ll be one of the very, very, very few who maintain such a resolution, but I’d like to think I have a few things going for me:
First, I’ve never made such a resolution before. I never saw the point because I knew I’d never stick with it. In general I don’t make “resolutions” at arbitrary points of time except if I’m feeling a bit down and I just need to tell myself a few words that’ll make me feel a bit better for the time being (like most people generally wind up doing in spite of themselves). Second, New Year’s started on a Sunday, which to me marks as the beginning of the week. This particular event works very well with my completionist mentality because I can cross off days on a mental calendar and feel like I’ve crossed out a full week, not “part of this week, part of that,” which has always screwed with my completionist mentality in the past when I deal with recurring, ongoing things. Finally, I’d never known about this “shovelglove” workout before, and it really caters to the martial artist in me.
When I was in high school and quite fit (I was fit because of what I’m about to talk about), I was very big into martial arts. I started with Shotokan Karate, one of the only four martial arts near me, in 8th grade or so. I didn’t really care about it (Mom forced me into it to build up some self-confidence and self-esteem that I was lacking in my middle school years and didn’t really develop until about 10th grade) until about 10th grade (notice the link between that and the previous parenthetical), when I started getting very hooked on it.
I quit Shotokan because Shotokan, while a good art for a specific reason that has nothing to do with self-defense, is a very limited art. Shotokan is a simple is best approach to martial arts with its very limited moveset but very impacting sense of power (provided you don’t accidentally drill into your head this idea of “gotta stop before you actually hit something,” a common issue in Shotokan practitioners). It’s also a very rigid art, requiring extreme dedication to “total body separation.” Move your left arm? The rest of you shouldn’t move. Right leg? Nothing else.
Thus, Shotokan is perfect for those who want to take general working out very seriously, because it literally encompasses in a “fighting” perspective this idea of “form first, speed and fluidity second” that is especially a big deal in weight lifting, stretching, yoga, and the like.
But for a budding amateur martial artist, it was too narrow, so I moved on. I wasn’t able to find much, but to stay in shape (and because Mom was convinced I needed to stick with something in the context of “gotta get a black belt!&rdquo, I moved into a Taekwon Do dojo.
Taekwon Do has a very poor reputation in the United States for being basically a daycare, with its 5 year old black belts and overweight, sloppy instructors.
My instructor was very honest up front, and that made me stick through it for a long time; he told us that if we wanted to learn self-defense, he could recommend us other dojos. His dojo, however, was just for sport, and we took to competing in “point based” tournaments (and were required to attend so many each year), and he wasn’t going to pretend his dojo was anything else. I respected that, and I stuck with it for a long time, gaining incredible flexibility and fluidity that I still have to this very day. I’m the only person I know who can squeeze into the tight spaces I can without any real effort and bend around objects the way I do given the shape I’m in. People who are very flexible and fit can’t do what I can. And I didn’t have that until I was well established in this dojo.
Most importantly, though, I made many really good friends, one of which would become a “brother” of sorts, and I would get very close with his entire family (who also trained there).
Oh, and I completely dominated every tournament I was in, but that’s because of my next few things to say.
Looking for a real martial art, we had also Judo (which at the time I wasn’t interested in because I wanted action, and I found out later this dojo was crap) and Hapkido (which I really regret not getting involved with because the instructor there was amazing and all of his students, even the lazier ones, could really kick some butt). Judo wasn’t interesting and Hapkido was a little too far away for this high schooler (at the time).
Fortunately, I found three individuals who made my life very bizarre, so to speak.
The first was a friend of a friend’s family. He was a former Savate (French kickboxing) fighter and had done pretty well. He taught me how to utterly destroy everything I put my foot and shins on. Though my shins lack any real durability nowadays, my kicking was and always will be my best points—dangerously accurate, and able to close the gap in large distances. In fact, that’s the central core of Savate; no matter how far your opponent is, you should be able to close that gap with very minimal “stepping” or “running” or “sliding.” Although I lack speed, I can still “lunge” across my very large living room in just two steps. You try doing that without jumping.
The second was another friend of a friend’s family, though it was more like both of their families were really close. This family was Chinese, and he had studied a very hardcore Wing Chun that we would consider a “mantis style” (because of what we see in movies, though mantis styles are basically exclusive to Shaolin kung fu and not really applicable). My legs and feet were so sore from that training, for sure, since I had to squat real low 90% of the time and constantly rise up to attack. That would just further build power in my kicks.
The final was just someone I stumbled into, which is a story I don’t really share. This guy studied Baguazhang, an “applicable” Wushu knockoff (Wushu is a very artistic art nowadays, mostly, and what you see when you think of Jackie Chan. In fact, most theatrical martial arts seen in movies, and nearly every “kung fu fight scene,” has its roots in Wushu techniques).
Bagua is the most intense thing I’ve ever done. The best way to describe it is that it takes your body and turns it into an oily rock. Slippery, but very hard. Most of my training here consisted of those old silly martial arts things you see in old timey Kung Fu movies, with the jumping around on log posts (FOR BALANCE! ...I was never successful at this and faced frequent beatings), bar training where he would do moves and I’d be attached to him through these bars that would force me to move as he did, more stretching than actual attacking, and general “wax on, wax off” type stuff. I learned more from here than I did elsewhere.
But there were beatings. Oh, were there beatings. Every time I slipped, I got whipped with a bamboo cane. Stings like hell and leaves very nasty bruises, but no cuts. He was trained that way and that was how he trained me. I didn’t mind it; I knew what I was getting into, and our “sparring sessions” (usually me standing there, terrified of this man who was clearly going to destroy me, him yelling and threatening to beat me if I don’t hurry and attack him, and then getting my face shoved into the dirt with what was probably a few concussions here and there) taught me a lot.
I was never able to get the upper hand on him. He’d been a martial artist for most of his entire life. I was with him for, like, what? 2 years? He trained me very seriously, though—there’s always this inside joke that a master only teaches the student “so much” in case the student gets cocky and needs a reminder of his place in life. He didn’t do that to me.
The biggest “result” I got from him in physical combat was stellar use of my forearms. I was never very accurate with my punches, but I learned to really hurt people just trying to block them. I later found out just how much force I could exert with my forearms when provoked, and I still have at least 50% of that power. When I was in Alabama, I started picking up martial arts just a wee tiny widdwe bit, and my forearms showed their strength (and grew), and I got a Popeye nickname.
Highlights of that training? Getting hit with the bamboo cane. Rushing my master in a “sparring” session, only to get hit very hard and need about 5 minutes of rest. Jumping from log to log only one time because I always missed and getting hit with the bamboo cane (those logs hurt your feet, man). Getting roofing tiles thrown at me (“Block it! Block it!!!&rdquo. Hitting that damned concrete pole (like the short poles you see at gas stations near pumps) with my fists and wanting to die. Slow fighting against bricks (he had bricks in his hand. He would wave them around, and I’d have to hit them. With my hands, knees, feet, whatever). Losing to a training dummy (well, I got hit by the cane at least, so I figure I must have lost or didn’t do something correctly). Getting slapped every time my eyes looked somewhere they weren’t supposed to. Walking with 60 pound weights attached to each leg (for stamina, not speed. This isn’t Dragonball Z). Rolling a very large tire away from my master who would chase me with the cane, hitting me if I went too slow.
And building the most extensive list of techniques, locks, grapples, and blocks I’ll ever have and completely losing my fear of any person no matter what threat they posed to me. My master was a harsh one, but he wasn’t just being abusive. He never punished me with wanton disregard; I heard more explanations and justifications for why he did exactly what he did at that exact moment in time and what specifically I had to do to avoid that and why I needed to do it.
Usually we’d do something for 10 seconds, I’d get hit, and then we’d sit down for 5 minutes and he’d talk about it. I mean, sure, an outsider can, in a snarky tone, say “Yeah I’m sure he was a bit crazy just a little bit,” but the reality was not once did I get hit that I didn’t hear an explanation for something. Parents don’t even offer that to their own children, sometimes. And I typically only endured that kind of “abuse” maybe 3x per hour session I met with him. It was always during this strength/stamina/balance/speed training. Never during a technique or stance training, which encompassed some 90% of our time together. Basically, I’d start rolling a tire for example, get hit, and then I’d listen to an explanation, he’d make me practice some specific technique in some stance, go get me some hot water (ugh, I never liked hot water), and explain some more. Once he felt I wasn’t in SCREAMING AGONY, we’d do another “exercise,” and the cycle would repeat. That was how he got me to do a lot of stuff in an hour.
Rarely were our sessions repeats of older sessions. He’d test my techniques and stances, sure, but his approach was that he was going to show me and correct me on what I can do and spend most of his time conditioning me. Flipping ninja kicks with punches that shoot fire were to be practiced on my own time. I learned a lot about martial arts history, too, and how a lot of the “real” arts are taught; almost 90% of it is conditioning (indeed. Thinking back to my Savate training, we spent most of our time shadowboxing and lunging. Taekwon Do? Most of it spent hitting the dummies. Wing Chun? Just staying real low to the ground, no movement. This rule of thumb generally only does not apply to those arts like Brazilian Jiujutsu and Aikido that are lock and grapple heavy, where you just need to know how to move yourself around rather than needing any real “power&rdquo.
ANYWHO. Let’s end this because I’m 2200 words in and I haven’t even hit the title. So shovelglove workout, did some sword moves (in Bagua and Wing Chun, I learned how to fight with some weapons. I favor pole arms, particularly the guan dao (the standard “big pole with a curved sword blade at the end” you’d see in 100% of Chinese martial arts movies involving some guy training with a weapon by himself). But I’m also very good with a staff and short sword. From there I reminisced about being a martial artist (what prompted this entry), and I’ve subsequently popped in various Marvel video games to goof around with. I started and beat Deadpool (fun game, irritating lag), am going through Amazing Spider-Man 2 (which is terrible), and thinking I’ll abandon this crap entirely and just go finish up some Batman trophies because it seems like 99% of Marvel video games are terrible, terrible, terrible (exceptions include X-Men Legends I, II, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1, 2).
I am officially signed up for one and only one class.
BQA 9523 – Advanced Statistical Decisions in Business.
The business school is one of only three departments that have a large volley of courses at the 9000+ level. Others have some, sure, but they’re usually career-development type courses. For example, the agricultural program has one of its only two 9000+ level courses as a special career course wherein the student (well on his/her way to graduating with that PhD, the only way this is available) works alongside with a company in making very real, company-impacting decisions. Because that student has secured a spot in working for said company and starting out at a higher position. Needless to say, that’s a rare course.
Basically, 9000+ is I have no real clue and am unsure why any normally academic courses (like the one I’m in I’ll be explaining shortly) aren’t just at the 8000 level. It’s not like all 999 numbers are taken (granted, I’ve spoken on what numbers mean, though I’m not entirely sure what the BIS distribution is since it only has 8 total graduate level courses, and these include 6000 level).
This is a business quantitative analysis course (hence the BQA) that is basically a baby stats class but for multivariate statistics. Also, instead of doing actual calculations, we’ll be relying entirely on SPSS, a statistical package I have learned to fall in love with (though Minitab is still winning if only because SPSS’s spreadsheet is slightly annoying to do a few specific things I’ve actually needed to do last semester and had to just do them in Excel first and copy and paste the results over into SPSS, where Minitab works like Excel in its ability to let me do what I would have needed to do).
This will be my very first statistics course that I have had zero experience in at the graduate level (all my others I was able to draw some thing or things from earlier courses at the undergraduate level), except of course for matrix analysis type things (which is a moot point since we’re relying on SPSS to do everything).
I’m taking this course entirely to prepare me for a real, theory-heavy multivariate course in the Statistics department in some future semester (likely next Fall).
I find it largely foolish that people, for the sake of time or convenience, will forego “simpler” classes that are “outside the scope of their program” (in a separate department/college and unnecessary, to be frank) and take only the “appropriate” or “recommended” one.
You never took Calculus before you took Algebra in high school, nor did you skip Algebra and go straight into Calculus.
So why would anyone do it differently at the university? I’ve met many people like this. Every single one of them convinced themselves that they still got something out of their required courses and were able to use their tools (like statistical analysis, to keep in context here, as an example) well enough.
Every single one of them was also dead wrong and almost always had to spend a great deal of extra time redoing experiments or re-analyzing results to make sure they could grasp what it was they were doing. Most of them attempt to publish papers or procure reports anyway, and I’ve sat through many company reports that were usually flat out wrong because something entirely academic was not fully understood by the so-called “expert” (especially with regards to engineering).
I’m a very confident person, but I’m confident in my abilities because I’m willing to take a bit of extra time and learn prerequisite material, even though this course in particular won’t actually help me in the context of “I need X hours and I need Y classes to graduate.”
I’m having a bit of a battle with a colleague because I’m trying to explain this point to him. He only wants to take those courses that are a direct benefit to him, and I’ve had to consistently, every single semester explain a large multitude of things in great detail because he never took any of the prerequisite courses. He wants to optimize his scheduling for his 4 years of being a PhD. Fine. That’s really just his culture. But as several of our students are understanding, it’s not a very easy job market out there, and his inability to explain the most basic facts about hot topics that pad out his resume is hurting him in spite of his knowing far more advanced material.
Nobody cares about advanced material. Not outside of academia or industrial research or software development, anyway.
But it’s his choice.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be sharing the course with everyone from my previous baby stats class this past semester (they’re required to take it, being in the business college).
Otherwise, I’m taking 6 hours of dissertation. Meaning I fully intend on starting and submitting a paper before the semester is over as part of my dissertation (and I’ll probably be submitting more than the one paper, but others won’t involve my dissertation).
So I’ll hate the semester because of having a screwy schedule, but I’ll love it because I finally won’t have 8 million responsibilities going on.
I think the good outweighs the bad. At a first glance, at any rate.