Friday, December 16, 2005

The role of fiction: I am Michael Valentine Smith

Fiction plays a significant role in my everyday life. The reason why I prefer books over movies is that literature is more picturesque. Each image induced by a scenario depicted in a novel is painted with the internal brush, and I believe that such a mental exercise is healthy.

Generally the plot in a novel is somehow deeply related to the writer's own life, but one must realize that when I read a novel I'm not simply seeing the same mona-lisa that was painted by the author. In the same way that all observations are theory-laden, when I read novel X and you read novel X, we are seeing a somewhat different picture. There will always be certain concepts related to human life portrayed in the novel that make one reflect upon his/her own life experiences, and such an intimate connection with past experiences and the current immersion in the novel is not repeatable (with respect to other agents reading the novel).

It actually goes deeper than that. The world that each one of us lives in has been shaped by our life experiences. However, somebody will still ask me a question once in a while that is so deeply rooted in my own experiences that I cannot help but reply with a , "I don't know." In reality there's a good chance that I know the answer (know to myself). I simply choose not to attempt to project the answer from my own inner world onto their own little world. Sometimes concepts are lost in translation and until I feel that a particular concept will make the my-world to your-world leap unscathed, I will refrain from any such translations.

Don't think for one second that my musings into the world of literature are mini-journeys independent of the grand problem of object recognition. I'm simply trying to convey the point that there is something about past experience that is deeply related to current experience.

On another note, I'm currently reading Heinlen's Stranger in a Strange Land. I have become more like Michael Valentine Smith and he has become a little bit more like me.


  1. Anonymous6:07 PM

    Your use of "my own inner onto their own little world" makes your point skewed. You are praising the world of literature that it is able to make one look back onto their own experiences and make connections. While to you your inner world may seem vast and deeper than others "little world" it is all the same. Secondly, since that question that one might ask may strike deeply into the chords of your own life's experience (as it usually will for the asker as well), what makes you think that wasn't the motive for the person asking you that question. Also the only way to know that translation fails is to attempt to translate, by deciding not to usually hinges on the fact that the one not willing to share is seeing the other's views and ideas as inferior to his own, and that person with the superiority complex usually won't even listen, thus the translation will fail. Kill the ego for the ego's sake. If you are going to talk about interconnectedness and the field of knowledge/expierence/perception, make sure you have your own ego in check.

    Your peer and antagonist,


  2. Thanks for the rapid reply, jb.

    First of all, I do not believe that our own little worlds are the same. However, you do bring up a good point that "the only way to know that translation fails is to attempt to translate." The superiority complex is a collosal beast that often impedes communication.

    I never meant to talk about 'unique inner worlds' in an attempt to separate people based on their unique world views. I more or less wanted to praise the individual's world view as something to be proud of. It is something that makes each one of us special because a story told by (and listened by) different narrators (listeners) is never the same story.

    I should strive to be more direct with my replies (and not hold back), even if that means I have to resort to past experience to convey my ideas. I agree that the ego does need a check, but I can only promise that I will try to do so.

  3. Anonymous9:05 PM

    I understood your point originally. However your use of "their little world" gives the impression that their "inner world" is not as deep/vast/big as yours, which is BS, regardless of educational level, religion, philosphical views. People have the ability to learn from everyone and everything around them (written, felt, tasted, thought etc.). To label something small in comparision to something of your own, in which there is no physicality, is pretentious and stubborn. Thats all I really meant.
    And right on with the trying to do so (pertaining to one's ego)... gets hard at times, but to be purely objective gotta smother that sucker as much as possible, cause remember the lineage for the creation (phenomenon) of the ego is based on our own mortality, something purely HUMAN. Objectivness is really unattainable except wtih those machines you love to play with. Rock on tombone.

  4. Just to make sure that we are on the same page here, I want to state my main point again. I am not trying to compare people's "inner worlds" in an attempt to classify them as inferior or superior. I am not the one to undermine one's ability to learn from a wide array of sources. However, I'm skeptic when it comes to the belief that we are all learning the same thing. I'm just trying to say that there is something mystically subjective about human experience that cannot be captured by a cold and objective description of the world.

    You bring up a very interesting point when you say, "Objectiveness is really unattainable except wtih those machines you love to play with." Even though I agree with this statement, I am writing about literature because I want to promote a thesis whose foundation is the realization that subjectivity plays a central role in the field of machine intelligence.

    By talking about the subjective nature of human experience and glorifying human creativity I want to convey the message that the key to intelligence lies in non-objectivity. Even though you are correct when you refer to the machines I play with, I am pursuing a PhD in computer vision and machine learning so that the machines can play with me one day! Dumb, rule-following, hard-coded, soul-less, cold machines can be objective, so you are correct.

    I don't think anybody is skeptical about the objectivity of their thermometer (a machine albeit simple); however, nobody wants to attribute such a primitive temperature reading device with a noble term such as intelligence.

    Within the next few weeks you can expect to see a blog entry about the three-world hypothesis which strives to connect the world at different pseudo-scales. In summary, I will attempt to make connections between {the world of particle physics}, {the world of cars, homes, and computers},, and {the world of literature, creativity, romance, and curiosity}. My current scholarly endeavours will be integrated into this 3-level world view as I attempt to break the barrier betwen subjectivity and objectivity. It should be no surprise that I will talk about the history of science, machine learning, and building intelligent systems that learn from their own experience.