why learn?

PREFACE: this is something i wrote during the last month of school, how i got from being frustrated with my academic experience to understanding how i need to manipulate it to enjoy it.

to get into college:
you need to be well rounded.

to succeed in college:
you need to be really good at something

it’s an interesting change in skill set or skill distribution should i call it.
the reason for this is to provide economic value which makes sense
you can only be of economic value to the society if you’re better than other people at doing something that the society values.

to switch from one skillset to the other, there are two things you need to do:
decide on a field of study to specialize in
be good at it.

both which are harder done than said.
it would be nice if those two things i described above followed that order chronologically, but things don’t usually happen like that.
the order is always changing.

choosing what i wanted to was harder than i thought.
which i guess helps me eliminate the bad trait my dad says of me being interested in everything.

there’s no sure fire way to be good at something.
practicing is one of them but that’s not always time-efficient, which is especially important in college
so you have to deliberately practice.

in the shower last night, i finalized my decision to switch back from computer engineering to cs
because u get more feedback in the cs department from ta’s, from online guides. this is esp helpful if you need help and want to be good.

ever since i hear the phrase intelligence is correlated to working-set memory capacity,
i’ve been thinking about it every time i observe a smart person working.
and i never thought about it like that before but now the idea seems so obvious.

intelligence can be separated into fluid intelligence (Gf) and crystallized intelligence (Gc)
fluid intelligence is “the capacity to think logically and solve problems in novel situations, independent of acquired knowledge”

crystallized intelligence is “is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience.”
Gc is a measure of one’s lifetime or intellectual achievement, as demonstrated largely through one’s vocabulary and general knowledge.
and obviously, “Gc improves with age, as more experiences tend to expand one’s knowledge.”

but there’s also related.
“Not surprisingly, people with a high capacity of Gf tend to acquire more Gc knowledge and at faster rates.”

so fluid intelligence, at least in my opinion, is really your real measure of intelligence (but you can’t of course ignore expertise just from years of practice)
and fluid intelligence is related to working memory capacity because it’s how many things you can juggle in your head while you think of a solution.

quotes are from wikipedia

i would like to read the two following papers at some point

don’t know how i feel about this:
there are reports that you can increase fluid intelligence if you train working memory capactiy
i would like to believe that believing that you can be smarter will make you smarter.
but there is a clear limit.

all this talk about intelligence is frustration from putting a lot of effort into classes and not doing as well as i hoped.
which is why i said choosing what you want to do and being good at it sometimes goes in both directions.
meaning that my concentration has to choose me, which is true to some degree. i don’t want to concentrate in sth i’m abysmal at and have to try fifteen times as hard as someone else.
there’s always comparison between you and the other person in the class.
obviously, it helps to be smart.
but if you’re not, goops says no good comes out of comparing yourself with other people.

there are actually two frustrations to becoming a skilled individual.
the first of which is HOW to become good at something,
the second of which is realizing there’s no end to learning.
the first i’ve covered above and the second i gained insight from talking to my applied math professor.

the complication of gaining knowledge:
math becomes more difficult as you learn more. but there’s a difference between just having to deal with a bigger system as in learning all the pre-requisites, and actually more complex concepts? (i think there’s a distinction. leave a comment if you think it’s unclear)
when you look at calculus, you can usually follow the proofs quite well. you understand the motivation. as my apma professor put it, it’s possible for someone with high school math to come up with those eventually.
let’s now talk about laplace transform. (for those who don’t know what it is, sorry i won’t deliberate here what it actually is)
i know what the transform actually is, the method. but i have no idea of the motivation behind it, the derivation of it. how someone made possible a transform that would turn a discontinuous function into a continuous one.
the motivation is so much more difficult and complex, and apparently requires spectral theory, complex analysis, function analysis.
so yes, knowledge becomes more difficult conceptually.
i rmb we used to do word problems in math. but now we’re only doing pure math problems. i guess it’s saying that even the reduction of a word problem into a math problem would be too difficult.

the obvious problem now is that there is an inability to fully comprehend the difficulty of the problem you’re dealing with. and you can’t even explain your frustration because so few people will understand you.
i use the towers of knowledge from TOK as an analogy.
when you were young, you looked up from the medieval italian plaza and saw a clock tower. you knew you could get there.
eventually, you got there. but now you realize there’s another tower next to it that you couldn’t see before that is even taller.
the scary thing is, it goes up so high into the clouds, you can’t see the top.
and you just keep going, keep climbing.
it’s frightening, it’s frustrating, because you can’t see the top. no matter how much you climb, there’s no reference to how much more you need to know to reach the top.
my professor said maturity is when you just stop being afraid of that knowledge. you climb regardless.
you feel like a big balloon with all this information. but when you learn this new thing, another new thing, things start to compress.
it’s analogous to going up the tower and looking down. you forget how much you’ve actually climbed. in your mind, 100m is no different form 90m, the magnitude of comparison starts to change. and things slowly compress.
and at some point that knowledge that took up a whole book will now be demonstrated by one formula only.
it’s a compression process like the earth slowly compressing all of earth back into rocks and elements.

i think about the world and why often offspring of professors end up back in academia.
children brought up in such households grew up with a mentality of being less afraid. that is why.
and suddenly, i realize the context of the unfairness of the world i’ve been talking about.
the contribution of scientists to our world, Tyson, Hawking, Newton, Einstein: they deserve the pay the top 1% make.
their contributions to our world are immeasurable.

when you finally reach the top, finally see the top, you see that it’s actually an unfinished clock tower.
you’re building the tower now.
when you’re at the boundary where no one knows anything anymore, most frightening and most exciting.

i guess i have to stop looking at it this way, stop looking down and comparing what i’ve done. i have to learn to look up and simply stop being afraid.
and slowly everything i’ve learnt will slowly compress itself.

the most frustrating class i’ve ever taken in my life is e&m.
because here, there is no physical intuition,
my apma professor said the only way to understand it is to create a cartoon world for your axioms and rebuild it.

i think i’ve really hit my limit this semester. every waking moment i spend is working. and when i’m not working it’s because i literally can’t work anymore.
it’s like a ceiling on what i can do, and i can’t go any further.
hitting that brick wall.
you just have to slug through i guess. (i’m going to ask collette about this.)
i’ve been slugging through, but i think coming back from thanksgiving, i just decided i had had enough.
copy of what i sent to collette for advice:

Dear Mr Collette,

I hope this e-mail finds you well. I don’t know if you remember this but at some point during the two years of HL Chem, you talked about your college experience. You talked about how high school was easy but when you got to college, you hit a brick wall at some point. You felt like you reached your limit and could no longer move past it. I feel like I’m at the point with my electricity and magnetism class this semester. What do you do when that happens? Do I have to just extremely painfully push through? I’m two weeks away from Christmas and I don’t want to give up.


but i’m being naive. what could he tell me? there is no magical formula. it’s a test to willpower
he could say it’s difficult not only for you, but for many other people. he could say believe in yourself and he could say don’t be too harsh on yourself.
ultimately, you have to buckle your belt and slug. but be happy that you’re trying your best.

so it’s friday night.
i’ve gotten only three hours of sleep in the last 48 hours. just finished my cs project after starting 2am last night.
didn’t go out or anything.
for what it’s worth, it sucked.
but for what it’s worth, i really tried my best and i think i did ok this time. fingers crossed.
this is the feeling i’ve been looking for. the feeling of not want to eat, sleep, play just because you want to finish something
i guess in the end finishing it became the purpose above all else.
the experience itself sucked but having this feeling made it possible for me to push through
it’s this interest/motivation that i’ve been looking for for the whole semester.
think i’ve found it.

i had a good talk with pascal today (monday following the friday mentioned above)
nothing he said was particularly surprising but i wanted to hear it from him
he told me to stay in cs because it’s one of the most exciting fields right now.
he said there are many people who are not nearly as good as him, copy his work but get paid 3 times as much.
it’s frustrating until you let go off the importance of money. to him, it’s not frustrating at all.
some people’s work are meaningful. some are not. some people rather good pay.
you have to decide on your priorities.
he understands that being chinese and having all this filial duty is important to me.
but you need to give up some things for others.
he told me to do research, work for some lab and do sth what i find meaningful.
i wanted to hear this from him and i glad i asked.

interesting to think that i’ve felt better and less stressed this week than i have in the past two months.
it’s a combination of i don’t care anymore, it’s finally coming to an end and a change in attitude.
nothing is ever difficult in the sense that there’s someone out there doing the same amount and not stressed out.
rather than comparing yourself and belittling yourself, it’s better to say that it’s possible.
attitude is one thing, the second thing is getting into a routine. practice makes perfect
we always comment on how professors are but i’m sure they were once ignorant and depressed and sad about the difficulty of their work.
i look at zia and look at how he just puts all those equations on the board. yea, he’s smart but that’s also crystallized intelligence, product of years of dedication to science.
at some point, they realized the only way to get good is to practice regardless of the costs.
and knowledge is compressed bit by bit every time you learn something new as i said above.
so i manged to tie everything together.

and i’ve sort of crystallized my decision on computer science after talking with pascal.
research apparently is an open door for me according to him.
but i think i’m over-estimating myself. at end of the day, i’m the most impatient person ever.
i like results which is why computer science is cool. research seems to be one of those it takes forever things again.

it’s that dedication that pushes you to put in those hours.
but i think that dedication all originates from the same place, for pascal, for Chirilus-Bruckner, for zia:
which are perfectly summed up in the words of steve jobs.

When you grow up you tend to get told the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money.
That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.
Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.

there’s a purpose to all that work, whether you think of it as a destiny, as a way to make life purposeful, a responsibility for being intelligent.
i think zia understands that, my e&m professor. i tend to be too harsh about him. he knows e&m is difficult and hard so towards the end of the semester, he tried to show us more and more of why we do this. he gave us that motivation. and pascal is just plain awesome. sorry.
this post is getting very long but it’s been a rolling monologue of my thoughts that all share the same theme so i want to keep it that way.

tldr: choose a field that you like and stick to it.


infinitessimaly small

Logic is not flawed.
Empirical reasoning is.
The only sense of judgement we have is our feelings.

If we are to accept the basic premise that we are in fact not masters of the universe
Even if we are God’s loved ones, it still doesn’t mean we will survive.
Then, everything that we manage to accomplish will be an achievement.
Our world view would be an optimistic one.

Religion to a large degree is man made
Sprinkled with homo-centered thinking.
If god is impartial, then we will have sinned
Even if loves us, it still does not mean we will be sparred
Even if he does, that would be a huge gift from him.

We only have the final premise that God loves us and has forgiven us
But by what logic he reached that is unknown.

what i’m trying to get at here is really one thing.

from my comparative literature on Paradise lost, an epic on John Milton’s view of Christianity, which i kind of dislike because people discuss religion, God like they own it, like they can control it. i think we need to realize we are much smaller than we think we are.

from my experience this year as a college freshman realizing that you are really only responsible to yourself, by that i mean your desires, your dreams. don’t do things to compete. don’t do things to compare. do them because you feel you have to do them.

from a conversation just now that happened in my room with a few friends where we were discussing that we should always reconsider we are doing. we should never do things society, people tell us to do and end up living an unhappy life. part of our job is to show society that what we’re doing is fine, fine for us, fine for them.

from something my mentor told me about a feeling of relief when he realized that he didn’t need to live a perfect life. now, i understand it. i am not the shit. we are not the shit. we don’t have to live life so stressed out about making the right decisions all the time. make wrong decisions, go down the wrong path. that’s what living life is about.

from JL’s inspiration of seeing Saturn with his own eyes. now, i understand that since we are so small, to be able to understand so much about this universe we are in, to be able to see a celestial body so far away with man made instruments with our naked eyes is truly a testament to, even if little, achievement of mankind.

wow. that feels great, to be able to sum of everything i’ve understood, realized and felt in the past month into this little blog post. thanks

thank you lizzie

i feel like it’s the first time i’m at a foreign place again
the unfimilarity, foreigness is there.
and i wish to exploit it, to end my semester spectacularly. but i can’t cause i’m in the middle of swamped work. tired to death and stressed out.
talking to people about it makes me realize i don’t actually like school that much, and it seems to me that i would enjoy myself in other places more.
i have no clear plan anymore, just a lost compass spinning uncontrollably


i realized it’s not important to get anything long lasting from something. there’s not always a purpose A in the form a of a tangible result Z from an event B.
getting experience, a memory is equally as good as getting something else, like a friendship or a relationship.

it took me a bunch of awesome people, a trip to ecaudor, 18 years of living to finally wrap my head around this, something my mentor had started telling a few years ago about how he realized he didn’t have to strive to live a perfect life because of his “bucked tooth” incident.

and i realize that. i am not important, only am infinitesimally speck in the boundless cosmic universe. my cosmic existence is not tied to fate, not tied to a deity. there is not a greater reason of existence than a reason to want to live. so from here on, i am responsible for my own life, doing thing only i feel should be done, and see where that takes me.

looking at 1-8

i’m sorry for this extremely long hiatus.

i have been writing but just haven’t been publishing them, storing them as unfinished pieces, unpolished sculptures on my disk, waiting till a day like today, where i felt sick last night and much better after a 9 hour sleep.

i haven’t posted since the end of february.

looking at these 8 posts, which more or less are ordered in terms of date written, i myself see a general change in behavior over them.
from depression, to frustration, to spring break, to acceptance, to realization.
i wonder if it’s spring, i wonder if it’s just general realization.

it could be lots of things.
but i’m glad i’m on this side looking back now, instead of the other side looking forward.