A MIND FOREVER VOYAGING THROUGH STRANGE SEAS OF THOUGHT, ALONE


This is my second blog.

My first blog chronicled my experiences over three years caring for my dad as he lived through and finally died from Alzheimer's. That is the book that is for sale.

This second blog kind of chronicles of life, what it is like to start your life over in your late 50's. After caretaking, you are damaged, file bankruptcy, and the world doesn't care what you did. After 8 months of unemployment, you wake each day knowing the world doesn't want you. Finally you do find a job, 5 weeks before homelessness, but doing what you did 30 years ago and getting paid what you did 30 years ago. So this is starting over.



The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Monday, February 10, 2014

P=NP

Sometimes, I wish my brain would be able to take a vacation.

I read a novel last week, Simple Genius by David Baldacci.  I like some of Baldacci's books, though they trend along that line of ex super soldiery types with troubles who saves the world while dealing with not being breast fed as a kid.  And Simple Genius travels along similar lines, except the troubled person is a chick, which is different.

But at some point during the book, fairly early on, the lead male protagonist, also an ex Secret Service agent but not nearly as troubled unless being a neat freak who can't deal with his emotional attraction to his partner, the troubled chick, counts as troubled; is meeting with this scientist who is showing him around and he asks about the sign P=NP.

Basically, P represents deterministic polynomial time and NP is a non deterministic polynomial time.  The goal of the scientists was to find the golden chalice, the Ark, the fountain of youth of mathematics - the equation that makes what appears non deterministic, deterministic.

So I finished the novel, the whole time this little less than a page discussion burning a hole in my brain.  Something in here bothered me, I'm not sure what, because I really don't understand it.

The argument is that all NP problems are really P problems, they just haven't figured out the equation, but once they do, then it will work across all sorts of applications and environments.  Polynomials are like 5x + 3yz = A.  Deterministic polynomials are considered 'easy' from a mathy point of view.  Predictable answers in a predictable time. Non deterministic polynomials are not 'easy', not predictable, and unknown times.

But all this has spun around my brain for about a week now, I need to get rid of it so I can think about other things, like preparing for my job, figuring out where to move when lease is up and balancing filing Chapter 7, how to pay the lawyer, and do all that without screwing one or all of it up.  Instead, I've got this polynomial thing knocking around the skull.

I think, the key words in this problem, are deterministic and non deterministic; this is where the paradox lies.  I remember as a psych major arguing endlessly with profs and other students about Skinner's Law of Determinism.  Skinner was a really strange fellow; I've always thought his book Walden II was the scariest of all the futuristic books; scarier than 1984, This Perfect Day, or Brave New World.  Why?  Because with Walden II, unlike the others, you have a book written where the author endorses, believes in, and desires this future he paints.  Skinner thought given enough information, all future behavior is predictable - deterministic.  Even spontaneous behaviors would be predictable because the person has a history of spontaneous behavior.  And if you can't find the variables and stimuli that produces predicted behavior in the persons history, it's because you haven't looked far enough or close enough at the history of behaviors and environmental stimuli.

That borders on faith, which I always argued.  It is there, you just haven't found it is faith.  But there is also an evil in Skinner's work.  If all future behavior is predictable based on past behavior, including spontaneous acts, then a person who did illegal things as a youth could be predicted to do them as an adult and what of a society where we start dealing with others not on what they did but what is predicted that they do when their entire lives are now online, billions of events and variables of your life bouncing around some database and the algorithms decided that it's highly probable that you will do X next week, given current conditions.

Deterministic polynomial = non deterministic polynomial.  There is a key assumption here from a mathematician; that all NP problems are really P problems, therefore, there exists a solution.  But what if that assumption is wrong?  Can humans alway be deterministic?  Can we be fit into a model?  Maybe as a culture; you could say middle class white people brought up in suburbs will in general behave differently than black youths brought up in housing projects by six generations of welfare lifers, which will be different than kids raised on farms which will be different than children brought to this country as illegal aliens and raised in America, who will be different than legal immigrants who are brought to this country as kids.  But here is the problem with such generalizations; you can apply them to a group, generalize, and be fairly accurate (pay close attention to the word fairly) - but the moment you apply that generality to any specific individual, you will find many errors in the generalization.  Models work on a macro level, not on the micro level.

People surprise us all the time.  The problem isn't in the person, it's in the model you or I created, developed, categorized, and placed that person.  It is always the model that is wrong, not the person.  How many relationship problems are caused by the man not fitting the mental model of the other female's ideal?  And visa versa.  Yet we move further and further in a society that models, categorizes, and develops deterministic algorithms to put each person in their respective silos.  Individuals are not ever going to fit in a deterministic model.  Mankind might, but not the individual.  Man was not meant to fit any any silo.

Look at the examples of the ramifications of this movement.  Zero tolerance.  A deterministic model to reduce bad behavior in schools.  Zero tolerance of weapons.  So the straight A student is in the lunchroom, pulls out a flimsy plastic knife to spread peanut butter on bread and is expelled.  Or the Eagle scout who was camping over the weekend and didn't clear out his trunk of the camping equipment and has an axe or scout knife in the trunk and is expelled.  Is that what the deterministic model was designed to do?  Actually, yes, it was.

What are a few innocent people having their lives ruined for the betterment of the school as a whole?  Somewhere along the line, we decided as a society that it is unfair to not expel the Eagle Scout and expel the gang member who has a knife too.  No difference between Scouting and the White Nazi KKK kid.  Both are gangs, both have weapons.  It may not have been the intent of the Zero Tolerance, but it was a known result.

And that has been what is bugging me.  The continued effort to force round pegs into square holes.  The continued effort to force non deterministic life into a deterministic model.  And unlike zero tolerance's known result would be innocent kids being caught in the net, there are many more examples of unanticipated consequences from trying to force individuals into a strict deterministic model.

God was smart, don't you know.  Thou shalt not steal.  Plain, simple and understood.  Everyone understood.  And we understood intent.  Sometimes when I shop, I like to drink a bottle of water as I cruise around the store.  Lots of times, if I have a basket, I'll put the bottle in my coat pocket as I walk about the store.  Once, I forgot and checked out without paying for the water.  I got all the way out to the car, realized I had the bottle in my coat pocket,  and went back in to pay for the water.  But what if I was caught at the door?  Was I stealing or just having a senior moment?  In our deterministic model of the world, intent no longer has a place, it is theft just as if I went in to that store determined to fill my pockets with whatever would fit.

Is this all part of why we all feel so uncomfortable in the world today?  Is this why Andy Griffith's show is still the most popular rerun on TV?

We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won as we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home
And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it
I don't have to fear it

And I want to rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And magnificently we will fold into the mystic


Van Morrison