30 August 2008

Note to self: crazy 20+ year "intellectual syllabus"

Hello, future self:

Various experts in life-planning suggest that you're much more likely to meet your goals if you write them down. Why does this matter? Who knows. You'd think that having them rattling around in your head would be enough.

Really, I think the important step is coming up with a schedule: prioritizing. After all, we have what, about two hours each night that could be devoted to things like this?

I've thought about what my short-term "personal syllabus" could be, and for the last few months we've had more important family-oriented things to focus on instead. But I imagine that when I turn 40 or 50, I might look back at my young 30s, and wished I had focused on some sort of developmental plan.

Here's what I'm thinking as a purely intellectual list of knowledge-goals. Not interpersonal, not health-related, not financial. Just stuff I'd like to know well.

Fundamental "Thought Patterns"
I'm convinced that math - such as modern algebra - dives the deepest into the most fundamentally bare thought-shapes. It makes you carve away all of the assumptions you didn't know you had. Maybe advanced math is hard because it is so simple. It's hard because it's so easy to jump thoughtlessly to the wrong conclusions...

Abstract Algebra: (Artin? Should start with Maxfield...)
Discrete Math: (Liu)

Essential Math - read or re-read:
The 2-vol Harvard "math for physicists" (Bamberg & Sternberg)
Differential equations (re-do Boyce & DiPrima)
Fourier analysis (Oppenheim or find a copy of Bracewell)
Review your vector calculus
Information Theory / Communication Theory
Maybe, complex variables (Churchill, Needham)

Engineering / Physics / CS
CM / QM (Skim French, then do Griffiths, Shankar)
Control theory
Optimization (Stengel?)
Circuit Design (and RF)
Optical system design (finish the central chapters of Hecht), i.e. lens design (Kingslake, Smith MOE)- and Fourier optics (Goodman)
OS X or XP app dev't
Web app dev't
Complexity / complex adaptive systems (Santa Fe...) / ALife: (Kauffman, Waldrop)

Humanities / the Arts (I hear my friends laughing)
Look @ list of suggested works in the Western Canon
Plenty of contemporary fiction
Stay current in industrial design (I.D.) and graphic design (PRINT)
Color theory
Various biographies
Keep reading up on contemporary art / conceptual art

Analysis (McWilliams)
Games (Berne)

Business / Marketing
Marketing texts, accounting, valuations
Disruptive technologies (Christensen)

Skills / Crafts / Games
Drumming (Morello)
Go (Yoshinori)
machine shop
electronic prototyping and low-volume fabrication (possibly something better than Fab)
photography (get a clue)

World and Business Current Affairs
WSJ / The Week / New Scientist, etc.
(already reading various scientific journals, attending conferences)

This is just a list for me. Now that I've blogged it, there's the aspect of making it public. Priorities? Yaaaak!



Anthony said...

Nice list and refs! But what, no probability theory or stochastic processes? :-)

Jopesche said...

So I'm not sure you're really looking for feedback (nor should you be), but when reading your blog posts there's a whole other intellectual line that I keep wanting you to read. Which you can, obviously, ignore, but I think you'd love and it'd fill your life with a whole new kinda intellectual excitement.

I think you'd get a lot out of the field loosely known as science & technology studies. I've found it really stimulating and exciting. You talk about math opening up different thought-shapes. S&TS sort of does one up on that, giving you the tools to think about why different ways of thinking and knowing and validating different kinds of knowledge matter and in what ways. So yup, math can "make you carve away all of the assumptions you didn't know you had", but STS lets you carve away all of the assumptions that math didn't know it had.

Probably a good place to start would be Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, but I think you'd find things like Latour's Science in Action really up your alley, and maybe Knorr-Cetina's Epistemic Cultures. I'd also throw some more computery versions of the same thing in there: Agre's Computation & Human Experience would I think help explain why these ways of thinking can really help (you) change the world, and bits of the world you care about.

Needless to say, I'm happy to chat more about this with you at some point. In fact, I'd love to. But I'd like to throw this out you as a way to balance out some of the above in a way that I think you'll find initially potentially a bit frustrating, as it'll question a lot of things you've accepted, but ultimately very very fulfilling.

G-Fav said...

Hey guys! Yes, absolutely, I am open to suggestions. I have a fear that this will become a never-fulfilled list, a sort of "collecting books" instead of "reading books" exercise. But hey, 10-20 years is suitably out there that it can't hurt anyone, right?

@Anthony: What do you recommend?

@J 'J': Kuhn? Really? Should I go there? I was considering Snow's "two cultures" (or whatever it's called). I spent a few minutes Amazon-ing your citations. Hmm... what might be the best text regarding carving away math's assumptions? Tell me Kuhn isn't it. I lack the - uh - sociobackgroundology to understand all the vocabulary in the reviews of Latour, for example.

There's are two fields I would like to add to the list, but I'm not aware of good enough books. The first is "emergence." Even the book called Emergence is really weak. The second field might get at your point about math, or perhaps an unspoken point about engineering. I think that reductionism and modular thinking - the tools of team communication - can limit the sorts of things we design. I'm curious about nontraditional modes of design, such as GAs and other "random" or evolutionary product-design methods.

If it were earlier in the day, this comment would be shorter. Please, suggest away.


Matthias said...

Or, you could have a couple of kids instead.

Anthony said...

I was joking in some sense... in that while I think probability is hugely important, I've found most of the technical books out there to be so much junk. But more in line with what J'J' had to say -- I'm reading Taleb's The Black Swan right now, which is kind of a philosophical treatment of probability that calls out regular mistakes in explanation and prediction we all routinely make. I think you might enjoy it!