Some thoughts about hockey and math

I tell people now that if I ever breed hockey would be non-negotiable for my spawn. You know what they say about kindergarten — It feels to me like everything important about life I’ve learned playing hockey — and fairly late at that — I started in my late teens. I’ve learned to hate, I’ve come to yearn for people that think like me, I’ve learned what kind of person I instinctively become, about how we should and shouldn’t approach a task, what is and isn’t admirable, about how much pretension and idiocy there is. I have a lot of issues with hockey’s “implementation” of course, or what people (falsely) think it is, but there seems to me to be a big, glorious and irrefutable idea there. If hockey were Christianity then I’d be a 7th Day Adventist or something (and not Catholic). This glorious idea may not actually be something that young minds can understand, so … I’m not sure how resolute I am in this.

This somewhat random observation comes as I, somewhat randomly, get a chance to reflect on math… I don’t think the whole competitive math circuit has taught me nearly as much. It may partly be an issue of timing — there are some pretty sophisticated ideas in hockey (not strategy or anything, but in a philosophy of life sort of way) that I, at least, could not have understood as an adolescent, I feel. But I realized today just how much I have come to hate the whole community of math, with it’s utter absence, I feel, of reflective thinking. I don’t think I’d encourage participation in my kids — then again, I wouldn’t encourage the whole high school hockey thing either — I loved high school — but the older I get the more negative my attitude towards it becomes … I guess I’m saying that my view of my teenage years is not the least bit nostalgic, which is not to say I didn’t enjoy myself.

Hating math has been an eye opening experience for me, it feels good to be able to say it, like in a cheesy psychological breakthrough sort of way. I always have had a sort of respect for math, what I called “the math problem” (ie, what is math, what does it deal with, etc.) had always been in the back of my mind. Today however I feel ready to dismiss it.

… of course, we always have to make compromises in life, we always need to do things that we don’t find all that pleasant. I think I’ve overhead someone say — “Underemployed? Who isn’t underemployed?” I’ve made plenty of compromises, somewhat different than what others have made. So when I say I’m ready to dismiss it, I guess I’m saying that, while there are a plenty of interesting things to say about math still, dealing with all that would not, you know, be a necessary piece towards enlightenment, but something more resembling labor, something worthwhile in some sense but not all that pleasant.

I actually began to think about math as a sort of break from thinking about what I call “subconscious programming”. This is at once a deceptive yet useful term, since the subconscious is not a thing (like the brain, neurons, or the consciousness is) and there is nothing that physically resembles programming (the writing of code which can then be converted into action onto a substrate) occurs, and yet it points to a set of phenomena that definitely resembles programming on some substance — I’m talking about something which holds communities together, something which one feels one can transmit, some overall coordination in behavior, some coordination in time, causation, and so on — some “heart of darkness” maybe. I will eventually want to talk about the “brutish method” of subconscious programming, I get the impression that the key difference between subconscious and more traditional forms of programming is that the methods seem far more blunt. But anyways, I had mostly been thinking about my recent experience in reading Keats and dealing with the forgotten threshold idea when I got the feeling that my set of examples was too narrow — something like this must be applicable to math, I thought to myself.

Well, now that I hate it, let me try to give a hasty explanation. What I discovered, to my mild surprise, was that it wasn’t really all that hard, and that the mapping (from Keats to math) in fact occurs quite readily. A large part of the difficulty is the way in which mathematicians — or the spokesmen of math, at least, that one tends to be exposed to — tends to obscure the role of the community. There is a community there, and there is a sort of community spirit that guides everything, even if it insists on churning out things in the form of absolute truth. If you feel like something should be true, math is not there to test it or to prove you false — if you feel something to be true then you will discover some system for which it is true, and that process is in fact the most interesting and radical parts of math. There is a sense that math is not falsifiable. The key word here of course is feel — clearly, we don’t mean, “appears”. This is a fascinating question — what does truth feel like? Or what does interesting feel like? — but this is a question that is not fundamentally different from what we were asking with Keats. For one thing, this word “feel” (like the word “subconscious programming”) is at the same time deceptive and useful, we pointed out that it is not an aesthetic sensation but more like a “culmination” — and our task, as we described it two entries ago — was the working out of the fragmented narrative and historical elements of this culmination.




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