Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Smarts.

What makes a person intelligent? Is it their ability in a particular field? Is it seen through their natural gifts? Is it a confluence of their knowledge and life experiences?

Time and time again, I've mentioned that I don't have an appreciation for bullshit. Shit, yes. Bullshit, no. In my extended time at Berkeley and now at Fancypants University, I've run into several types of people. I propose the following categories:

1) Truly bright, No B.S.: This rare group of people are amongst the few that can actually back their words up with action. When they say something, they mean it.

2) Truly bright, B.S.: Surprisingly, this tends to be the most successful class of people I've met. They may be able, but they will often mask their abilities with a clear coat of crap.

3) Mr./Mrs. ROTM: Mr. or Mrs. Run Of The Mill will usually just plow along and get things done.

4) Truly foolish, B.S.: This is the worst of the worst. They don't know what they're talking about so they'll start throwing jargon (like Markov chains) around and blame others if nothing works.

1-3 I have no problem with. Yesterday, a category 4 labmate tried to explain to me that only one point defines a line. One point. I argued, algebraically and geometrically, with this person for an hour. "I'm telling you, two points define a line," I kept saying, "look at the math, for God's sake." In the end, this category 4 genius said he simply isn't convinced. Another labmate walked up to me and said, "Vavoom... everyone knows that you only need one point to define a line."

Back to my original point -- do I have the right to call these people idiots? Maybe they're weak at math. That's okay. Plenty of people are weak at math. Intelligence comes in many forms. Who am I to decide that they're fools? They have skills and talents in other fields. At what point can you proclaim that someone is an idiot? After all, in doing so you negate their intellect.

30 Comments:

Blogger The Disgruntled Chemist said...

Can you please ask them what the line connects that one point to? And then please tell me what their answer was? Seriously, I'm dying to know.

Alternatively, have them draw a (straight) line that starts and ends at one point. If they can do it, nominate them for the Fields medal immediately.

10:15 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

chemist: Yes, I tried all of those arguments. The response was -- "I'm still not convinced."

10:27 AM  
Blogger RT said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:47 AM  
Blogger RT said...

I don't know, I can kind of see where they're coming from... If say, the point is a piece of bubble gum and you streeeetch it out, it's still one point but it now becomes a line also...

*chuckle chuckle*

No seriously, I've always hated the 'i' word because people use it in such a derogatory way. No one knows everything, and by writing someone off as an idiot, it's like saying that they have no capacity to learn.

10:48 AM  
Blogger somewaterytart said...

Interesting you should bring this up, because I've been perusing the literature on Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and I've discovered that through the use of quadrisyllabic words it's possible to convince almost anyone of anything, or at the very least, of one's own credibility regarldless of one's true, measurable intellect. Perfect for intimidating people. Works great at parties.

11:44 AM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

I'm glad that The Chemist linked to you, because I am very weak at math (and I'm currently taking a remedial pre-algebra course at the community college as evidence of said weakness at math), so may I ask you a math question that I am struggling with?

5^0 = 1
42^0 = 1
3548^0 = 1

Can you explain why any whole number to the power of zero equal one? Specifically, I would like to understand why it doesn't equal zero or the whole number itself or an undefined number.

I have a math test tonight and I'm accepting that this is just the way it is, but I would like to understand why it is this way.

Sorry to be off-topic.

12:42 PM  
Blogger John Howard said...

maurinsky, I can't explain why, but an easier way to think of it so it makes more sense is to think of each digit as a power of whatever base numbers your're working with, so in regular plain old base 10 numbers, the ones place is 10^0, the tens place is 10^1, the hundreds place is 10^2 and so on. So anything to the zero power has to be one, in order for you to be able to represent those numbers.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

I am no mathemagician and even I know you need two points to form a line. A single point is a POINT.

Seriously? They weren't convinced when they tried to draw it? How exactly are these people in a graduate level science program if they don't know basic mathematics OR have any logic or reasoning abilities?

I'd call them idiots loudly and often, but then, I'm bitchy like that.

1:23 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Clarification...I would call those particular jackasses idiots, not everyone who has trouble with math...

1:27 PM  
Blogger The Disgruntled Chemist said...

Have you considered that since you're the new guy they might have just been messing with you? If you were working on a research problem or something this isn't too likely, but if the conversation just came up out of nowhere it's something to consider.

I could be wrong, though, since I wasn't there and I didn't experience the conversation. Either way, your labmate seems like kind of a jerk and not a good person to work with.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Rob the Dirty Liberal said...

I think the Chemist is probably right. Those guys were probably just fucking with you. And if they weren't, they should not be working in a science lab.

Oh and John Howard's argument was probably the best you could hope for without using arguments from number theory or limits.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

No. I swear they weren't fucking with me. Just today another guy in the lab started having the same debate with that moron. All of it started when we discussed using more than one iris to align a laser beam. Seriously.

1:58 PM  
Blogger ACPatriot said...

Here's a couple of different ways to understand x^0 = 1:

Assume you don't know what x^0 equals:

x^0 = y

Take the logarhithm of both sides:

ln x^0 = ln y

simplify the left side

0*ln x = ln y

or

0 = ln y

Now, from calculus (I can explain it later if you want), you know that

ln 1 = 0

Therefore y = 1,

So x^0 = y = 1 .

Second argument:

Take x^n. x^n can be thought of as

x*x*x.... n times, or... you can think of it as

(x*x*x*x...)/(x*x*x..) where there are n more x's on the top (numerator) then on the bottom (denominator). In other words

x^n = (x^(n+m))/(x^m)

for n = 0, by the definition above there are 0 more x's on the top then the bottom, so

x^0 = (x^(0+m))/(x^m) = (x^m)/(x^m)
= 1

Hopefully one of those arguments makes sense... of course John Howard's argument may be clearer.

2:09 PM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

DAMMIT! I was just doing the same proof, ACPatriot. Nicely done.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If lines always have to go through the origin then one point defines a line.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Denise said...

What about those who are attuned with their intuition and instinct? Is this intelligence or something more primal?

I suck at math and do not try to come across as smarter than you. I feel this is a waste of time. I want to say much more but I have to go to work now...:(

2:53 PM  
Blogger The Disgruntled Chemist said...

Yeah, anonymous, but the origin is itself a point. It's the point, in fact, in relation to which all other points in the coordinate system are defined.

4:00 PM  
Blogger RT said...

Then again, if you're a Smurf, a point can look very much like a giant circle.

4:07 PM  
Blogger somewaterytart said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:27 PM  
Blogger somewaterytart said...

If you're a Smurf you don't have to wear a shirt because your body temperature is regulated by your big white hat, so you're totally set, giant looming circle or not.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Davydgrey said...

Hey Vavoom have you thought that they are maybe talking about 2 dimensional spaces? In this case a point would be a line, well more like a line construct, but I assume you get the point. : )

5:45 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

I've met plenty of 4's in my life that have been much more successful than the 1's. You have every right to judge them - but by what standards?

I would refrain from judging people aloud as the new guy. My playbook has always been to assume a low profile and simply outshine the 4's with a better product. The rest takes care of itself, albeit not as quick as you'd like.

7:08 PM  
Blogger An80sNut said...

For some reason, I can't get the thought out of my head of asking, "What is the length of this line?" If they can come up with a hypothetical length, we have two points to measure by. If not, they are dealing with abstracts and should be in art class.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Amicus Curiae said...

Ugh. This is why I went to law school. Not that there's less b.s., just less numbers.

9:54 PM  
Blogger RT said...

BTW, I don't mean to sound like a smartass on your blog, Vavoom. It's just, I really don't know enough about mathematics to know if there may be a formula or something for a line... So, rather than being hypocritical by calling someone else an idiot, I just deflect my lack of knowledge with humor :o)

Hope you understand.

11:14 PM  
Blogger maurinsky said...

AC Patriot, thanks for the explanation, but I didn't give you the key information, which is that I am taking remedial pre-algebra, and therefore my brain just checked out completely upon reading the word "logarithim".

A friend of mine gave me the best way to understand it, and that was by using the inverse operation (i.e., division).

And I think I did well on my test, too!

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You can't create a proof about exponentials using a logarithm; it's circular!!

Vavoom, find the most basic geometry book across the street in the FPU science library and leave it his desk.

12:37 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

Ay, my head hurts...

2:45 AM  
Blogger ACPatriot said...

Thanks Vavoom.. mind if I link to you?

Second Anonymous - yeah, I thought about not using logarhithms for that reason... but the cool thing about the natural logarhithm is that it can be defined as an integral function without ever referring to exponentials, so I think my proof is valid.

3:38 AM  
Blogger Vavoom said...

ACPatriot: I'd be honored.

7:24 AM  

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