Subject: Re: Bohr's way
From: Erik Naggum <>
Date: 08 Oct 2002 23:10:26 +0000
Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp
Message-ID: <>

* Charlton Wilbur
| I think the "luck" is in finding a group of competent people, and an
| environment in which competence is valued over self-esteem, without
| having to invest as much energy as one would in creating such an
| environment from scratch.

  Huh?  Value competence over self-esteem?  The whole point is that
  competence produces self-esteem.  Your core belief that you can become
  competent is what makes professional criticism /useful/ to you.  If you
  did not believe you could become competent, it would be hurtful to be
  criticized.  This actually has serious research to back it up.  In the
  book «Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid», the various articles discuss
  how self-esteem and intelligence are related.  In some people, their
  belief in their high intelligence can be disproven by their mistakes or
  their failure to understand something, so they are mortally afraid of
  making mistakes, and never utilize their potential.  In some people,
  their belief in their high intelligence is confirmed when they correct a
  mistake or understand something they previously did not.  I have no idea
  how these core personal beliefs are shaped, but I have noticed something
  quite important about people: Those who believe they are smarter than
  they actually are, tend to feel their beliefs can be disproven, and those
  who are are smater than they think they are, tend to find confirmation in
  grasping complex issues and in making the same mistakes only once.

  As far as I have been able to judge my colleagues over the past 20 or so
  of having dealt with various people in position where I could judge
  competency, those who became the most competent were those who were
  somewhat surprised by what they could do.  There has to be a reward at
  the culmination of every struggle and there has to be a struggle to feel
  worth the reward.  If you start out thinking "of course I can do this!",
  there is no reward when you do, only loss if you do not.  People who
  approach difficult tasks with "let's see what we can find out about this"
  have room for that surprise.  In the book «Moment of Proof»,¹ the author
  does a truly excellent job of presenting the reader with the sheer joy of
  discovering mathematical solutions.  This is valueable to a reader only
  if he has an intact sense of wonder.  Remember that feeling that kept you
  reading science fiction stories, even badly written ones?  That feeling
  that made you go "I wonder what this does" when you came across new and
  unknown things?  Have you ever wondered why you laugh out loud when you
  finally find a solution to a hard problem?  John Allen Paulos has an
  answer to that question, including the mathematics of building up for a
  good punch line.²

| I would consider myself "lucky" to find a group of competent,
| intellectually rigorous fellow music theorists.  To be sure, I could
| *assemble* such a thing, in which case the outcome would be that of hard
| work rather than luck; but finding such a group already assembled would
| save me effort and thus be considered lucky.

  This I can easily accept.

| Feel-good attitudes are short-term; difficult work that accomplishes
| something is long-term.  It does take a certain amount of tenacity and
| foresight to embark on a difficult project, however.

  Good point.  I am one of those people who are hard to console with
  frivolous entertainment when long-term goals are threatened, and who is
  even harder to break when long-term goals are being achieved.  I also
  note that my main argument that my "style" works is that I can refer to
  people who actually come back to me and say it works years down he line,
  while those who argue it does not, only look at the immediate effect.

  Then again, I have had the same .project file since 1987.  "Immortality
  in our lifetime."  It is the only really worthy life-long project.

¹ DDC 511.3; ISBN 0-19-511721-2; LCCN 97052139
  Donald C. Benson
  The Moment of Proof: Mathematical Epiphanes
² DDC 808.7; ISBN 0-226-65025-1; LCCN 80012742
  John Allen Paulos
  Mathematics and Humor

Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway

Act from reason, and failure makes you rethink and study harder.
Act from faith, and failure makes you blame someone and push harder.