Day 11: Buckets
“I get buckets” — Uncle Drew
In the last three and a half hours in which I’ve been putting together some of these blog posts, I have been bitten by mosquitoes 97 times.
This puts my odds of contracting malaria at approximately 37.6%. There’s a good chance that this is goodbye, so thanks for reading. I also apologize for any typos, I’m typing with one hand so I can scratch and write simultaneously.
This is the story of how we got Lost in Chiang Mai’s. Why the capitalization and pluralization? Because a Lost in Chiang Mai isn’t an experience or a clever metonymy for a journey of self-discovery, it’s this:
Actually, I take that back. Finishing one of those is totally a journey of self-discovery.
But, I get ahead of myself. Rewinding quickly, we (the entire squad of 6) left Bangkok and flew into Chiang Mai for the princely sum of $40 a person. To all future travellers reading this blog post: if a flight costs $40 dollars, don’t do it. I ended up having to pay more than twice that in “service fees” and checked bags.
Thankfully, Chiang Mai operates at a completely different pace than Bangkok. Situated in the heavily forested, mountainous terrain of northern Thailand, it manages to retain an element of local small-town charm while still very much catering to the tourist population. We were staying in a home that we had rented from Carlos, who I’m certain is the only person on the planet who speaks both Spanish and Thai proficiently.
Obligatory “we ate a lot segment”:
Temporarily sated, we set out to explore the “Old” inner city of Chiang Mai. The Old City area still has vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center, and is home to supposedly hundreds of temples. Armed with a couple of bottles of water and killer smiles, we embarked on our Wat-hopping adventure. Here’s some of the stuff we saw:
Remember how we ran into those guys from Stanford in a Taiwanese museum a few days ago? Well I managed to rationalize the odds of that happening a little. Until this happened:
This is Debha. We we were both Stanford Bioengineering ‘14. I’ve decided that all these people we’re running into are just spies that my mom has been sending to make sure we’re alive, there’s no other explanation for how this is possible.
We had no major plans for the day, so we tried to figure out what the stupidest possible thing we could do in Chiang Mai was, and then we did it. Don’t worry, we’re all still more or less alive.
Later that evening, by some other minor miracle, I ran into a guy who I had met at the border crossing from Cambodia to Thailand. He informed us that the place to be at night in Chiang Mai was a bar named “Zoe in Yellow,” and so of course, we had to go tear things up.
I think it’s best that I just end things there. In the unlikely event I run for political office, I think it’s best that the night’s shenanigans stay off the internet. Let’ just say that a few buckets later, we were more than successfully Lost in Chiang Mai.
It’s been a little while since I’ve written anything semi-formal, but a recent short essay got me thinking, so I’m going to try and collect my thoughts here. Forgive me if it’s a bit opaque.
“In mathematics and theoretical computer science, we read research papers primarily to find research questions to work on, or find techniques we can use to prove new theorems.”
This is why figuring out an elegant, limited, and powerful set of mathematical models which apply to multiple domains, and then devoting effort to simplifying, organizing, and explaining those ideas in an accessible way is so important.
Incentives for researchers are mostly to push and prod at the boundaries of a field, but in my opinion mathematical ideas are only of marginal value in themselves; more important is the way they help us understand and interact with the physical universe. For that, building communities, codifying our understanding, and making it accessible both to newcomers and to outsiders is the most important task for a field, and perhaps for our society generally.
Just like with software projects or companies, the most “success” comes from helping a range of other people solve their problems and extend their abilities, not from making technically beautiful art projects for their own sake (not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those).
Perhaps more generally, while theorem proving has overwhelmingly dominated pure mathematics and related fields for the past 80–100 years, and has been an important tool since Euclid, theorem proving is only one way of approaching the world, and in my opinion is a mere tool, not an end in itself. Just like simulation is a tool, or drawing pictures is a tool, or statistical analysis is a tool.
I like this bit from Feynman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaUlqXRPMmY
Even if you didn’t read any of the words I wrote, watch the video.
Here’s the original essay that got me thinking:
I have to apologize because this is not the normal sort of question for this site, but there have been times in the…mathoverflow.net
As always, thanks for reading. Let me know how you’re doing at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org!