As the presentation of an idea gets exact, it gets dull and bore

Background: My roots are in Hindu intellectual class. Along with many other intellectual pursuits, I also write poetry.

Today I am writing about representation of ideas and associated boredom.

Often I think that human race has got representation of ideas in reverse order.

***

Take for example the time it took to reach to prose composition.

Structurally speaking prose is simpler than poetry. There are no meters or rhymes to worry about.

Yet, earliest poetry dates back to Rig Veda but fictional prose is recent.

Why did this happen? There could be many reasons. I can think of a handful of them – and you may please add more:

  1. Exactness – In general, prose is capable of communicating ideas more exactly than a poetry. That also means prose is more “bore” than poetry. A poet can escape without detailing or leaving ambiguity. While ambiguity is pretty much a beauty of poetry, it is nearly undesirable in prose
  2. Aesthetics – Poetry, especially metered one, could be sung and accompanied by music. Prose (and a lot of modern poetry) can’t be. Thus, poetry could find more royal patronage
  3. Memorization – This one is important from civilization point of view. Our brain can recite hundreds of lines of poetry without fault, in a pseudo-familiar language. I bet even I can’t recite this one point written in prose, written by me, without fault
  4. Learning – As readers of this blog are aware, I am a human language enthusiast. My friends try to teach me their language (Telugu, Kannada, Sanskrit and Tamil) through grammatical structures. I insist on learning songs first. “Songs? Lullabies? Rhymes? You WON’T understand a thing in them! It is hard to understand a normal sentence in my language for you today!” they say. But once they agree on teaching me songs, they are amazed at the speed poetry and music combo get into my – and other by-standers’ brain

But look at the other side of it.

Writing poetry is a non-trivial challenge. Suppose the very same idea here has to presented in meters, I can’t compose it in-between two meetings like this paragraph.

Composition of poetry is so difficult, I could compose a few hundred poems in my mother tongue, Gujarati but I have composed very few in Hindi (my second language) and none in English (my third language).

Contrast this with my prose activity. This blog is running in English, or something that resembles English. You can understand this representation without much difficulty. You will find me joking in languages that I don’t know fully – or even I don’t completely understand – Gujarati, Hindi, English, Urdu, Telugu, Sanskrit, Kannada, Punjabi, Marathi, Bengali, Farsi, …

That means, ideas are easier to communicate in prose. Exactness is higher.

***

Then take a step forward from prose to accounts and tables.

My father, who is a humorist and an essayist, and hence a master prose writer, once claimed “I don’t like writing tables and counting cells like a clerk.”

That means tables are a step farther drier than prose.

While non-fiction prose like trade agreements and treaties existed for a long time, table making activity was limited to account books and astronomy.

It was not until Renaissance and scientific revolution that accountancy, double-entry accounting systems, logarithm tables, statistics, periodic table in chemistry and astronomy catalog came into being. Later, interestingly, spreadsheets were the reason why Graphical User Interface (GUI) became so popular!

But look at the advantage of written structured records!

Tables and numbers speak so loud, it is impossible to ignore them. Rather, tables come biting you!

Take for example, my body-building activity. For progressing fast for nearly one and a half year, my weight-lifting seemed stagnated. Last month, I got an idea. I bought an attendance register for INR 30/- and wrote down all exercises I carry out against a triplet of (weight, repetitions, sets). My gym instructor was laughing at this pedantic way of taking records. But to his surprise, he realized that he kept forgetting my last benchmark weight lift 30% of time! After the introduction of the register, my progress is both – fast and assured. Just within two rounds, some of my muscles are lifting 20 kg instead of 10 kg! Tables speak VERY LOUD.

The register looks very bore when compared to my prose resolution, though! 😦

My resolution is very colorful: “I hereby resolve to be able to lift my wife on my biceps and lats, do a hand-standing and carry out 20 pull-ups by Valentine’s day 2016.”

***

Let me digress a little:

Students of mathematics would associate a table with a graph, and hence a tree.

Trees were limited to genealogy in past. The next famous example in my mind is directly taxonomy of life forms.

***

Now compare the challenge of writing a prose post versus writing a table. I can probably summarize the whole post as:

Boredom, Exactness

==============

Poetry

Prose

Tables

Equations

Programming, Structured

Programming, Object Oriented

***

Let me digress a little again!

Tables usually and accounting invariably refer to “continuous and evenly flowing time”.

If you look carefully, We Hindus have often failed at keeping exact prose record of events (history) against continuously and evenly flowing time. There are genealogies and tables in our civilization but China and West can beat us by miles! Radical Islamist thinkers even derides Hindu history as “dateless history of Brahmins”. Shamefully speaking, we Hindus have more calendars and more ways of measuring time than probably the whole world put together. There are panchangas and meetis and half a dozen new years in a normal year!

Modern calendars are far from being exact or convenient or logical. However, non-receding, non-jumping nature of time (absence of vRuddhis and kShayas) and absence of ambiguity and numbers (like shukla and kRuShNa pakShas) is definitely more exact – and more bore.

***

Coming to back to the track, prose is beaten by yet another presentation – equations.

Mathematics, and hence physics and engineering has been very precise. So precise that you entrust your life to it by sleeping under a roof in the night!

The power lies in equations!

I remember one of my lessons in “History of Scientific Ideas” taught at IIT Kanpur. Being able to express geometry, rate and accumulation as equations was hailed as cornerstones in the history of science.

Then Gauss and others could express the gist of tables in form of statistical equations.

My financial adviser was observing the other day: “I don’t know how my son who is a mechanical engineering student, can stare at those equations for hours together! I often tell him to go out and get some life!”. Then he turned pages of Insurance Rate table with great interest. My father chuckled. My grandmother, a poetess, might have laughed from the heaven at both!

That is one more step to boredom and exactness, isn’t it?

***

Then I remember my mathematician neighbor in Hyderabad, Dr. C.N. Kaul. He was fascinated at computer science but didn’t exactly like programming. According to him it was detailing.

Let me drag equations to physics for an example. Aren’t Maxwell’s equations beautiful?

But what about a program simulating Maxwell’s equations?

Between (analog) equations and (digital) programs, the balance of exactness tilts back to (analog) equations.

Still, that very detailing of equations called a program, in which

  • limits to an integration (or a curl)
  • instruction to integrate (or to curl)
  • the function to integrate (or to curl) and
  • the specification of the variables on which to integrate (or to curl)

ALL appear in a single line is very dull, very bore – and VERY productive. Even machines can manipulate such boredom!

***

And at last, some of my C programming friends don’t like Object Oriented programming.

Object Oriented programming is “bore” as per them.

Yes, it is bore. It represents the computation in the language of the problem domain. It is less succinct than and looks less elegant than a small, clever program of prolog (and a nicely written mathematical equation, a nice table, this paragraph and a haiku).

But then look at the generality it addresses! If a class is defined in one way, that the end of the world for its behavior! That exactness leads to the boredom of presentation.

Correct my following understanding please:

Mathematics had to be expanded to Type Theory to solve Russel’s paradox. Object Oriented Programming has roots in Type Theory.

***

For sure in above line of arguments, a lot of claims are unsupported, unproven, biased and/or plainly wrong or misleading.

For example, someone once told me that symbolic mathematics can’t be carried out using Object Oriented Programming.

Also, I understand somewhere the narrative is probably misleading the reader that “detailed is bore” and then breaks down between prose and tables.

I request you to criticize this post with rigor and give me counter-examples.

In the meanwhile, I need to write a poem for my wife, who is angry on me for not clearly communicating our vacation plan.

No class, no program, no equation, no tables and trees, no paragraph will work instead! 😦

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2 comments on “As the presentation of an idea gets exact, it gets dull and bore

  1. gnumanth says:

    I strongly feel that the difficulty vs exactness depends on the interpretations in case of prose and poetry. It may sometimes me misinterpreted with exact data like table or programming as well!

    Rig Veda is in poetry to avoid the directness?

    • bhushit says:

      In my view, search for the medium for representation of ideas is an ongoing pursuit of human civilization. Poetry, prose, programs – all are various achievements of the same.
      Risking reviving age old debate between Plato and Aristotle, ideas may never be exact themselves!
      Take for example the concept of mass as understood by physics. Is our understanding of mass now the same as that of Newton or Aristotle? Say after the dark matter mystery is solved, will the understanding of mass remain the same as it is now?
      I think it was Einstein who praised the exactness of equations for the non-ambiguity of it. But then, even mathematics isn’t immune from advancement of ideas. Take for example, how transfinite numbers replaced one concept of infinity.
      Generalizing, any representation of ideas is insufficient to capture any concept as a whole.
      ***
      In this context, I feel like saluting the openness with which this subject was addressed in ancient Hindu thinking.
      Vedas are open to interpretation.
      That is why they were called “aparuSheya” or transcendental.
      There is a lot of ambiguity and scope of interpretation and reinterpretation (and even misinterpretation) in representation of ideas.
      Vedas (probably chhanogya UpaniShad or bruhadaraNyaka upaniShad?) claim:
      ‘parokShapriyaah iva hi devaah’ – gods love the indirectness. [‘tasmaadidandro indro ha vai naamah’ – that is why the name ‘idandra’ became ‘indra’]

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