The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
I felt bad when I saw Anna’s reaction (she just nodded and looked the other way), as I understood why she felt betrayed - she had opened to me with some of her most intimate secrets (these things that she told me were apparently true) and I had given her nothing in return. “Sorry, I really couldn’t think of anything else to say. Besides, you know, I am kinda sick of having to constantly defend my actions!” and then having nothing else to say, I kept exposing my hatred towards having to explain myself to everyone, till that was I that I wanted to talk about.
“I am a little sick, because no one asks you to defend yourself when you are making the conformist choice,” I said, “a friend who would be 100% behind you all the time, provided that you are doing the same thing as them will turn into your biggest enemy if you drift from the path that they had ascribed to you.”: I remember, for instance, when my parents (both college graduates, with careers in academia) learned that I had decided that I want to drop college: “But you only have a year.” “What are you going to do instead?” (asked with a grave tone, grave up to the point that it makes you forget that there were, of course, an infinite amount of things that I could do, tone that went to show that the very consideration of the possibility of me leaving school was derogatory for their very selves. And every answer to their question that I could give them made things worse.
“Maybe I can start some small business?” - “What business?” “But you don’t know anything.” “Where you will get money from?”
“Perhaps I can do some traveling?” - “You will only waste your time!” “It’s dangerous” etc. But at no point of my life (and most probably in theirs too) had they ever looked with such critical eye to the act of getting a university degree, at no point did they realize that studying comes with expenses in terms of money and time which have altered many people’s lives for the worse, that it forces you to make a career choice at an age when you are not really ready for it (or perhaps that’s a good thing for them (as the choice is largely theirs), I don’t know), that it generally restricts your array of interest etc. Probably this is why colleges are filled with people who have even less incentive than me to study than me.
And it’s the same with marijuana, isn’t it? Because the use of the drug isn’t customary in our society (or even we can say that it is customary, it is just not culturally accepted), all kinds of weak arguments against it appeal to the general public, like the concept of it being a “gateway-drug” that drags people into doing other more dangerous drugs. Not only is this argument an instance of a the “correlation implies causation” statistical fallacy (that my parents who had both studies statistics are very much aware of) but what are those more dangerous drugs they are talking about anyways? We had at least two relatives who died of alcohol abuse, and many more who were alive but reduced to little more than robots/zombies who only think about how to get drunk. And still they never discouraged me from drinking in any way, nor were they in any way ashamed to do it in front of me or anyone else.
You might say that it is just that those people don’t know anything about marijuana and so they naturally get scared, as the unknown is always scary - this explanation is true, but incomplete, as those same people are quite capable of acquiring enough information about many other potential threads in order to be able to, if not asses them, at least make an educated guess about their seriousness. So why do they choose to make an uneducated guess instead? For me the answer must lie in the way that their (our) whole worldview is organized, it probably has something to do with all those dichotomies that we use all the time - perceiving the world in terms of contrasts (black and white, pleasant and unpleasant, fair and unfair) naturally makes us believe that there must be something that contrasts with our own self, like because there is an opposite of everything, we naturally think that there exist something that is the opposite of us, opposite to our very identity, and this belief makes us naturally search for it and identify it in things that we know to be bad, but are also not extremely bad, as we don’t consider our identity extremely good). These things become our taboos, the things that we don’t want anything to do with.
And for that reason people who do like these things have to assume them as part of their identity in order not to feel shameful about them. When you think about it, the whole weed-smoking subculture with their (our) distinct symbols, music etc. seems like a support group for people who are drawn towards a thing that everyone else chooses to reject and want to live like this without shame.
“Case in point - your remark that nobody starts buying weed on their own,” At the middle of my thoughts I suddenly found a way to engage Anna in the conversation again and quickly took it, “Apparently this is just because people don’t dare rejecting the established preconceptions about this drug without someone else holding their hand while doing so.” I admit that I said that last part with a bit of pathos, as if I had done something a little bit more brave that what I actually did, although for me it was brave (I am glad that there isn’t some security footage of my meeting with the dealer as, in spite of the low quality of security cameras, the way my legs were shaking would have been clearly visible). I said it like I expected that Anna were super into it as I imagined she were, but she actually reacted in the reverse way - she turned her head in the opposite direction and started looking and Alex and Cathy who at that time were probably kissing and grabbing each other’s bottoms, she was still smiling but her smile looked partly like she was trying to be polite and partly like she was just laughing at me. “This is stupid!” I continued, “It should not be like this. Everyone should feel free to act as they please.”
“I agree,” Anna replied “But were you really free? Or were you just trying to strike a pose?”,
This remark got me thinking of that day and of what I was really thinking before buying that cigarette. My motivation was really hard to pinpoint because of what happened shortly after buying it - I was caught smoking it, was taken to the principle and met with a thousand other people (teachers, parents, friends etc.) all of whom had their idea of what I was thinking, and some of whom were so sure that they understand me better than I understand myself that they got me confused by saying things like “Don’t be hard on yourself, I am sure that there is a reason why you did it, probably your family is dysfunctional?”, or by claiming that that is the wrong way to impress this and that person whom I didn’t even think would be impressed (I kinda had a crush on girl who got me the cigarette, but my attempts to smoke weed were to her probably cute, but hardly impressing (you wouldn’t be impressed by someone who does once something that you are doing every day)). It felt as if those people weren’t looking for an explanation, but just wanted to reaffirm what they already thought was happening, and their desire to be correct (most of them were somewhat correct, but that’s a quite different thing) was so strong that I almost felt I’d disrespect them if I didn’t use their explanations instead of mine (it is amusing how willing people are to forgive anyone anything, provided that they understand their motivation). What was bugging them was not the harm that the drug might inflict on me, but the fact that by taking it I had drifted away from their conceptions as to what is normal and now they really wanted to get me back there.
But I felt that none of these explanations mattered to Anna and I already suspected that most of them would not matter for me as well, as I was already starting to forget some of them on my first day. This felt liberating - for the first time my explanation did not have to sound like a defense that had to appeal to people who, without it, would have dismissed me as an outcast, nor an excuse that I had to offer to those who were disappointed with me to make myself likable (although at that time I was so bad at making myself likable that I didn’t even attempt to do that). It just had to provide the explainer’s viewpoint on the event in question, hopefully described in a way that is somehow useful for the listeners, for if you think about it, all explanations are (and can be) nothing more than that. Even in mathematics if you take abstract concepts like the concept of group-like objects (monoid, group, category etc.) as an example, they are just perspectives that some people had when thinking about other objects and that others then chose to adopt. But none of this happened by force, and nor my teachers and parent’s attempt to force me to embrace their perspectives for my own deviation wasn’t in any way successful, even with my eager cooperation (after failing to confront to the stereotype of a “good kid”, I thought I’d at least be able to be a “troubled teen” which, to my surprise was equally exhausting). After I’d swept away everyone else’s interpretations, my actions seemed to me as clear as can be and without any need for further justification, like a natural phenomenon.
“How it happened? Well, I had already knew from who to buy weed for a few months, and where to buy it. I didn’t necessarily liked them but subconsciously I must have been compelled to try hanging out with them. One day our PE teacher was out and we had a few hours free which (atypically) I had no idea how to spend, and when I glanced at the benches next to the yard as I was exiting school I saw them (they were always the exact same people and in almost the same configuration) and I approached to say hi to the girl that I knew. While making the steps I wondered what would I do if they offered me to smoke with them, I had my motives to reject it (addiction, brain damage resulting from long-term use), but nevertheless when I enumerated them I felt that what was stopping me from trying wasn’t any of them, it was just fear, a kind of fear that I felt was more harmful than the effects, and I realized that I was already seduced to try it, and so my hesitance to do so was just some preconceptions that were going against my own desires. So when I reached my friend, I asked her if she would sell me weed. My request got everyone laughing at me, as it knew it would. I acted offended in reality I didn’t mind - I wasn’t trying to be cool, nor to appeal to them or to everyone else. I just wanted to explore this thing which I found interesting, in the same way as I explored everything else.”
I made a pause to gather my thoughts and stared back to Anna whom I had almost forgotten I was speaking to, but who was nevertheless still listening to me with what it looked like fascination. I made up my mind about what I wanted to say next, but didn’t proceed, as she (although silent) looked like she wanted to tell me something. I stared back to Alex and Catherine for a few seconds and then back at her to give her time.
“OK, I think I am ready to sleep with you!”
The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
Meeting my roommate Alex / Picking friends / Who am I / How switching places would solve both of our issues
Hallway Church and Turing / Being stupid
X Nerd stereotypes / How I got my nickname / Establishing connection with my younger self
Good company Social code / Anna / Catherine
Fence Outside / Not being punished / Discreet and continuous models
Outside This or nothing / The moon / Fractals / Me and Alex / Explanations / Is the world mathematical
What are we in for Anna's kinky alter ego / Marijuana
What are we in for contd The conformist choice / Taboos / Dichotomies /Marijuana
Back to the facility Anna and Cathy / Trying to be like other people / Sleeping with Anna
The sleepover Anna's childish behavior / Critics / Boring robots / Adoring Anna
The sleepover contd Irony / Heroes and deserters / Retreat to where? / Real and ideal / Choices
Us and them The uncut book pages / Envy
Sex Anna's fantasy / What makes us weird / The establishment and being normal
Cigarettes Alex's good night sleep / About me and Alex again / Sex and love / The proof that P does not equal NP