The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
One evening, a couple of days after my first day at the facility, which I mostly spent in isolation and fruitless attempts to resume my mathematical studies on the child-sized desk located right next to Alex’s bed, Alex came and reminded me about the arrangement that we made when we were out - that I was supposed to sleep in Anna’s room so he and Cathy can sleep together in our room. Alex talked about girls most of the time, so while I was folding my sheets, I asked him whether I should hook up with Anna. “Yes” he said. And then when I pressed him to give me explanation he basically said in a (not very) roundabout way that we both seemed weird to him, and so we will go together, but I didn’t find it very useful - besides the fact that “People that A finds weird” (A being Alex or anyone else) was not an objective category, but one that is inherently related to A, it was also based on a negative predicate (weird, being non-normal), so it was probably an arbitrarily large category, much larger than any category that A would build in a constructive way (like “people that look like my mom” (if Anna is reading this, I swear that there was no hidden meaning in the choice of example)). Still, it (Alex’s response) sounded authentic and honest and because of that - reassuring, to the point that it almost made me want to get together with all people that Alex finds weird, and to feel happy that I met at least one of them.
I went to Anna’s room and we talked a bit, but she seemed distant, like she was copying Cathy’s way of reacting to everything, trying to be witty for no reason and being at the same time shy and over the top with her movements. While I went to my room to pick up my stuff she had put on a very short nightgown, but she seemed to be very uncomfortable in it, constantly pulling the blanket to cover her chest, while taking on impersonal conversations, saying things like “You will meet Jane tomorrow, she is very sweet, a very good person actually.” Watching her, I kept thinking that that was the “real” Anna which I was seeing, when Catherine was gone and, I suspect, because she was gone - she looked innocent and confused, her posture was not offensive but defensive and, above all, she was extremely well-tempered, even stupidly so, more than Catherine or anyone in her social circle would ever care appreciate - her behavior was that of a kid, of someone who was never disappointed, almost like someone who to some extend cannot be disappointed. It’s always strange when someone turns out to be sweet and good when the social masks are off, at first the revelation seems almost scarier than people who are psychopaths underneath, but it is only natural if you think about it. I mean, who has bigger need to wear a mask, a violent psychopath or a gentle little thing like her.
A little remark that she made that sounded similar to something I myself used to say when I was a kid made me want to remember how I felt when I was innocent like her - as a kid (my childhood lasted longer than that of most other people (although not as long as hers)) I was putting a lot of effort to be good to everyone, and to fill the mold (or perhaps the cage) that their expectations consisted of, and I was not giving up for a long time, simply because I didn’t know that giving up was an option. I treated the feedback from older people around me (teachers, parents etc) as the only form of validation that existed, and them, as the only people who knew what it was to be good. But they were not good, and realizing that also made me realize why my efforts to be better were never enough for them, and why their remarks regarding my behavior, were less than favorable no matter how hard I tried - it was because they themselves didn’t have the answers regarding what it was to be good, it was because there were no answers and even if there were some, they weren’t to be found in the collective conscience that they (older people) were representatives of, but were instead personal and perhaps even intimate, as the answers I found in mathematics, or those I felt when I talked to people about, usually, quite different things. In short, I realized that good nature wasn’t provoked by criticism, but by acceptance of how the other person thinks and feels. And realizing this helped me realize that it wasn’t just that the people who criticized me that are never going to be satisfied (something that every child realizes, sooner or later) but that I too wouldn’t feel satisfied by following their advice (something too few people realize AFAIK.) That the only thing that being susceptible to criticism would do for you is to turn you into a critic yourself and to make you grumpy, for a lack of a better word, because, when you think about it, what critics do is not to try to get other people to be better, but rather to make them fit their criteria (i.e to redefine reality so it works in their favor.) And that’s a lost cause for many reasons: one - reality cannot be redefined so easily (even when we are talking about the reality of just your family or your social circle). And two, even convincing everyone that they should think like you, wouldn’t make them really like you e.g. people who are unhappy with this way of thinking would still be unhappy and all that you would be achieving would be shutting down their chance to be fulfilled. Besides, even the most successful critics are still just critics, that is, they just comment on the words and worldviews of other people (most of which probably didn’t feel a particular need to be criticized).
(I am not going to quote that famous saying that nobody made a statue of a critic, because it’s cliche, but more importantly because it is technically wrong - I’ve seen a statue of a literary critic, it’s located at the park right next to my house.)
But still we all judge everyone else around us, even though we know it’s stupid, simply because we are built like that. Even (and I’m really ashamed to confess it) my first reaction to seeing Anna’s naivety, which I luckily managed to suppress, was to tell her that she was being too childish and that she needs to grow up and stuff. Not only was I about to judge her, but I was about to criticize her for her immaturity, and criticizing someone for being immature is the worst type of criticism there is, as with it you are basically saying that they are not as huge of a critic as you (or that they have too much desire for happiness perhaps?) I have this theory (which I am sure you were dying to hear) that the criteria for maturity in a given society is not based on any kind of physical or emotional strength but on obedience and on the ability to put up with everything that you need to put up with. Like, for example we won’t call a kid that plays chess at professional tournaments “mature” (and neither a young mathematician who is trying to solve the Knapsack problem, mind you) - we keep that label for the child who is unremarkable in the special way that is not causing us any kind of concern. From this theory it follows that human societies are basically useless and wasteful machines for creating boring robots, but that is another story.
Luckily, I was able to detect the “boring robot” behavior on time so I managed to stop myself on time and never said any of those at hindsight awful-sounding things that Anna had probably heard too many times (one is already too many), nor did I go at the equally easy-to-fall-into opposite direction of trying to be the “anti-critic”, telling her that it was her behavior and her worldview that was the right one and that everyone who criticize her are better off imitating her. No, I might have not known any better in terms of how to free her mind from the cage that being susceptible to criticism has put her into, but I knew enough to know that I couldn’t do that by just attacking the people who attacked her, and in the same way that they attacked her. I knew that she didn’t need me to praise her but to adore her, didn’t need to be told that she is correct, but to be told that she is cute, that she is OK. And a clear soul like her’s was easy to adore. A fact, which was on first glance paradoxical as she wasn’t the kind of person who somebody would typically choose to adore, nor one who would even know how to be adored. But once she got tired of those clumsy mannerisms with which she welcomed me (and at which she was so terribly bad at, anyways), and saw that I wasn’t being impressed by them as well, she quickly stripped them from herself, like a little girl stripping away her mother’s old ball gown that she had to wear at a formal event (and who possibly is already wearing sneakers underneath it) and presented herself in a way that was free of melancholy and of the irony that results from it, a self for which adoration was almost the only feeling that I could, or needed, to feel.
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