The knapsack problem How to write a book / P and NP / leaving home
When I say free of irony, I feel I need to elaborate, as I already mentioned Anna was ironic almost all the time, however her irony was of type which was quite different from the emotion-numbing type you usually see in other people. It was an irony that had no concrete subject, nor an audience that was supposed to “get it” and laugh, a general irony, one which was targeted at everything with the purpose of being appreciated by everyone (although not many people actually appreciated it), one which seemed to perpetuate the natural asymmetry of the world and the people’s view of it and the general irrelevance of most of the things that we say and think. Her usage of this irony was so pervasive that it looked like the whole her individuality (the real one, not the clumsy imitation of Cathy that she presented to the world) existed solemnly within its bounds - her irony provided for her a safe place that enabled her individuality to flourish, but it was also a shield that guarded her from the rest of the world. In its realm, she could be really beautiful and confident and could walk naked and vulnerable without any fear of being hurt. But at the same time she was lonely, like a princess living in a beautiful and secure castle, who was nevertheless secretly hoping that she would get kidnapped.
There was a funny hand gesture, that Anna did all the time and which, I think embodied what I am talking about - it was a weird combination of a slapping movement (the movement when you make when you want somebody to stop something) and of hand-waving, and she used it to express a feeling that was a combination of boredom (“yeah, yeah, we have heard about that already”) and of supreme disinterest (like “there would be nothing you can possibly say about that that would, in any way, intrigue me”) and whenever she thought a given topic or line of thought was not worthy of her attention, she just did that gesture and then just stopped listening to what I was saying until I changed the subject - it was something like a magical move, which made the thing that she didn’t like disappear from her world, and made me disappear myself as a punishment for failing to recognize the nature of her magical abilities - it looked as if she was still with me, however after a while I was realizing I was seeing Anna the impostor and that Anna the princess had banished me from the castle.
This ability of hers had always made me furious (as probably every peasant was furious at the aristocrats for being what they are and not simple and easy to understand like themselves (or indeed any person who saw people with more power than them)), so I spent a lot of effort to make her more like me, make her face the unpleasant circumstances around us, even without accepting them, as acceptance was a quality that I myself didn’t possess. In my mind I had thought that I would be doing her a favor by making her face her fears which resembled the ones that I had at my childhood when I was afraid to go out of bed because some monsters will eat me (perhaps the “X” drawing on my door was some subconscious ritual that would protect me from them), but no - Anna was actually much more mature then what I thought, and the fears that she had that made her negate everything were actually pretty real - she feared the people’s hatred and intolerance, especially towards woman and minorities, groups both of which she represented (more on that later.) She feared “the dull” as she called it, (which I maintain is not real but invented, but that doesn’t make it any less scary) and that she would little by little be sucked into it - a very real possibility which would also turn out to be the fate of many of our friends, as the days went by. In many ways she was a realist and she wasn’t so much in fear of those things, as she was foreseeing and mitigating the issues that they might cause. When a war is coming, in addition to the people who are fearless and ready to fight, or are wondering whether they should fight, there would always be those who had long fled out the country (under a fake name if needed), leaving everything behind and are watching the action from the other part of the world, behind a pair of big sunglasses. None of them would go in history, but they also wouldn’t have to participate in the absurd events that history was comprised of (and yes, history is absurd - if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a whole scientific discipline dedicated to deciphering how and why the hell did some events happen.)
In this aspect, I was the opposite of her, for although my bravery was phony, I was always fighting - if war did indeed, I would probably be a soldier, but I wouldn’t be like those truly brave ones who enter the battle with a devotion to die for their ideals - I probably would have been more akin to a guy those whose bravery, if it were present at all, is gone after the first gunshot, the one who is always looking back towards retreat and sometimes the only reason he is not heading to that direction is that he knows that dying as a hero seems a little better than being a deserter. They (I) would go in battle, they might even be able to maintain concentration and do better than some soldiers who are truly brave, due to their ability to disassociate when faced with a scary situation, but no matter how far they get, all of them would know that their bravery is a result of cowardice - they are only advancing because they are too scared to escape.
Or perhaps the reason I stayed in the trenches was because I didn’t have anywhere to retreat to, like for example many of my classmates who, were able to retreat to mathematics when they were facing issues with some other aspect of their life, and were able to sink so deep into the subject that they would forget everything else in much the same way in which dedicated soldiers would sink into the idea of winning their war, whatever it was. Sometimes I think that that is why I disliked the nerd culture - it was because I wasn’t a true nerd, although I wanted to be. Because I envied those people - in my mind they were always happier than me, as, even lonely, they were stepping in their own little realms with confidence, while myself no matter what choice did I make, would always be unsure about it, and I would always be looking forward to an opportunity to change it even for a second, not so much because I regretted the choice itself, but because I disliked the fact that I have to make it, the fact that I could only be at one place at one time, to be one person, leading one, and only one, life.
That (the inherent limitation of choice) was something which Anna realized too, and because of which she never attempted to escape from her escapism - she knew very well that the real was not the ideal and so, even though she sometimes flirted with reality, whenever she got too close to anything real she just made it disappear using this gesture of hers, for which I already talked about. She knew that the ideal is by definition not real (as people who have read philosophy know, “ideal” is actually an antonym of “real”) as a person can be ideal only under a very narrow set of criteria - you reach ideality (perfection) by “getting better”, but the concept of getting better already presupposes the existence of criteria for what is good and bad. So in effect, our strive for ideality (perfection) can be equated with concentrating more and more on a given criteria for what is good and bad until we internalize it and it becomes a part of us, forgetting everything else. The ability to choose these criteria and committing to them is key in such efforts, not because it makes us more productive, but because it prevents us from seeing how pointless our efforts appear in the grand schema of things.
Cathy, for example, was good at choices. She also never ever tried to reconcile the real and the ideal and was pragmatic instead. I think that she was so successful at school, because she concentrating on giving the teachers what they wanted, instead of trying to understand the disciplines better than they did, which, kids, is never a good idea if your aim is good grades. So she basically scraped the ideal in order to get closer to it in the eyes of other people, (which she could do with ease, as for her every ideal (as well as the very idea of it) was garbage.)
But I wasn’t good at any of those things, and so every time I made a choice I felt that something was taken away from me, I sometimes used to imagine each point where I had to make a choice like a quantum state, a wave function that hasn’t yet interacted with the rest of the world, a box that could potentially contain anything (and, if you think like the quantum physics terms somehow did contain anything) but which was quickly growing in size too quickly and getting entangled with everything else - my pasts, and present situation. It was the world, it was what quantum scientist call “background environment” that was the enemy for me. The world that constantly made us make decisions and to identify with those decisions in a way that was always fierce and unforgiving.
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