17 July, 2012

Violence


GM Nam Kyu Yoon carrying the '88 Olympic Torch

When I was a child, violence was a portion of my everyday life.

It was not unduly important or meaningful, like it may have been in the childhoods of persistent bullies or abused children. But it was still there, like sleeping or eating. Violence was something I went through every day and never really gave much thought to changing.

I took martial arts classes for a long time, earning medals in the state championships for my age group. With my friends, we would play role playing games where long sticks were used, and each of us would hit each other liberally with staffs. Our intent was to block each strike, but if a block was not made, the fault was that of the blocker, not the attacker. We even played a form of tag that used small stones we would throw toward each others' torsos; if you were hit by a stone, you were "it".

None of these things ever went "too far". I do not bruise easily, and I doubt any parental figures knew I did dangerous things when out with my friends as a child -- if you can call them truly dangerous. We knew enough to stay away from playing with things that can really hurt. Once, while playing king of the hill, one neighborhood kid claimed the top while wielding a shovel. My response then was to back down. We stayed away from sharp objects, and when I practiced with nunchaku, I made sure that no one else was within a few feet of me.

Anger was not something that I associated with violence back then. Intellectually, of course, I knew they were linked, but it was a very rare event for violence to enter my life alongside anger. On a few occasions, my father used violence to discipline me; once, at school I was challenged to a fight that ended with them hitting me and my not returning any blows. But other than these incidents, violence was just a game to me. A way to bleed off excess energy.

It did not always stay this way, though.

Perhaps the thing I am least proud of is the fact that I started out viewing violence as unconnected to anger, and then, for some reason, I came to associate them whenever I was upset. I became a bully toward those children that I felt deserved it; in a way, I conceived of myself as a superhero, I suppose. But none of them ever fought back. I was violent toward early girlfriends, too. My bitterness was overwhelming, and the way I acted toward even friends and family is quite horrifying to me now.

It would be one thing, I guess, if I started out like that and grew out of it. But I have to admit that when it comes to violence, I started out only acting violently among those who consented, like in our games of tag. I even got in a school fight where I refused to throw a punch because I knew it was wrong to fight.

But no. I started out knowing that violence was inappropriate in many circumstances, and grew to use violence whenever I became angry. I became a worse person.

It took a long time before I realized that violence was (almost) never appropriate. Even just a few years ago, I can remember getting angry and responding by hitting a window, breaking it completely. Today, I am glad to know that I have finally denied that part of me from ever taking hold again. I have not been violent toward anything with a brain for a very long time, and have not even been violent with inanimate objects for quite a while. I have become a pacifist, not just for personal reasons, but for philosophical ones as well. I believe military intervention does so much more harm than good that it cannot possibly be justified except in circumstances that do not occur in reality.

Uncle Mike Tomaso with UFC Champion Joyce Gracie
When I look back to my childhood, I regret even the violent consensual games I used to play with friends. I was never a good thrower, and I imagine now that back then the reason I was "it" more than others was to get back at me for all those staff blows I'd make when they were too slow to block. Even in consensual situations, violence is just too dangerous to fully justify without safety gear on.

The only violence of my youth that I do not regret was my martial arts training. Grand Master Nam Kyu Yoon was an excellent teacher for me, and I am proud of the extra-curricular lessons my uncle Mike Tomaso put me through before he opened his own martial arts academy. This is what violence should be: consensual AND safe. I just wish I could have learned these lessons earlier on in my life.

11 July, 2012

What does "Bayesian" mean?

I've been using the term "Bayesian" for a while now on this blog, usually linking to the Wikipedia article each time to help newcomers to the concept understand exactly what I mean. But I still occasionally get questions about what I mean when I use the word, mostly because the wiki page focuses just a little too much on the mathematics involved, and is not really readable by non-math people yet. Since quite a few of the current draft articles I am writing require a fair understanding of the term, I've decided to write a short, readable essay on what I mean when I use the term "Bayesian". Hopefully this will clear up any confusion about the purpose and importance of the term.

The Problem Bayes Theorem Solves

For most people, science is just something that is taken for granted. Whatever those scientists are doing seems to bring us new inventions and technology that improves our daily lives, so we leave well enough alone about the specifics of how what they do works. We know that for some reason, the knowledge acquisition methods employed by scientists seems to bring results, so we praise science as a good method of knowledge of science acquisition.

Compare this to another field of knowledge acquisition, such as the one psychics or astrologers use. They employ a method that does not seem to produce results, so we generally call such fields unscientific. By this, we seem to be implying that science's methods work while these alternatives do not. This is, of course, completely correct. The predictions of psychics and astrologers are never believable to a rational human being, even when they happen to occasionally correct. This is because the method by which they purport to gain new knowledge is completely unbelievable.

But why is it unbelievable? What is it about science's methods that makes us tend to put trust in it when they are correct, when we simultaneously fail to put trust in pseudoscience's methods even if they also turn out to be correct? Why do we say one is correct by design and one is only correct by accident?

The Bayesian Solution

[...the rest of this entry was left unwritten. I am publishing anyway because I have no goal of ever finishing this old essay.]

02 July, 2012

My Birthday

My pen ran out of ink on my birthday.

Ordinarily, this would not be such a big deal, but at the time, I was a few miles deep in the forest while my ink sat useless on top of a stack of so far unread books at home (an eight book set of Anne of Green Gables I bought for $1.50 at a library sale in New Jersey). My electric light shone brightly on my journal as I tried desperately to at least finish the sentence in my birthday entry, but it was not to be. I had run dry.

My pen is perhaps my most prized possession; certainly, it is the most expensive -- if you don't count Topia, my loyal beetle. I've only had my montblanc for about four years, but in that time it has served me well in situations good and bad. Perhaps I was naive, however, to just assume it would not run out of ink while I was in the center of a dark forest at night.

Still, it's no justification for getting irritated on my birthday. I'd chosen this venture because I wanted some alone time. Far be it from me to dictate that alone time must be spent on journal writing. My light was still functioning quite well, after all. So I took out a book I haven't read for almost a decade at this point: Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy.

It is a well-worn copy, though not by my hand. I found it in a store of a battered second hand shop somewhere in the midwest, I think. It's a nineteenth century edition, with writing in the margin of the first few pages from at least three previous owners. Although I have a copy of the same text published in the twenty-first century, it just feels cooler to read Boethius in a dark mountain forest on my birthday from a book that is four times older than I am. One day, I will get a kindle, but in the meantime, I can't help but consider this method much more awesome.

Suddenly, the sky lights up brightly, and I realize a storm is headed my way. As I gather up my fold-out chair, electric light, books, journal, headphones, iphone, walking stick, backpack, pen, water bottle, and bag of nuts, I wonder to myself: why didn't I bring an umbrella?