The sun sets with golden rays.
Thoughts creep in, are here to graze
the mind. With rising haze,
expands, obscures, distorts, delays.
What was, what is, appraise the days
to come: never ceases to amaze
in a multitude of ways.
And I ponder here and phrase
lose myself, the world ablaze,
deep within my inner maze.
In my first post on Decidability, I wrote about the Halting problem and how everyday life decisions seem undecidable. Still, we are deciding many things, from minute to minute, from hour to hour, that shape our life, surroundings, and possibly the future. But: Do we decide in the first place or is it arbitrariness? Does it matter which one it is? And if it is not arbitrary, how can we decide?
Only those questions that are in principle undecidable, we can decide.
Heinz von Foerster, Ethics and Second-order Cybernetics
Some time ago, I would have said that decisions are guided and derived from environmental data. The deciding person merges and weights the available data to arrive at a conclusion on how to decide. However, this model has flaws: If the data would lead to a clear answer, there would be no need to decide in the first place; the data just gives the answer. Consequently, only if the data is insufficient to derive a clear answer, the need to really decide arises. Thus, decisions also always result in uncertainty; inherently, we are deciding only the things where the outcome is unclear. Also, in most cases it is an arbitrary choice which data is considered and how it is weighted; infinitely many and equally reasonable decisions are always available – the decision itself is arbitrary.
If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin. Before it touches the ground you will know which side you want it to land on: Decision made.
My best friend; around when we were in 6th grade
I always liked the idea of this approach to decisions. While in essence it’s not very spectacular, this proposed trick addresses the time component of decisions: If a decision is difficult, we tend to postpone it to an uncertain moment in the future in the hope for more data (or that someone else decides for us). Throwing the coin makes the decision pressing and imminent; and, if, the correct decision cannot be induced by data but is arbitrary, this trick lets us make a decision right now. And this decision comes down to the gut feeling of the deciding person, but it doesn’t matter because the decision is arbitrary whatsoever. My version, by now, is simpler: ‘If you can’t decide between two options, throw a coin and take the option it selects.’
Thus, the coin method is congruent to the proposed mark or cross by G. S. Brown as used by Luhmann: There is no way to decide correctly. You never know the outcome, otherwise there would be no need to decide. The only thing that matters is thatyou decide in the first place.
Thanks to input from my dad. This post probably deserves a re-write as soon as I have more time to properly study the provided material. Since I decided that all posts also have pictures, I chose some older ones from a vacation last year in Sächsische Schweiz. Back then, I still had borrowed his camera and had even less knowledge about photography than now…
Life is about decisions, large and small ones. What should I study? Which bread do I buy? Should I reach out to a long lost friend? Which approach to life should I take? What values are important to me? Do I buy the next lens or do I save up the money? Do I go outside for sports? Do I keep working for another evening? How do I want to spend the limited time I have in my life?
Some questions seem irrelevant, others may determine several years of our future life. So, how can we decide all these questions? Or: Is it even possible to decide all these questions? How should we approach and deal with any possibly life changing matter and decide: This or that? Now or later? Yes or no?
The more difficult the questions become that I face, the more I am convinced that they are inherently undecidable at any given moment in time. We do not have enough information to know all outcomes, the uncertainties are always large, and we cannot weigh in all factors because of their multitude and complexity. This also won’t change in the future. Maybe the options we decide on shift. Maybe it’s too late for a decision and we did not even have the opportunity to deliberately decide it ourselves. Some things we were sure that we chose correctly turned out to be terribly wrong; other things work perfectly even though we thought we made the wrong turn earlier.
Decidability is also infamous in computer science. In its simplest form it is known as the Halting Problem and was presented by Alan Turing. The problem formulation is as follows: Given an arbitrary algorithm and its input, is it possible to find another algorithmic solution that decides whether the given algorithm stops on the given input, or continues to run forever? If a solution can be found, then the problem is decidable. If no solution exists, then the problem is undecidable. In the case of the Halting problem, it can be shown that no algorithmic solution exists that solves the stated problem; thus, it is inherently undecidable. If you’re interested, keep reading for the proof:
We proof the above statement by contradiction. Imagine there exists an algorithm that can decide our problem statement: Given, as input, an arbitrary algorithm and its input, it can always decide whether this algorithm stops on the input or not. We call our deciding algorithm h and our input x. Given h, we now define a new algorithm h* that is a modified version of h: If h determines that the input algorithm stops, then h* keeps running in a loop. If h determines that the input algorithm keeps running, then h* stops. What happens if we feed our algorithm h* as input to itself (of which our original deciding algorithm h is part of)? This can be seen as a self-referential operation. We refer to the h* that is the deciding algorithm to h(h*) and to the input h* as x(h*). Both, h(h*) and x(h*) are the same algorithm. We have two possible outcomes: Either h decides that its input x(h*) stops – however, in this case h(h*) would keep running: a contradiction because x(h*) and h(h*) are the same algorithm. Or h decides that its input x(h*) doesn’t stop – but now, h(h*) would stop: again, a contradiction. Thus, the halting problem is not decidable.
To be continued in one of the next blog posts about how to decide anyways.
Freedom – the ability to live to ones own choices; the independence from society and imposed rules; the empty space between the obligations; the chance to chase opportunities as one desires; the brief feelings of lightheartedness; the vast sky above.
Freedom – limited by demanding work; restricted by self-imposed responsibilities; impaired by a global pandemic; overshadowed by worrying thoughts bound to circles; forgotten and lost in everyday repetition; the time constraint: one single life time.
Freedom is many-faceted. This is the start of a mini series of different degrees of freedom I am lucky to have. Which degrees of freedom do you have?
Already my last post had dramatic skies – we have a particular rainy May this year with up to 200% the rain as usual. However, the deep layers of the soil are still very dry from the last years. Anyways, for photography it gives interesting structures in the sky with strong contrasts in the landscape around our home town.
I am stuck on a learning plateau and it’s exhausting: The current learning stimulus is not sufficient enough to induce further synaptic changes.
No matter which new skill is being learnt, it’s common to hit one or several plateaus throughout practice – and it’s also common to get discouraged by the vanishing progress with reduced or no visible improvement. But when I am starting something, I want to do it good. It sometimes feels like a curse: I will go every extra mile needed to achieve what I want to. And this has cost me not only a lot of time with missed days of relaxation and fun, but probably also some friendships, connections with people, and diverse experiences throughout life that I missed out on.
I juggled for many years, but getting beyond five balls just never really happened. Hours and hours, weeks and weeks, several years, I spent throwing stuff in the air, just to catch it one more time. While there was a lot to enjoy, it also involved many hours, alone, of focused practice to reach the next level. I also played piano for over ten years; but there, I got stuck as well. The problem was that I did not put in the required effort, even though the conditions were excellent. I learned some great techniques on the way from my last piano teacher on how to achieve continuous progress; however, I did not implement them until later in another hobby: climbing.
I am climbing now for eight years and it is the hobby where I have the most direct experience with plateaus. My piano teacher always knew the most important part and tried to explain it to me so that I can act accordingly: To overcome plateaus, the most important thing is to adapt the stimulus to your progress and vary it over time. This involves active analysis of your efforts and progress, knowledge and creativity for planning your next steps, and willpower and stamina to adhere to your plans. I have encountered many people in bouldering who wonder why they do not progress any more “even though they train as much as they did in the beginning when they progressed quickly”. But that’s the point: You cannot do the same training and expect it to work all the time! Body and mind will adapt and, thus, your training has to adapt as well. This doesn’t always mean you need to train more or harder, but often it means you need to change your training altogether.
And then, there is my beloved new hobby: Photography. Lately, I am also feeling kind of stuck. I am not satisfied with the results; as always, I want more. However, I did not implement the lessons I learned in climbing so far: I not only need to put in more precious time, but I also need new stimuli. I am eager for our next holidays, but I should also try street photography, portraits, city scapes, anything else from nature.
But maybe even more important: I think I have to learn how to set lower goals for myself. I have to learn how to be happy with the journey, even if it’s is slow, instead of focusing too much on the results. I have to stop moving my goal posts before I even reach them.
There has been too little time to appropriately maintain the blog lately. Lots of work, some routesetting, and other hobbies devour my time. I also often feel restless when I have some free space, it feels like I need to use these hours in some meaningful or productive way – whatever that means. When I have a free evening I mostly go outside to take some pictures. Last week I was on a small hill south of our home town for the sun set. After many days of rain, the sun finally showed again and all plants sprouted, especially the hawthorn.
After shooting panoramas and macros, I also tried some new techniques for abstract nature photography as such images always appeal to me when I see them online: Images where it is unclear what exactly is depicted, images that leave room for interpretation but follow patterns. The first 100 tries were uninteresting, but then I changed settings substantially and started playing with the lens zoom while shooting longer exposures:
After another 300 photos I felt somewhat satisfied with the results that also were quite unique from what I have seen. The hawthorn and my 10-24mm lens made a nice combination with the evening light, resulting in textured hawthorn spirals:
When I started the blog I had little idea in which direction it would evolve. So far, I like the loose combination of computer science topics and everyday life observations accentuated with my latest pictures. However, the writing often takes longer than taking pictures and my backlog of pictures is slowly building up. Thus, I am thinking about some new blog post format that mainly consists of pictures, but I didn’t come up with an appealing idea yet. If you have any, please let me know! Additionally, I would like to make some longer blog posts about specific interest of mine (if time allows), as well as integrate further hobbies into the catalog of potential topics. So, in general, the blog will probably become more diverse, as the hawthorn pictures in this post: Sometimes great vistas, sometimes specific details, and sometimes quick abstracts.