Thursday, 1 March 2018

How pedophilia will be normalised

Progressive sexual freedom arguments pivot on sex being between two consenting adults. Everyone seems to draw the line at adult/children relations. But if progressives are serious about expunging anything remotely traditional, then will pedophilia ever be legalised?

Yes. Yes. Yes. It has already started. This story about a US teacher popped up in my feed recently and I wondered why I'm hearing about it. After all, if you're seeing it, it's for you.

It astounds me how many people think the law and social mores will remain fixed on pedophilia when it hasn't been fixed for any other behaviour or personal rights issue. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness in the official psychiatric diagnostic manual as recently as 1973. Now, thirty years later, after court fights over adoption rights, discrimination and health, our society has legalised gay marriage. Things change. Why not pedophilia?

Any consensual sex between adults is already completely legal, right? Gay men, gay women, straight couples, three-ways, tying a girl up and peeing on her, etc. It's all fair game. The only difference is the homosexual community gets a flag and legal deference, but that’s another story. Consensual hetero sex between teenagers is entirely accepted and tolerated and openly gay teen couples can be seen in most liberal cities and towns. By and large, the culture is accepting all permutations and continues to move in the direction of full acceptance.

The only prohibition and taboo remaining is between teens and adults, which is usually presented as creepy older guy/priest preying on a younger pre-teen boy. But in the eyes of most laws, this distinction is meaningless – 16 is the magic cut-off age for sexual consent. Over 16 and you are one thing, under 16 you are still a kid. Some say 18, others say 14, but you get the general idea.

Culture still seems to be revolted at the idea of old guys and young boys. I’m not sure how much of this is just residual homosexuality, but people who are so actively against something are often discovered doing the exact thing they are against. Because so often it’s religious people caught in deviant or illegal sex, it can't be simple hypocrisy because it’s way too pathological for that. You know what conclusion I've come to?

If you are an outspoken religious conservative, there is a very good chance that Freudian psychodynamic theory explains your personality and behaviour almost perfectly. It's almost scary how effective this theory is. Freud articulated many defence mechanisms people develop to reduce a personality or cognitive conflict and assuage anxiety. These people aren’t comfortable with their “secret” which is what creates anxiety. Their internal rule structure says it’s wrong, but their urges want it anyway:

1. Undoing – a person attempts to reverse the effects of a negative act by compensating with a good act, often diametrically opposite the negative act. "I touched kids or had sex with a male prostitute, which I think is bad. But I make up for it by campaigning endlessly against gays."

2. Reaction formation – a person acts opposite to their unconscious urges or desires. This is a weaker case because the urges are not unconscious to them. However, the true underlying urge may be the power dynamic in the sexual relationship (the desire to dominate or be dominated), and most people aren’t self-aware enough to realise this is happening.

3. Projection – a person denies an impulse and attributes the impulse to an external thing. This is the weakest case, but it's related to reaction formation and speaking out against gays and pedophiles usually takes the form of "they are corrupting our youth" when really, it’s the campaigners doing the corrupting.

Underlying all of this is Grand Canyon-sized cognitive dissonance, of course, and who knows what happened in their early lives to warp them in this way.

But, it’s this cognitive dissonance in stories of attractive women in their 20's (most teachers) having sex with young boys that will be the catalyst for pedophilia acceptance.

Look at the media coverage these women get – the soft lighting, ample time to tell their story, talking about feelings and how they fell in love. The law also treats women differently by giving them lighter sentences. There really isn't the same stigma, so culture seems to acknowledge some difference even if we can't or won't articulate it.

These crimes will emerge in the public consciousness with greater frequency, and then some enterprising lawyer defending a male offender will make the argument that it’s unfair for the punishment to differ so greatly when the genders of offender and victim are reversed. It’s not that female predator crimes will be more frequent, rather that we will hear about them more.

Then years later another lawyer will make the argument that it’s discriminatory to punish male homosexual offenders differently than male heterosexual offenders because gays get (or should get) equal treatment under the law. In other words, the "softest" (from the culture's perspective) form of pedophilia – a 21-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy – and the "worst" – a 51-year-old male and a 13-year-old boy – are made indistinguishable in the eyes of the law. The softest case sets the standard because fair treatment means everyone wants the lightest sentence, not the harshest.

Eventually, courts will seek the testimony of the victim (introducing the consent of the minor without calling it such) to distinguish between cases in which a minor was freely willing to participate, and those involving molestation, rape, coercion, etc in which some adult forces a minor to act. Institutions will then turn a blind eye to consensual intergenerational sex the way they turn a blind eye to sex between teenagers, which is illegal based on how statutory rape laws are written. It's just rarely prosecuted.

(The idea that children don’t have the experience to give informed sexual consent is well-established in our society and quite defensible. Yet somehow, we allow teenagers to consent to each other for sex. Why? Without making any assumptions, what is the difference between two 14-year-olds having sex and a 22-year-old having sex with a 14-year-old? Again, no assumptions, because those can change based on the individuals. But why the taboo?)

Don’t get me wrong. The law won't legalise pedophilia, it will just be redefined as something that is already legal and protected. Gay sex is legal not because there is a law that says "gay sex is legal" but because hetero sex and sodomy were held by courts to be a matter of privacy and which also require equal protection under the law. Therefore, gay sex cannot be illegal. Basically, the way the laws are enforced will change even if the blackletter text doesn't.

This will all take a few decades, but it's going to happen because something bizarre in our culture is motivating more adults to want to have sex with kids, and that motivating force is not being addressed at all, so the law will have to adapt as a historically underground perversion becomes more of a non-trivial minority.

For the record, I think it is deplorable and disgusting for adults to seek out and take advantage of children, but I'm not naive enough to think the culture isn't trending to more permissiveness, openness, freakishness or whatever word you want to use. I'm just amazed people can't imagine how pedophilia could become a legal behaviour when just about everything else is.

Ironically, from a broader historical perspective, this will basically restore things to how it was in ancient Greece and Rome. Sexual consent has always been arbitrary. Two hundred years ago, 15-year-olds were viewed as more mature than most college students are today, based on the responsibilities they had. At some point, someone is going to challenge the constitutionality of those age-based restrictions. It's simply inevitable.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Asking the God question backwards

Surely, to an atheist, the question whether god exists is meaningless. At least, I’m an atheist, and it strikes me as meaningless.

Considering all the weird-ass crazy ideas people have been murdered for in the last 200 years, “god” is not exactly high on the list. I realise 9/11 is very recent, but if you’re making arguments about time and eternity, you ought to have some perspective.

There are basically two kinds of Christians in the US: Unitarians who don’t believe in God or Hell or original sin and “born-again” Trinitarians who do. Historical denominations are meaningful for some of the latter and very few of the former. Of course, I generalise. 

Since the Unitarians, as previously mentioned, control basically all the institutions of power transmission, it seems a little strange for any self-professed rationalist to spend most of his time fretting about the relatively defunct Trinitarians. Again, it implies an unusual concern with this “God” thing relative to other confusions, which may be more potent or pertinent.

Note to anti-Catholics: the power of the Pope has been declining monotonically for oh, only about the last 500 years.

Note to anti-Protestants: the only First World country in which there is any significant relic of Protestant religious indoctrination is the US, and this assumes a very generous definition of “significant.” Born-again Christians in the US have the numbers, but they don’t have the power centres and they never will. All real power in the US is in the universities, the media and the civil service, and the representation of born-again Christians (no, Jimmy Carter doesn’t count) in these organisations is miniscule. Nor is it increasing.

And I’ve said before how suspicious I am when progressives say they aren’t religious. I’m not sure exactly who we have to thank for this, but whoever got their slogan “Say no to racism” on the World Cup logo seems pretty damned evangelical to me. Yet “evangelicalism” is a confusing term because it means something different in every century. Methodists, for instance, used to be the epitome of “evangelical.” In its dictionary definition, it refers to a tactic, not a denomination. So it certainly applies to progressives today.

But if you ask atheists why they don’t believe in god, you’ll get a different answer for everyone in the room. So, I propose examining the question backwards. Let’s say there is no god, no afterlife and assume the atheist’s position is entirely correct.

Could we create heaven? With another 100 or 1,000 or 100,000 years of future scientific development, could we create an afterlife, a system in which at the moment of death people’s thoughts, memories, personalities, psychology and mental patterns are uploaded into some Matrix-like machine simulation where a conscious existence can unfold unbounded by the limitations of the flesh?

What if this simulation does not simulate the present world, but rather what most people would say resembles the conventional idea of heaven? One where there are no laws of physics to bind us, where communication among the “dead” is instantaneous and at-will, and in which we would be able to flit about within the simulation instantaneously, altering our own perception of it to give us maximum happiness and do impossible things.

In it, we could speak to everyone who died after the simulator was constructed, even if those people died before we were born. Perhaps there would be an interface through which we could speak to people outside the machine who haven’t yet died. Or perhaps the simulator would have another simulation inside that replicated the real world and the entirety of human life from birth to death. A virtual heaven around a virtual world, accessible to the real world.

If the people or programs operating this system can check the state of your thoughts at any moment, alter the simulation and even change your thoughts stored in the machine. Wouldn’t they be considered omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent relative to those people inside? In fact, if you believe all that makes us human is the grey matter between our ears, the more plausible this scenario becomes.

Which means, while there may not be a god, heaven or afterlife today, there ultimately could be ones of our own making. It’d be an odd situation where although it isn’t true that there is a creator, it becomes true when we ourselves assume the role of creator. We would make god real simply by applying it to a different universe.

But if we could make these things, would we want to? What model of heaven would we use? Would we want a common heaven for everyone? Or would everyone get a customised uniquely tailored heaven? Would we create a virtual and eternal simulation of hell to serve the same punitive and penal functions as the imaginary one?

The thing is, how do you know this hasn’t already happened? How would you know if the universe is really a natural phenomenon rather than a phenomenon mimicking a possible natural universe? What would be the evidence to demonstrate that the perfect simulation is still a simulation? And what would the evidence look like that points to what it is that is being simulated?

If every sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, how advanced would technology have to be to create the ultimate magic: an afterlife and an all-seeing, all-knowing, ever-present deity to control it?

I guess in this light what passes for magic in the Bible is just science fiction cast in the metaphors of antiquity about a future too distant to see even for us in 2018. Genesis becomes a story not about the creation of this world, but the creation of a virtual world yet to be launched.

I can’t shake the idea that myths are precisely what will lead to the creation of the simulation. I think we have always and, in every culture, told ourselves stories of the metaphysical realm because to some degree we’ve always known our world isn’t real, yet there is nonetheless a real world out there even if it is unreachable and invisible.

Many atheists say they don’t believe in god like they don’t believe in fairies, magic, goblins and hobbits. Ok, good point. But adults still write stories that feature fairies, magic, goblins and the rest. Perhaps these stories, regardless of their truth, function to communicate a single fundamental message:

Your world is not real.

Monday, 26 February 2018

What Russia really exposed about the US

Forget the headlines, the US certainly does have a Russia problem – but only because Washington took its eye off the ball and never hit the reset button after the Cold War.

Today’s Russia/US fireworks start in the 1990s as the CIA was busy turning its Russian linguists into Serbian linguists because of what was happening in the Balkans and pulling back on what was, during the Cold War, Job 1 through Job N for about 50 years.

In August 2008, Washington was surprised when the Georgians goaded Russia into a fight. Why Georgia would provoke a fight with a near-corp level Russian army exercise ending just over the border is beyond my ability to understand, but the Russian military entered Georgia on the grounds of protecting Russians.

President Saakashvili, a graduate of US academic institutions, phoned US National Security Advisor Steve Hadley worriedly asking if the Russian armour was heading for Tbilisi. Mr Hadley said something like “I’ll call you back,” and picked up the phone to the CIA. The agency at that time was so focused on counter-terrorism that it had to check if it still had any Georgian analysts (it did), but at this point, it didn’t know how far Russia’s “punishing” exercise would go.

The agency tried using national technical means – satellites and overflights – to intercept and decrypt Russian army communication and to at least tell where the communications were coming from. To do this, it sent out a request to identify the DF-FLOT (direction finding for the forward line of troops) so it could see the position of Russian armour. But the agency had so focused its precious intelligence dollars to pick up phone calls from low-powered cell-phones in the Khorramshahr valley of Afghanistan that it had lost even the ability to know where a radio signal was coming from.

The CIA directed several of its Caucasus stations to get in the car, drive to Tbilisi, pick up a phone and GPS and drive north. When they saw a T-80 they were to stop, take a reading and phone the coordinates in. Russian tanks eventually drove to Tskhinvali, swept right and established a zone of control in northern Georgia. The agency realised most of its intelligence was really just targeting to find terror groups. The US was safer, but 2008 proved the CIA wasn’t a global espionage service.

Washington’s policy had equal challenges. President Bush famously said he looked into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “saw his soul,” and President Obama said Mr Putin reminded him of a lazy schoolboy in the back row. These were dangerous misreading because Mr Putin was playing with a pair of sixes, although nobody was calling his bluff.

But the Americans had also by then made a choice about whether the digital world would be a zone of cyber dominance or a zone of information dominance. Washington chose to build a Cyber Command while Russia chose to fight for, win in and dominate the information space. Both included cyber, but Russia focused more on psychological operations, disinformation, deception and the shaping of the information environment and considers the information space to be a decisive arm of any conflict.

America’s choice isn’t directly responsible for Russian agents stealing emails from the Democratic National Convention (adult nations call that honourable international espionage). But it did mean when Russia weaponised the stolen information and pushed it back into the American information space, the US was caught off guard.

Russia used an army of computers to touch the pilfered data in ways that prompted Google algorithms to pull the data forward as “trending” and be reported by legacy media, Twitter and Facebook. The Americans know this not because its intelligence conducted deep forensics, but because they had someone on the other side of the screen watching it happen.

US intelligence knew in April 2016 this was a Russian covert influence campaign and metaphorically shook President Obama by the lapels telling him he needed to act, but he didn’t want to appear to be twiddling with the election process either. Instead, he directed the CIA to contact its Russian counterpart and tell them to knock it off. He also spoke with Mr Putin on the margins of the G20.

But Russia kept going for three reasons: 1) to mess with American heads, 2) hurt Hillary Clinton and 3) to pre-emptively delegitimise what Mr Putin thought would be Clinton victory. Whether the Russians influenced the election outcome is simply unknowable, so Donald Trump is president. Russia – bluffing with only a pair of sixes – found significant weaknesses in US intelligence, cyber policy and, most importantly, civic society.

Remember, covert influence campaigns never create fractures in a society, they only exploit existing fractures. The fracture this Russian campaign exposed exactly how dangerously the internet has splintered the US information space by allowing people to circumvent “traditional sources” to DIY their reality. That’s a big deal because, in a democracy, losing control of public opinion is tantamount to losing government.

Washington has a new choice: let the information space naturally find a new level or use corporate Big Data and artificial intelligence to align digital media with its synopsis. Washington seems to have chosen the latter, which means we’re about to see just how “free” the internet really is.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Is globalisation hurting innovation?

What continues to bother me is the question of how we to prepare children to be comfortable with thinking differently and whether globalisation hurts or helps this goal.

I think most “innovation” these days is just iteration with good marketing. When was the last time we had a revolutionary new technology? Transistors were invented in 1947. The internet in 1989. Antibiotics in 1928. It’s not that inventions are no longer possible, I suspect we’ve simply neglected the educational tools.

First off, there is no point in comparing the West to China or India. The reason electronics are made in Asia is not because their engineers are smarter, it's because US environmental regulations and labour conditions make building state-of-the-art fabrications prohibitively expensive for all but the largest companies with the most entrenched market positions.

The countries we should be watching closely are the UK and Israel. Both have companies and technological innovation well out of proportion to their size. Israel gets more US patents per capita than any other country. The UK is small, yet British companies operate globally, and British expats are everywhere. The British succeed because of a liberal approach to education. They teach humanities along with mathematics and science, preparing people for a world in which they will have to live and make a living – not preparing them for jobs. There's a difference.

This makes British people incredibly creative, innovative, lateral thinkers. All those contest shows on TV? British. Most respected news organisation in the world? The BBC. Most respected scientist in the world? Stephen Hawking, a Brit. Apple's great industrial design? Courtesy of eastender John Ives.

In the case of Israel, I've always wondered if mandatory Torah studies required of students there (Jews everywhere go through this to some extent) teaches a broader, more critical approach to thinking compared with modern English classes.

It’s true, plenty of technology products are being made outside of developed countries. According to the conventional wisdom, this is "bad" because Asian countries are getting all the associated engineering and manufacturing jobs. But from another perspective, these devices are generally used to display content made in the developed world. A DVD player might cost $50. But a DVD movie costs $20. The bet is that people will buy more movies than they will buy players.

The computers and displays manufactured in Asia are simply commodities. But the programs running on the computers – MS Office, Photoshop, video games, etc – are not commodities. They are available at a premium. Computers cost half as much as a copy of Photoshop. And the entire earth has access to the internet, but Google, Yahoo and Amazon are US companies and services.

Rather than competing with China and India on engineering, we need more science and maths education, because those disciplines illuminate the world and develop minds capable of thinking clearly and consistently to identify and solve problems. But just as important is the study of art, music and literature to understand the human condition and fundamental desires so that innovators can design the kinds of products or content humans want to use.

In other words, producing more graduates who can explain how airplanes fly is less important than producing educated people who understand why travel and exploration are a fundamental human desire. China and India are getting better at the latter, but it’s the West’s game to lose at this point.

It’s the tech companies and government that want more engineers because their interests are the opposite of an engineer’s. They want more engineers to make engineers cheaper and expendable. There is an important subtext at work here. From the government's standpoint, it should make no difference whether someone makes $40k as an engineer, photographer or game designer. They'll pay the same taxes. $40k is $40k.

This is the fundamental relationship people have with government. From its creation, government was always seen as a necessary evil that sits opposed to those it governs. That's why the American Constitution, for instance, goes to such extreme lengths to specify government powers and the rights of the people which cannot be abrogated. The entirety of US political history after the Revolution is a story of the waxing and waning of government power over the people.

Because the government is an entity opposed to the people it governs, it is better to have legions of engineers at $40k than a random assortment of photographers, designers, artists and writers (the content producers). The former work under controlled and institutionalised conditions – the corporation – consuming the bulk of a person’s week and providing their family with a salary. The corporate worker is visibly present or, more importantly, visibly absent. This legion can also be treated as a single block, precisely because the individual’s lives are homogenous.

This isn't the case for the hodgepodge of professions. Sure, those jobs require discipline, time and oversight, but they have more independence and require less supervision. Also, their political interests and motivations are highly idiosyncratic and ill-defined. Yet they are more important for the people over the long term. They produce the things onto which we can project meaning and emotional significance: arts, designed products, entertainment, etc. We seek these out in our spare time, spending our hard-earned resources to consume them, revealing a deeper human need or desire for such things.

People have been painting in caves as long as there have been people, paint and caves. The first stone jewellery is only slightly less ancient than the first stone tools. Every culture on earth has music and dance. It’s what makes us human. Regardless of one’s value judgment on these things they are important, or we wouldn't waste money and free time on them. That means people who make them are at least as important as the people who make the tools.

Just as engineering declined when manufacturing went offshore, I suspect innovation will decline too. Without an industrial base to practice the feasibility of ad-hoc techniques on the shop-floor, how can people be expected to see gaps? How can cutting-edge ideas be taught if they don't exist close by? And where will the teachers learn? What happens when the generation that did learn from the shop-floor retires? Will teachers then be imported from India and China?

I haven't been to India or China, but I get the impression those countries lack a certain amount of social overhead which lets people concentrate on becoming an expert, partially due to lower personal freedom. By contrast, the consumer choices in the West force us to put a lot of time into determining the best product to buy. Our political and judicial systems are equally conflated – most of us will be in court eventually, whether for permit requirements or actual violations.

Then if we do get some free time to socialise, no one gives a crap about engineering and maths. You better have some entertaining knowledge about music, sports or literature, along with some knowledge about the many subcultures around us. Plus, there's an expectation of near-total engrossment in a child's life and anything short of absolute devotion is considered bad parenting. It’s not clear if these unseen consequences of freedom are preventing otherwise motivated eclectic geniuses from attaining their true potential. I don’t think anyone’s figured this out yet.

Ultimately, power doesn't care which country does the innovating. Most companies are stateless multinationals anyway and all they care about are low labour costs. As it was with ditch-diggers, so it will be with engineers: those who can’t innovate will find themselves in a pointless McJob sooner or later.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Music, maths and memorisation: the point of work

Nothing of value in human experience is intuitive. All that comes naturally to the human animal is eating, defecating and killing. People aren’t “gifted” at activities. Babies don't even know how to sleep peacefully through the night. As any parent will tell you, they must learn how to sleep.

We are creatures of noise, madness and chaos. Everywhere in the world where people live together, and the inhabitants are uneducated and idle, regardless of culture, race, or time, all of them share a common characteristic – they are noisy. By contrast, two places people congregate in large numbers are quiet: churches and libraries. That’s where people get on with the work of engaging with the unknown. Understanding is a function of work. And the first point on that function is (0,0).

For instance, there is nothing intuitive in mathematics beyond the addition of natural numbers less than 10. Subtraction is not intuitive, nor is the concept of zero. The postulates of Euclid are not intuitive. If they were, Euclid wouldn't get credit for them. Fractions? Forget it. And don't get me started on calculus.

As far as I can remember, most maths before calculus is computation. To master computation takes work. Not a little work, not 15 minutes a day – it takes a lot of work. Over and over and over again, like running beep-test drills in basketball drills. Or endless scales in piano practice. Most of it is practice for the real interesting maths later. If you’re willing to put in the practice, calculus teaches you composition, the system and patterns which not only produce order but define it.

To understand something, you must recreate it. If you can do this, you stare for hours at what you just did. The sun goes down outside, and you don't see it because all you see is how the starting point so obviously contained the brilliant insight at the end. How did anyone not see it? The world you know, the same world as you lived in as an infant – all wood and metal and separate pieces – starts to look thin and you start to see the fields and flows that have always been there, and you wondered why you ignored them, and what else you are ignoring.

This is why it doesn't matter what you are studying, fluid dynamics, electromagnetism, topology, physics, aerodynamics. You are listening to the different music the universe plays, but even though it isn't expected, you know how to listen, how to hear it. You know what to expect before you hear it. You look at planetary charts and you expect the mathematical model to be something like Bach – some periodicity, synchronicity, some counterpoint within the unity.

You look at the data coming from an atom smasher, and you don't expect to hear Bach or Mozart. Maybe Stravinsky. Probably more like Xenakis. Discord and unpredictability in an irresistible force. An energy. Charlie Parker. Ornette Coleman. A force with its own internal order invisible from the outside. A fixed beginning with a very definite and different ending.

And it’s not memorisation that makes a good mathematician or a thinker, although it does add an important factor. People who make educational music with a hip-hop voice and cadence reciting multiplication tables or national capitals over a drumbeat send the message that kids can't/won't memorise pieces of information unless its put in music. But they should still memorise them if for no other reason than to train their minds in the process of memorising abstract information.

Funny how kids don't have any problem memorising the characters on their TV shows or video games but can't be expected to remember the names of nine (or eleven) planets or the identity of half a dozen species of tree in their backyard. The idea that kids don't have to memorise multiplication tables because they have iPhones is beyond ignorant. People have had abacuses for thousands of years, then soroban, slide rules, calculators, etc. and it was still worthwhile to memorise.

I was never very interested or good at maths, but I’ve since discovered the reason to memorise multiplication tables is so the patterns in the tables, for example, the relationships between the 2, 3, and 6's, and the 4's will become apparent over time. Just like it's useful for a child to see a picture of a farm to understand farms, it is worthwhile to see the landscape of multiplication to understand what happens to numbers when you multiply them.

Likewise, when you visualise a memorised table in your mind, you start to notice things that are missing from it, like 11, 19, and all the other primes. You start to notice that some numbers show up a lot, like 24, and others infrequently, like 21. When the student thinks about the table, these patterns all become part of the memory of the multiplication table. He begins to learn things about mathematics, completely independently, from the simple act of repeatedly recalling the dumb multiplication table.

If it were religion, we’d say you take your passage from the bible or zen kōan or whatever and pray or meditate on it. Maths isn't a religion, but the iterative process of thought is the same. You think about a thing, you see it in your mind, and your mind becomes so familiar with this conjured image that it can detect new patterns in it.

It’s this same reason kids are taught to memorise the postulates of geometry, formulae for conic sections, aphorisms, the names of common birds and trees, various types of insects, the continents, oceans, planets and national capitals.

We memorise datasets so we can develop insights and new ideas about the data that haven’t existed before. Memorisation is the basis of inquiry, investigation and answer. It allows you to formulate and answer your own intelligent, probing questions. Otherwise, education is nothing more than instructions for using tools.

But the emphasis here is on the work. There is no intuition or natural talent. The child who sits at the piano for hours after the other children get bored does not have a natural talent for music. He has a natural talent for work. Same with reading. The joy is in figuring out, in trying.

There is only comfort in work because all that is great comes from inhuman amounts of work. The only way to create order out of disorder, to create a pattern out of noise, is work. Work fights entropy. Bach and Beethoven worked. They suffered. They were possessed of Plato's demon, driven to study and study and study and slowly to learn to see the patterns, and until they learn to recreate the patterns, change them, and finally dare to wrangle the forces underlying those patterns, and set to work on those forces themselves, creating new patterns surprising and unexpected even to accomplished musicians.

This is what mathematicians and thinkers do. The field attracts introverts and people comfortable with solitude. Maths – not computation, but maths – requires concentration, devotion and humility. A mathematician is a good listener. Maybe he thinks he's listening to God, or the Universe, or the white noise of bombinating quarks. He isn’t working his systems of equations by mechanically jostling symbols around the page. The good mathematician and thinker listens and wonders where he's heard it before.