Opposites Reinforce

Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say opposites polarize the context by compressing potential many important dimensions of information into a reduced set that characterize their conflict. Dimensionality reduction can be a powerful tool for cutting through the noise, no doubt. Like most data compression, it is lossy so use with open eyes.

CGP Grey



Sorry originally meant full of sorrow. There was no presumption of guilt as in the modern interpretation – that requires context to determine. Consider the following two sentences.

“I am sorry [that I stole your bike].”
“I am sorry [that your bike got stolen].”

There’s no way to tell the difference from the stated words. It’s a simple demonstration of how worthless “Sorry” can be as a standalone phrase. Fault ought to be an important component. There’s this persistent legend of various languages with no word for sorrow-with-fault, one must perform an act of repentance in order to apologize. While I’m more than happy to consider such claims apocryphal until proven otherwise, there’s something to it. Consider the Catholic requirements for absolution: genuine regret, a firm desire to avoid repeating the crime, and an act of sacrifice to demonstrate your commitment. There is no room for empty or insincere apologies. Though if you need an insincere way to apologize without admitting fault, stack exchange has your back.

For that other meaning of sorry, sorrow-without-fault, I rather prefer the Spanish. Lo siento, “I feel it”. Rather cuts to the heart of it. From the comment thread of another post comes a beautiful expression of some of the range for the term that I wish the English possessed.

“I always found the English word ‘sorry’ very limiting. To put things into context, in Amharic we literally have different words to convey the different sentiments that morph into the single word ‘sorry’ in translation. ‘Ayzon (feminine ‘sh’)’ translates to sorry for your sorrow, it is said to indicate solidarity and in its extreme sense to convey hope. For instance, if someone stumbles in front of you- it is common to instantly say ‘ayzon!’ With my English speaking friends, literal translation of this gets me incredulous look and the inevitable statement ‘but it is not your fault’. The second word ‘Eikerta’ literally translates to ‘let bygones’ with the ‘ta’ inflexion. This is the word you would use to say I am sorry for wrong doing. Third word ‘aznalehugn’ translates to I am full of sorrow. Interestingly, this embodiment of sorry has a popular usage in heated conversation, the English equivalent to ‘Sorry to say this but…’”

-Mezida Saeed

If the nuance of language is not fascinating enough to you in it’s own right, at least consider that the wording of apologies has consequences.

Math is Patterns

If you’re walking 2 laps while a friend is running 3 laps around the same track and your speeds are synced up just right so you both begin and end at the same time, then at what point in your set does your friend pass you? What if you’re doing 4 laps and your friend is doing 5? Or 2 and 4?

I was surprised by the answer: your friend will not actually pass you. Despite doing more work, they’ll catch you at precisely two points, the beginning and the end. This applies any time your friend is doing one more lap than you. In the general case where you do m laps and your friend does n (w.l.o.g. n strictly greater than m) you will be passed (n-m)-1 times.

One way of seeing this is to fix your frame of reference to your position by imagining that you do not move but rather that the track is revolving around you. Your friend is running their 3 laps but the track is moving them back 2. So relative to you they are only running 1 lap while you stand still at the start location. This is the sort of model that makes the general case intuitive.


There’s a (possibly apocryphal) story that has Jean Cocteau at home being interviewed. Looking around the interviewer sees many objects of priceless value and, in journalist fashion trying to provoke an emotional response, asks “If the house was on fire, what would you save?” Cocteau answered, “Je sauverais le feu (I would save the fire)”. Pithy perhaps but doesn’t it just speak to a very human sentiment? I can’t say whether the sacrifices necessary to maintain that fire in your life will be worth it. It’s certainly painful to live with the compulsion of a strong passion. I can tell you that if you give up the passion, there’s a pain of emptiness. And a deferred passion is no better than a dead one.

That man was certainly a source of good quotes.

Worry Selectively

It’s well documented that we worry about dangers without regard to their likelihood of occurring. Shark attacks and terrorism are two examples of low likelihood events that receive disproportionate attention. Suicidal feelings should receive much more attention than they do. The risk of dying by your own hand in the modern world is ridiculously high.

One of the expected features of a democracy is that the politicians express the desires of the the people. So these disproportionate fears will find their way into law and, I’m guessing, since there is limited time to debate and consider each law then many legitimate fears will get zero notice as they are pushed aside in favor of the more lurid but less likely. Not that I expect any other form of government to do better except perhaps Plato’s impossible enlightened civil service.


Seriously though, wear your helmet on your bike. It’s cheap, effective, and until those inflatable hövding helmets get more testing, they’re the best we have. I’ve cycled my entire life and expect to cover many more miles before I die and I know that it’s only a matter of time until I get hit by a car and need that helmet to protect my head.

What possible use is an accurate representation of the face of Socrates?

It’s a simple lesson but important. The subject of a work of art is not the art. The art occurs in the head of the witness. Or perhaps in the head of the artist in the moment before execution but you don’t really get to know what that experience was a an observer. So really, an opinion about art is an opinion about yourself.

Triangles, if they could, would make triangle-ness a quality of God. I wouldn’t trust anybody’s judgment on perfection and that goes double for myself. I go through life looking for the things that reflect truth without any real faith in my ability to recognize them.

This is absurdly fun

Be the secrets you wish to see in the miserable little pile.

Be the specter you wish to see haunting Europe.

*kicks the specter of communism, but the foot goes right through*

Do I dine in myself? Very well then, I dine in myself. I am large, I contain Hell.

I am the very model of a bird abruptly actual

Imagine this is Sparta,
It’s easy if you try,
A well below us,
That is how you die

It matters not how it’s too late
To not kick Persians down the well,
This is the Spartan city-state,
This is the night we dine in Hell

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can kill tens of thousands of thoughtful, committed enemy citizens.

Never doubt that a thoughtful, committed blood god can sit on the skull throne. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

PERSIANS: How are you gentlemen!! All your polis are belong to us. You are on the way to satrapy.

Sparta is the cruelest town, kicking
messengers into deep wells, mixing
blasphemy and madness, yelling
its name at great volume