Pluralities of Ideas

Let’s try a short post for once!

In the shower this morning I had an idea for a blog post. I imagined myself writing this blog post, and some interesting issues came up, and… suddenly I had ideas for two blog posts! I internally debated with myself for a moment before deciding that the second was more interesting, so I dropped the first line of thought and started imagining myself writing the second. Surprise! Another interesting thought, and now I’m trying to hold three blog posts in my head!1

This isn’t just about blog posts. Finding an idea (whether it’s an idea for a program/game/app of some kind, an interesting mathematical notion you’d like to explore more deeply, or just some kind of question) is a lot easier than carrying the idea through to its completion. It is not realistic to ever expect to have “caught up with your backlog” of cool ideas you’ve been wanting to follow up on.

We can look at this pessimistically or optimistically.

On the one hand… there’s this mountain of work growing in your brain, and you’re trying to pull off manageable pieces and get them done but deep down in your bones you know it’s growing too fast for you to keep up, and worse, this is the kind of deep-down-in-your-bones feeling that gets confirmed, not refuted, by rational thought.

On the other hand… maybe it’s not work, but new space to explore. Maybe you’re a mountain climber, and you’re exploring things as fast as you feel like, secure in the knowledge that you’ll never need to slow down to conserve the wilderness. You’ll never run out of new places to go. And this is the kind of security that gets confirmed, not refuted, by rational thought.

(Of course, even if you take the optimistic view, there’s sometimes the worry that you’re not a good explorer. But that is a subject for another day.)

  1. It is probably a good idea to write these down, so. 1) Some Haskell people think there are problems with trying to give a rigorous semantics to IO, and I want to flail around developing a mental model and maybe independently derive their objections. 2) Loosely, monoids are things that can be “smooshed together”, but slightly more rigorously they can be smooshed together in exactly two ways (ab versus ba). What structure might we get by imagining that we can smoosh things together in several ways, or even something like Legos? 3) “Accessible” terminology and some (surmountable?) problems thereof. 

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