Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Math

Have you ever read or heard anything done in stream of consciousness? defines it as:
of, pertaining to, or characterized by a manner of writing in which a character's thoughts or perceptions are presented as occurring in random form, without regard for logical sequences, syntactic structure, distinctions between various levels of reality, or the like.

Wikipedia says:
Stream-of-consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative (and at times dissociative) leaps in syntax and punctuation that can make the prose difficult to follow...

Basically, stories or speeches written in this style tend to go on and on and reflect the writer's or character's feelings without regard for the reader's sense of structure or sanity. They will go off on tangents, and even their tangents spawn tangents of their own, and you never know quite where they're going, or what the whole point is. If you've seen the show Scrubs, you've heard stream of consciousness whenever J.D.'s mind speaks to the audience. Though in this case, it's not nearly as long or meandering as the term connotes.

Let me just say that I'm glad I left English classes behind in high school. If I am forced to read and analyze anything (more) done in stream of consciousness, I'm going to go crazy (or at least get a headache). But I came to a realization today.

I now know why I hate my math class. It's not because it's an upper division linear algebra class: I actually liked my lower div class in the same subject. It's not that the book contains so many theorems and definitions that one cannot hope to memorize. It's not centered on the fact that the dozens of proofs try to make me think in a way that I'm not used to thinking. It doesn't even bother me that the professor is an old Japanese guy who speaks with a considerable accent. I hate my math class because in each of the three lectures I attend every week, the professor engages in stream of consciousness math.

That's right, when writing all the symbols and equations and expressions on the board, he frequently displays leaps in syntax, punctuation, and logic that make his ideas incredibly difficult to follow. He goes off on tangents regarding how math people are smart and should be able to use their brains to find little tricks to solve otherwise long, laborious problems (my word, not his). Never mind the fact that these tricks are so intricate and off the wall that I wonder if a single person other than him actually gets it.

So while the class stares agape at the nonsense scribbled on the chalkboard, he flashes his customary toothy grin and says "so... in otha word..."
moving to a clear section of the board..
"in otha word..."
Then he fills nearly another whole section of the board with more gibberish before we are able to recover and finish writing stuff from the other section... our lack of understanding of the material to begin with notwithstanding.

He just goes on and on for 50 minutes, and I leave each lecture with a few more pages of sloppy, messily-written notes regarding who knows what. In other words... in other words... WTF?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


The other day I woke up amazingly early (5:45 a.m.) to pick my bro up from the airport. Surprisingly, it was easier to wake up than I thought it would be. Probably because I knew that I would suffer the consequences if I didn't. But anyway, driving down the wide open 405 and the breezy, overcast streets of LA with the window cracked open just a bit reminded me of something. At first I didn't know what it was.

Thoughts of riding for hours in the backseat in the early morning and images of McDonald's breakfast to go hovered around my mind. When I got to the airport, I remembered what it all was. Vacation. The most memorable times of my life in which I rode in a car at 6 in the morning were during family vacations. For some reason, in my memories, those days were always overcast, there was always a rental car or airport involved, and I always sat in the backseat with a hash brown and Egg McMuffin in hand. Then, rest stops, gas stations, Barstow, Lake Elsinore, Arizona, Colorado, San Francisco, Hawaii, Florida.

We'd all pile into the car. Originally it would be the old Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser station wagon, where my brother and I would sit in the very back facing backwards. It was great fun. Luckily we weren't the type to get motion sickness from riding backwards. Often we'd fly and then rent a minivan when we got to our destination. Our parents probably would have preferred to save the money and rent a mid-sized car, but they knew how much the kids appreciated having the space to themselves during the long rides through the middle of nowhere. I tried to nap very sparingly despite my tiredness, preferring to stay awake to see all the sights on the side of the road. Often it was just open dirt and weed fields and barren mountains, with advertisements for gas stations and eateries out in the boonies scattered in between. Other times it was clouds and mist and tiny buildings below, sitting through early airplane rides. Sometimes a movie, sometimes peanuts, sometimes almonds, but _always_ ginger ale. Miles and miles of boring, open, nothingness, but tempered by the excited anticipation of what awaited.

Some of it's a jumble, but though these vacations lasted days, it's the early mornings that seem to stand out in my mind as a universal symbol or reminder of traveling and relaxation. Maybe that's why once I got out of bed the other day, it didn't seem too hard to get going. I tricked myself into thinking I was going to Walt Disney World or something. The last vacation I went on was to Las Vegas, but that wasn't really the same.

Maybe I should wake up early again one of these days and, if not drive, walk around and pretend that I'm going somewhere fun and exciting. Can I make every day feel like another vacation?

Of course, I'll need to find myself a McDonald's before going anywhere.