Saturday, January 24, 2015

various thoughts -- packing up, principles of economics threatening us all, old letters, ODE

Streams of thought as I pack up...

Friday the 13th of next month is my last day at NSF. By then, I lose both my office (a major place for holding lots of books and files, with unique important information) and my access to a workable copy of Adobe Acrobat to clean and compress scanned files.
For many days past, and many to come, my top focus is the never-ending task of scanning, digitizing, mostly tossing out also refiling boxes and boxes of paper, due to retirement – losing both office and access to a working version of Adobe Acrobat.
But as I do this, huge volumes of thought still pass through my mind. So many things which did not end as hoped (whether “won” or “lost”), so many areas where the scanned record is maybe 10% of the real record and half of what I hope it will be when I am done \-- and utterly misleading. And lots of lessons learned.
Among these past threads are ideas I had which could have been the whole life’s career of a  normal successful academic, which in turn is much better then the majority who essentially had no new ideas at all.  By majority’s rules, I am penalized in many ways for being different, as if it would help the others to reduce my effective output! But when the many feel they are uncertain about survival itself in a very tough competition (and well meaning nutty ideologues strive to make that worse), it is not so surprising that they keep trying to change the rules to get int the way that way.
Whatever. Among the loose, misleading idea threads…
Back in 1964, when loosely supervised at UPenn, I put lots of effort into several things, one of them being an effort to solve some polynomial type ODE; in a general from, like Riccati, but also negative powers After transformation after transformation, it seemed to form a pattern. On some ways, like turning a Rubix cube. One simply could not “get out of the box” with certain classes of transformation. It seemed to me that I was getting a glimpse of a formal structure, like a transformation group but with modifiers making it more like an algebra than a simple group. Later, when I decided that I simply did not have time to nail this down myself, I submitted a “problem” to American Math Monthly to try to pass it in. They (like a reasonable percentage of the many people I wrote letters to when young) responded bonestly, but couldn’t make anything of what I sent. Now I know much less of the specifics I knew then (50 years ago!), but even so this feeble paragraph I am writing now conveys more of what I found than what I wrote when I knew more! And now I would know much better how to explore this territory, in part because I have learned the specific skills of creative science (and requirements of human audiences) much more than then. In part because my work on extended P representations (Both published and unpublished) gives some clues. But I also have even more of an issue in prioritizing time than then. So I write this, and plan to move back to the urgent packing.

If I could afford to, I would also write a lot on trust, and what my experience shows about that. Not enough time.

Another thread is with Milton Friedman, where there were several iterations. In cases where I got somewhere, it usually took multiple iterations anyway. It is enough to succeed in the end. But often I only continued enough to satisfy me, and did not continue with most threads. As is appropriate – focus demands that one continue a priority line, and a careerist would say I should have done more of that, not less. My values are different, but I still have to prioritize. That’s drinking from a firehose 101 – work hard to cope with more but always avoid instant drowning, hopefully via things Valliant would call… more positive defense mechanisms. And structuring.

With Friedman… I eventually explained clearly enough how imperfect competition is NOT just a matter of a finite x% loss in output and productivity. It is a loss in the rate of growth. Did I miss my chance to become the Joan Robinson of growth economics, as I had the insight and the math and enough communication ability if I chose THAT as my focus? I suppose. It is really all so obvious (to someone with a “sane” way of thinking), yet the misconceptions are all SO pervasive! Today I think of it with the aerospace industry serving government; then I thought more of the transition from dark ages to era of economic growth (e.g as Hanseatic League benefits from competition). Ojutput at t+1 is reduced RELATIVE to the base one sets at time t, due to Joan Robinson effects, and part of that reduction involves less growth in the base which would have put one in a different position and allowed one to go still further in the next time period. Accumulation of capital and of skills and of human base all suffer… and I see that happening now to a lethal degree in many area of the US economy and society now!

Dishonorable or unconstrained competition can also be problematic. Max Weber’s insights are analogous to LeCun’s convolutional networks – a clear and useful example of a more general principle. Is there hope that cultural change, tied to real spiritual energy in the noosphere, could save us from the doom it now seems to be leading us to? Maybe. Worth trying, to some degree, for many reasons on many levels.
By the way, compressing and digitizing important stuff at home is also a way to keep more of the various fields of science and society I have been involved in. So of course, lots of 

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