Sunday, April 12, 2015

The World's Top Fifty Experiences (yawn!)

Another glossy magazine pops through our door, listing the world's top fifty experiences (and sponsored by Fred Olsen cruises). Typical delights:
  • Afternoon tea at Raffles, Singapore
  • Dance with a local tribe in Kenya
  • Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge
  • Discover the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal
  • Learn flamenco in Seville
... and so on for another forty five achingly-familiar tourist jaunts which feature on everybody's bucket list (except for me, apparently).

Here are my top five experiences.

1. Discovering how to solve an equation like x2 = 5x - 6. Look, x occurs on both sides but no adding or subtracting can get x on one side and a pure number on the other. The revelatory secret is to factorise the equation as (x-3)(x-2) = 0 and realise that of all the possible values for x, only two can make this equation true.

2. Getting calculus. The magic of moving effortlessly between distance, velocity and acceleration; the solving of maxima and minima problems; the secret to working out mysterious stuff like the area of a circle and the volume of a cone from first principles.

3. Finally understanding the phrase "the collapse of the wave function" and then realising the deeper mystery as to how in the world this could happen (if it does).

4. Realising that the structure of our universe is not determined by lengths as we measure them with a ruler (Euclidean distance) but by the strange pseudo-metric of special relativity.  We really live in Minkowski space-time which is very different from the illusion of space we see around us, but I can't visualise it, even in lower-dimensional analogues. Frustrating.

5. Comprehending the architecture of intelligent agents like chess-playing machines or autonomous robots - how to design machine systems which really can solve problems in the world (this is not obvious).

So these are my top life-enhancing experiences, none of which involve crowded airport queues, cramped aircraft seats and losing your luggage.

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