9 September 2014

Happy birthday Tolstoy (and a few thoughts)

Through the evil Google, I learned that today is Leo Tolstoy's birthday (whatever this means: dates then, 1828, and now, keep shifting as the period of the Earth's orbit around the Sun and around its axis are not rationally related and so, to catch up, we have to revise calendars) and the following sprang to mind:
How come some nations, some peoples, have a much richer literature than others? 
I do not know the answer: Is it education?  Is it social structure? Is it wealth? Is it religion? Is it language? Is it history? Is it political freedom or its absence? A combination of the above? Which combination? Why? The answers are not straightforward because for every yes there is an exception and for every no there is another exception.

It is a fact that, had the world been without modern (19th c. and later) Russian literature, it would have been a much poorer world: Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Lermontov, Gogol, Pushkin, etc. etc. They have formed an inspiration for the whole world.

Which brings forth the next observation: When learning a language, one of one's criteria (at least mine) has been the ability to see a new world through the writings in this language. And Russian is worth learning not least for this reason. (Alas, I do not know Russian beyond tourists' phrases.) Even though, as modern linguists tell us, all languages have the same expressive power, it is not true that all languages have achieved the same quality of literature. One criterion for learning a language is one's ability to communicate with the speakers of this language: languages whose speakers are good communicators can be learned more easily. Another criterion is the writings in this language: literature inspires and opens up new worlds. (By analogy, why should one read poor mathematical/scientific papers?)

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What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant