This was originally posted on UbuntuForums Programming Talk by pmasiar. The thread has later been removed, probably due to "elitist attitude".
After wasting hours in flamewars, responding to clueless "experts", seriously-minded forum participant inevitably starts to analyze why understanding comes with such difficulties to some forum posters, and how exactly it (understanding) works. This essay tries to explain mechanics of understanding, by postulating the theory of understanding based on hypothetical particles of understanding - cluons.
If valued reader is offended by the thought that someone might think about the process of understanding, please stop reading now to avoid overloading your brain circuits: too deep recursion may cause irreparable heat damage to your brain, stack overflow or even brain dump. You've been warned, proceed with caution.
First, let's understand the title of this discourse. First instance of "understanding" can be replaced by "grokking", so different wording of the title could be: "How to use cluons to grok understanding".
If you haven't read "Stranger in a strange land" (a classic sci-fi which coined word "grok"), you may continue reading under single condition that you promise to read that book within a week.
While in library browsing the sci-fi shelf with Heinlein's books, pick also “Moon is the harsh mistress”. It defines another important concept: TANSTAAFL – There Are Not Such Thing As A Free Lunch, which is important to grok to motivate noob in learning. That book contains excellent consistent non-earth society with consistent laws (and capable to defeat Earth). And pick also “Starship troopers” to get disabused from the notion that violence does not solve anything – as the book says, explain it to Carthaginians. Just the opposite, strong directed discipline of learning is necessary to develop mature cluon field quickly.
Another weaker attempt for the reworded title could be "how cluons can explain understanding", but there is subtle difference between grokking and understanding (that's why you need to read the books). Reading wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grok ) does not substitute for the experience.
So much about the title.
(1) What are the cluons?
Let's analyze mechanics of understanding at the most basic level. What might be the "force" (material substrate) facilitating the transfer of the knowledge from expert to the learner, and how exactly it works?
Cluon theory of understanding postulates existence of cluons (particles) and cluon fields emitting and absorbing cluons, and using this abstraction explains knowledge transfer, including many artifacts of said transfer from cluelessness of the noobs up to forum flamewars and raging mods abusing the experts.
Expert, who gained knowledge by study, learning and observation, comes to the forum, reads a question, and writes answer. The answer becomes cluon generator (so even later if found in archives, continues to emit cluons). But how the cluons are processed?
Clueless noob has very weak own cluon field, so many hints (emitted cluons) pass through his field without interaction and fail to transfer the knowledge, even if the same answer is capable to enlighten more knowledgeable person (with stronger cluon field, capable to absorb more cluons from the cluon-emitting answer). But even in a weak cluon field absorber, some cluons do get absorbed, so noob can enhance her own cluon field, and improve cluon absorption rate (which is presented externally as improved speed of learning).
What expert can do to improve cluon absorption rate of the target noob? Obviously he needs to create cluon generator modulated according to the strength of the cluon field of the absorber. Or, on higher level of abstraction, write the answer according to the knowledge level of the target audience: terse and short (dense cluon burst) for experts, and long wordy answer spoonfeeding all the details for the noobs.
What noob can do to improve own cluon field absorption rate? Announce in the question which kind of cluon field she possess, so answer can be modulated accordingly. If first cluon burst is too dense, expert might dilute it by providing more details, aiding the absorption rate. Failing that, read the answer multiple times (generator emits new cluons for every reading – if they missed absorption field first time, with luck they will interact next time). Be aware that slow learning rate is caused by your own weak cluon field (and small cluon absorption rate), and it will improve with developing stronger, more mature cluon field.
Good news is that every absorbed cluon increases the strength of the noob's own cluon field, making future absorption easier and more effective. Bad news is that it takes time, and there is no way around learning: The only way is to stop whining and do the work required (TANSTAAFL). All experts went through the noob phase at some point in the past, just some pretend to forgetting it, possibly to frustrate noobs.
Of course this “personal cluon field” is just a simplification to aid understanding – in reality there is single field, and each person's mental presence creates local disturbances of it.
So much for simple cluon interactions.
(2) Cluon/bogon field interactions in a forum
Of course, in real-life forum, cluon interaction is more complex than single answer from single expert (cluon emitter) and single noob (cluon consumer) absorbing cluons as described in (1). In real forum, there are few (way too few) experts, many (oh so many) noobs, and there is uncountable number of participants on intermediate level of continuum, distorting (in many different ways) the cluon field of original cluon generator by commenting on the answer. We will look into cardinality of cluon emitters in (3) in more details.
The phenomenon of cluons emitted by non-experts is very interesting, and hard to explain outside of cluon theory. Sometimes those additional cluons reinforce cluons emitted by experts (when they are “in-sync” with cluon fields emitted by experts) thus aiding absorption of the original cluon source by noobs, but quite often those “bad” cluons cancel out “good” cluons.
Traditionally these “bad” cluons are called bogons, for obvious reason. Interaction of a cluon/bogon field is called cluon field for simplicity, and bogon emitters are commonly called bogoexperts.
So for a forum participant with cluon field of intermediate capacity, it is very important to be careful when emitting cluons: such emitter needs to be aware that generated distortions of the cluon field of the original cluon generator might sometimes facilitate absorption of a cluon by a noob, and sometimes might prevent the absorption. It is much better to remain silent, absorb cluons, but avoid emitting bogons, until reaching some decent level of understanding. With less bogons emitted, cluon field is smooth and cluons are easier to absorb even by weakest cluon field of a total noob.
Intermediate cluon field capacity of a non-expert does not cause emission of a pure bogon field – quite often emission is mixed cluon/bogon field, but for weak cluon field of a noob, all emitted particles (even bogons) looks like cluon, possibly contributing to bogification of the noob (transforming her to bogoexpert).
Interesting trivia: cluon/bogon particle pair does not attract each other, but repells.
So much for cluon/bogon field.
(3) Cardinality of the cluon emitters
When observing complex cluon field interaction (cluon/bogon field) in any forum, interesting phenomenon is that there are substantially more emitters of cluons with intermediate level of cluon field than the experts. But it should not be a surprise for a careful observer, armed with the cluon theory: Noobs (level 0) come and go, or after a while learn a little and cease to be noobs. Experts (level 1) are few (countable – cardinal number aleph0), but forum members with experience level between 0 and 1 are on continuum, so uncountable (cardinality is c). And sadly, many of those cluons originated at intermediate level of experience are in fact bogons.
Also, it takes less time to become bogoexpert than real expert, which contributes to overwhelming “number” of bogon emitters. We cannot really say “number” of bogoexperts because cardinality of bogoexperts, but we will use it for simplicity.
Again, cluon theory can trivially explain this confusing artifact of existence of bogons and cardinality of it's emitters - bogoexperts.
Extra cluons are available if you need to brush up on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardinality
So much for cardinality of cluon emitters.
(4) Cluon-resistant emitters
Another interesting phenomenon is that some forum newbies after absorbing small amount of cluons start considering themselves “almost-experts” (even if they are quasi-experts at best) and as such became cluon-resistant. They become capable to avoid absorbing cluons from experts, but (because of peculiarities of they cluon absorbing field – it's high bogosity) are capable to absorb bogons from other bogoexperts in increased rate and even emit bogons to create more bogons-generating bogoexperts.
Probable reason of this cluon resistance is that cluon/bogon field with high bogosity repels cluons.
There are multiple reasons why bogoexperts are capable to emit such huge amount of bogons:
- There are much more (cardinality again) of “bogoexperts” than real experts, as we proved in (3).
- Noobs and bogoexperts miss many cluons from experts, but because they failed to interact with them, they believe those cluons do not exist, and even accuse experts of not emitting them, or emitting bogons.
- Occasional stray bogons emitted by expert strongly resonates with bogoexpert's bogofield, increasing it's bogon emitting rate frequency even more.
- Noobs and bogoexperts believe that forum is a democracy, and if enough people vote that 1+1=3 they believe it will became truth. When experts emit bogon-negating cluons, bogoexperts miss the cluons again.
In fact, this propensity of bogoexperts to start and promote polls to help establish a solution for some inherently complex problem is one of the simplest field method to detect a bogoexpert, without need to waste time on sophisticated bogometer analysis. Polls have fatal attractions to bogoexperts, like candlelight to a moth.
Usually mods are reluctant to silence bogoexperts, because there are so many (or because of cardinality, so much) of bogoexperts (see (3)), and because cluon field of the mods and bogoexperts is congruent (has the similar peculiarities – bogosity). Only cluon theory can explain this paradox: mods have also intermediate experience (above noob) and fit definition of a bogoexpert.
Fallacy of the democratic rule (ignoring obvious meritocracy) skews cluon field and decreases cluon absorption rate. Forum mods are also part of the problem, because they believe that if they (mods) decide in their secret cabal meeting that it would benefit the forum noobs if 1+1=3, they can postulate it to be it so and enforce it. In fact, all they can do is to silence the experts who dare to disagree, but they cannot change fundamental cluon laws existing outside of the forum. In fact, enforcing bogus rule like that they just create more bogoexperts. Because of high bogosity of mods, they may even cherish it, sadly.
Fortunately, many bogoexperts are capable to absorb real cluons, learn, and with time, to stop emitting bogons. In fact, any honest expert will admit emitting bogons in some part part of her previous career, and learning from the experience afterwards. This is another reason why in (3), cardinality of bogon emitters is higher than cardinality of valid cluon emitters.
This “bogoexpert phase” in growth process of an expert is also a reason why term “bogoexpert” is more widely used than “vampire-experts”. Even if bogons emitted by bogoexpert can convert noob to another such bogoexpert, creating a vampire-like dependency, in many cases the healing process (demodulating of the bogon field) is natural part of developing mature cluon field, and using vampire-expert (a term with obvious negative connotations) would only alienate this subpopulation, skew their cluon fields, decrease cluon absorption rate by bogoexperts and delay the healing process.
In fact, if a person does not admit such bogon emitting activity in own past, it is a sure sign of a bogoexpert, and cluons emitted by such person can be safely discarded as bogons without regret.
So much for bogoexperts.
Flamewar (inevitable in any long-living cluon exchange) is another interesting phenomenon which is easy (even trivial) to grok using cluon theory, but confusing and incomprehensible without the help of this powerful abstraction.
What exactly is a flamewar?
Flamewar is turbulent interaction of multiple cluon emitters and bogon emitters. Often is started inadvertently by a noob pretending to be bogoexpert, or by malevolent bogoexpert with explicit goal to elicit intense and wasteful bursts of cluons. Because participating cluon emitters (question, answers, responses) are set up by persons with above-average experience (experts and high-ranked bogoexperts) and because target audience of such emitters is presumed to have above average cluon fiend density, cluon burst are very intense and very focused to interact with rapidly moving (and evading) target bogon fields.
Often bogoexpert creates false bogon emitter without intention to defend any claims it contains in any way (so called troll) with single goal to waste energy of experts on building cluon emitters firing on that false target to protect noobs from absorbing bogons and preventing their bogification.
Flamewar and troll attack are similar in the sense that with both cases, resulting cluon field is chaotic and turbulent, with rapid changes in cluon/bogon gradients, and noob's weak cluon field is capable of absorbing only few (if any) cluons from such cluon exchange. Most of the energy of this cluon field turbulence is released as heat.
Another popular tactic how to solicit intense cluon bursts is to create a strawman argument instead of interacting with cluons of original answer, or a personal attack. In both cases, cluon emitting activities are intense, but noobs are hardly able to extract any usable cluons from it. In a case of strawman, bogons could be potentially absorbed, with danger of creating a one or more bogoexperts as a result of a bogification of a noob.
So much for flamewars.
(6) Raging mods
Mod is specific kind of bogoexpert, as we proved in (4). But it is interesting to use cluon theory to grok how a mod is different from common bogoexpert, and what this difference implies.
Mods are capable of emitting cluons in some area and are helpful in general, but when disturbed by cluon turbulence of a flamewar (5), bogosity of their cluon field makes their misguided goal to protect noobs from painful cluon bursts by eliminating the sources of the cluon field turbulence at any cost, instead of just eliminating bogons and silencing bogons emitters.
Mods are able to detect the cluon turbulence (rapid gradient change of the cluon/bogon field) but do not care (or are not capable, because of their bogosity) to distinguish between emitters of cluons and bogons – all they detect is the turbulence, and often punish both emitting sides swiftly and equally. Which is obviously counterproductive, because as we proved in (3), cardinality of bogon emitters exceeds cardinality of the experts, and as result experts are silenced in higher rate than bogoexperts, degrading the forum cluon levels. But mods do not care about the cluon levels – only about it's smoothness, the lack of turbulence. Because of their inherent bogosity, bogons are as good as cluons for mods, and mods prefer smooth bogons emitters over generators of dense cluon bursts.
As result of this bogosity of the mods, rage of mods diminishes quality (cluon density) of cluon field in a forum.
So much about the raging mods.
(7) What's next?
For a noob:
First: read the books. They are excellent, very much worth of read, and TANSTAAFL principle will serve you whole life, beyond the forum.
Second: realize that learning is not trivial and it takes time (because of TANSTAAFL). Learning from certified sources is better than learning from random suggestions (to avoid risk of bogons). So carefully evaluate sources. Not by counting votes, because there are more bogoexperts then real experts, see (3), but by evaluating the stability of the source cluon field on merit. “More” in a cardinality sense, of course.
There are many positives in building strong cluon field in a single area before moving to another one:
- It builds patience and skill to recognize cluon/bogon patterns in other ares faster than when learning all areas first time with weak cluon field.
- You are more capable to recognize emitters of bogons in your area of knowledge (and chances are, emitter is bogoexpert in other areas too, so better avoid such cluon emitters entirely)
- You become positive cluon emitter – it feels good and you contribute to make world better for everyone.
Third: When facing short intensive burst of cluons from expert, don't whine that it burns. Process those cluons, maybe multiple times (chances are you miss many during first pass), and improve your absorption rate. Realize that such cluon burst is not punishment for you but a gift, and the pain associated with absorption of the cluons is caused by your own weak cluon field.
Example: When receiving a terse response like “RTFM link”, it is not a reason to complain to mods about the rudeness of F, but time to read the link and possibly to thank the originator for the enriching cluon exchange.
Grokking cluon theory will improve noob's understanding (grokking) of the process of understanding itself.
For aspiring cluon researcher:
- Stabilize terminology. Is it "cluon theory" or "quantum bogodynamics"? etc. Wikipedia mentions bogons, but has no clue about cluons. More digging is required.
- Research deeper aspects of the cluon theory. Ie why bogosity of raging mods is higher in PT than in other subforums of UF? Is it true also for bogoexperts?
- Are there different flavors of cluons? Why cluons related to dynamically typed languages, closures etc gets rejected, repeatedly?
- Apply cluon theory to areas of knowledge beyond internet forums.
Ie seems that presence of suits (bogon emitters) causes complex hardware demo to fail. Cluons can also explain mechanics of a failure according to Murphy's Law, etc.
Grok cluons to become one with the clue:
become free from suffering, leave the forum where mods are raging, to achieve the nirvana!
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