The things I know well - I don't know

As I am typing that title, above, something reminded me a rule of languages. The rule is simple and almost universal. The rule can be stated - "It is the responsibility of the author to make make sure the words mean what he meant". You could trace this rule to ancient samkrith (sanskrith, if you'd like it better) grammarian Panini and others. What it essentially says is that a sentence should have unique and universal meaning and making sure it is so, is an essential part of writing.

In another context, called the "Bhashalankara" (meaning decoration of language, what would be "figure of speech" in English) there is one such thing in samskrith "Shleshankara"(pun). In literature pun is used as a way of engaging the reader and making the work, in some sense, better. And in common usage, it is used as a tool for sarcasm. (well, sarcasm is a whole different figure of speech in itself, and while some people get it, many don't)

There is another stream of literature which is neither an intended pun nor a sarcasm. It is philosophy. In particular, on that I am more familiar with, the Vedic philosophy. Therein, it is unclear what the author's intended meaning is; and that is often thought to be as deficiency of a greater philosophical kind on the part of the reader rather than the inability of the author to make it absolutely clear as to what he (or she) meant.

Coming back to the title of the blog, I hope you are able to see the pun. If not, may be you will be able to get it by the end of the blog.

This thought had been with me for a long time. I think it will continue to be with me forever. And the more I think about it the more I want it to be with me. This is a small instance of a simple interaction with my adviser in the fall of 2008. For his graduate course on 'system identification' (which now turns out to be my comfort zone), we were talking about a time domain method called 'Prediction Error Method' (yeah, I know, details are not necessary!! :P ). I was working on this homework, which used prediction error formulation and a Recursive Least Squares (RLS) algorithm. In the elevator, he asked me about the homework. I said that it was going well but for one thing. I was getting one of the coefficients as unity and others quite close to zero. And he said, "congrats Guru, your code is working, but not your problem formulation". I showed this great Indian node to mean that I am ever more confused; he said, "there is something wrong about what you are passing to the algorithm, you are passing the sample you are trying to predict, that is perhaps why one of your coefficients is converging to unity and others to zero!".

If I look back, it is perhaps obvious, assuming my RLS algorithm is working just fine. But perhaps what is more important is that I was concerned that my code had a bug rather than my formulation. I was not looking at my solution (on paper) but starring at my debug window on my computer and wondering what on earth could go wrong.

Now, that is an old story, my adviser continues to surprise me like that, impress me like that and essentially be someone to look up to. There was a time when I dreaded to meet him, for he will find fault in what I would tell him, now I look forward to meeting him. To tell him "look what I was able to do", only to be told "sell it to me Guru, you are a salesman, sell your idea to me".

That brings me to this interesting read that I want to share with you today. It is about "feeling stupid in research". Yes, it happens every single day. Every single time, from theoretical misconceptions to code blunders; from failure to understand to failure to explain; from mathematical jargon to backup software. If you are into science, engineering, or research you will perhaps like the article more than others. There is one line from the article that I want to quote here - " The crucial lesson was that the scope of things I didn't know wasn't merely vast; it was, for all practical purposes, infinite. "

[1] Martin A. Schwartz, "The importance of stupidity in scientific research", available online:

Of-late, I have been able to generate some interesting results in so called the order recursive adaptive filters. I am right there on the deal,I have sent him the quotations :). I just have to answer some questions that perhaps nobody has asked before, more so not answered even if somebody has asked.

Oh, by the way if you are buying a book for summer reading, here is my recommendation - "Best American Science and Nature Writing". It is a collection of, what editors' think are, the best science articles that appeared news paper and magazine in the year. It is released every year, I believe.


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