More on Asian admissions

Yesterday, I met this kid who just entered UC Berkeley for undergraduate. I had known him when I was a kid through friends of parents, though of course, when you’re a kid that kind of age gap disallows much meaningful social interaction. I vividly remember senior year of high school in my Spanish class, we were in the school library computer lab doing some project with a partner, and on the front page of the school district, there was news that this kid won a state math competition. I immediately said to my partner: “I know that kid!” And yesterday, he told me that he made AIME in 8th grade, and also later the USAJMO, which shows that he is highly gifted, perhaps more so than I am.

His dad, who is also a super interesting and humorous guy, told me that his son felt volunteering to put on resume for college applications is complete bullshit. I think the same. Whether or not to do it, to game the silly system, is another question. I thought: wise men think alike.

On this, I recall reading this article by a guy with the surname Mak (Cantonese, not so obviously Asian, unlike say “Ma”) about how he pretended not to be Asian deliberately for all four years of high school in order to get into Yale, which he did. He eventually regretted it deeply, as he expressed in his article.

It is quite sad that the discrimination has brought Asians to such desperate straights, to the mark of overtly rejecting their heritage to appease the white admissions officers who judge them. This is price of being the “model minority.” I don’t even think that works very well in the long run. The plum positions not requiring real skills obtained through connections will still go to the rich well connected WASP kids. For most of us, it would be more worthwhile to develop some real, hard employable skills, even if it means not going to an elite school.

I am angry that Asians are being used as pawns in America. I am angry that Asians here have to grow up hearing all these negative stereotypes which affect their self-esteem and steer them in questionable directions. I encourage Asians not to buy into this BS and know for a fact that American society systemically discriminates against them and deal with it both with the realism that it is there and will likely be slow to change, which means acting prudently with respect to their career prospects, and also to make some effort to fight back against it in a way that does not jeopardize them much. Asians are generally pretty reasonable. They do not demand beyond their ability, beyond what they’ve contributed. If anything, Asians are too passive in this regard, especially in America, where they are very much an invisible minority.

It is disgusting that elite American institutions at the undergraduate level are a mechanism for uplifting the Asians they view as likely to be spineless lackeys for the American WASP-dominated elite agenda in such an egregious way. It is expected behavior of course, but it is done so unabashedly so as to make it vile in its very nature. It degrades the credibility of American elite institutions and America at large to a group who have roots in one of the most economically vibrant areas on earth, a group that contributes enormously to America’s competitive and leading position in science, technology, and economics.

My final word to Asians in America. Be more daring in your ambition and individual pursuits, and at the same time realistic about what people have to offer. Asians are often told in America that they are tools, drones, not creative, and that they are “deferential to authority.” If so, why is it that China has arguably the richest revolutionary tradition and history of the 20th century, producing so many who fought fearlessly and relentlessly against oppressors, against old, outdated traditions, for a system more in tune with the modern world that eventually enabled China to thrive, in the face of powerful opponents? If so, why is it that there are so many Asians at or near the top of mathematics and theoretical physics, fields with arguably the deepest and most vibrant of thinkers, when the past generations were disadvantaged in their access to opportunities and material circumstances? If so, why is it that Japanese anime and video games are so popular across the world? My generation of Asians, unlike the previous ones, have substantially more economic resources at our disposal, and as a corollary, we can afford to care less about what other people think and follow more of our inner heart. With this, it may well be that in the next generation, those who continue on with such stereotypes of Asians will be seen as no more than a laughing stock.

Jordan normal form

Jordan normal form states that every square matrix is similar to a Jordan normal form matrix, one of the form

J = \begin{bmatrix}J_1 & \; & \; \\ \; & \ddots & \; \\\; & \; & J_p \\ \end{bmatrix}

where each of the J_i is square of the form

J_i = \begin{bmatrix}\lambda_i & 1 & \; & \; \\ \; & \lambda_i \; & \ddots & \; \\ \; & \; & \ddots & 1 \\ \; & \; & \; & \lambda_i \\ \end{bmatrix}.

This is constructed via generalized eigenvectors. One can observe that each block matrix corresponds to an invariant subspace, and generalized eigenvectors (of a matrix) are a set of chains, each of which is its own invariant subspace.

We let A be any linear transformation from V to V, where V is of course a vector space.

It is more common knowledge that Ker(A - \lambda I) is the mechanism used to solve for eigenvectors. Let us first observe that v \in Ker(A - \lambda I) is such that also Av \in Ker(A - \lambda I) since A commutes with A - \lambda I and that this extends to Ker(A - \lambda I)^t for any natural number t. This gives us a way to identify larger invariant subspaces.

Let W_i = Ker(A - \lambda I)^i. W_i \subset W_{i+1} is obvious, and there will be some and a smallest t at which W_t = W_{t+1}. Afterwards, the W_i must all be equal. If not, there will be in the intermediary on iterating A - \lambda I against a vector from which W_t = W_{t+1} is contradicted.

Next, we observe that Ker(A - \lambda I)^t \cap Im(A - \lambda I)^t = \emptyset. Suppose not. Then, we would have some w \in W_{2t} but not in W_t.

Rank nullity theorem says that the remainder after pulling out Ker(A - \lambda I)^t for some eigenvalue \lambda is Im(A - \lambda I)^t. We can run the same algorithm on that for another eigenvalue. So this is resolved by induction.

The result is that if A has distinct eigenvalues \lambda_1, \lambda_2, \ldots, \lambda_k, there are a_1, a_2, \ldots, a_k such that the domain of A is

(A - \lambda_1 I)^{a_1} \oplus (A - \lambda_2 I)^{a_2} \oplus \cdots \oplus (A - \lambda_k I)^{a_k}.

Now does Ker(A - \lambda I)^t correspond to a irreducible invariant subspace necessarily? No, as there is a difference between algebraic and geometric multiplicity.

Now we will show, as the second part of the proof, to be invoked on the components in the direct sum decomposition from the preceding first part of the proof that if T is nilpotent, meaning that T^n = 0 for some n, then there are v_1, \ldots, v_k and a_1, \ldots, a_k such that \{v_1, Tv_1, \ldots, T^{a_1-1}v_1, v_2, \ldots, v_k, Tv_k, \ldots, T^{a_k-1}v_k\} is a basis (linearly independent by definition) for the domain of T, with \sum a_k = \dim V and \max(a_1, \ldots, a_k) = n. (Note that here n is the smallest with T^n = 0.)

For any eigenvalue, there is an eigenvector space associated with it. Take its preimage with respect to A. Do this successively until nothing remains, which will be at the n-1th iteration. In particular, take u_1, \ldots, u_k to be the basis of the eigenvector space. For each one of these that has non-empty preimage, we take the element with the kernel projected out. This accumulates a set of vectors of the format specified. It has to be exhaustive with respect to the vector space under the nilpotence assumption, from which termination is also guaranteed. It remains to show that these are linearly independent. We can using our eigenvector space as our base case take an inductive hypothesis where the vectors accumulated prior to the kth iteration are linearly independent. Now we show that the vector set remains so after adding in the ones obtained from taking preimage. We note that first, the added ones are linearly independent themselves (if a nontrivial linear combinations gives zero, applying A would violate our inductive hypothesis). There is also that a nontrivial linear combination of the newly added ones cannot equal a linear combination of the rest. To show this, assume otherwise, and apply A just enough times (k times) for one side to disappear. The other side should be a linear combination with respect to our designated basis of the eigenvector space, which cannot disappear. This concludes our construction.

Essentially we have chains (of vectors) which terminate when an element is no longer found after our preimage operation. Applying to this T = A - \lambda I, we see that for some element u in our chain, Au = \lambda u + v, where v is the previous element of the chain, with 0 signifying that we are the at an eigenvector (non-generalized), at the front. Ones along the superdiagonal correspond to the 1 coefficient of v above.



Censorship in America

I’ve had the pleasure of reading the comments on Disqus of Bob Sykes, a baby boomer who, according to himself, has been an engineering professor for 37 years, at OSU if I remember correctly. He comments mostly on military technology, China, North Korea, race relations in America, and other political issues both internal and external to America. You can tell easily that he has some rather “radical” views. Like, he believes in segregation, to the extent that he thinks we should have segregated colleges. Now is he actually serious or is he employing the humor of hyperbole. He will also say:

Face the facts: the Anthem, Pledge, Flag, Declaration and Constitution are WASP male symbols. Blacks, Jews, Asians and Mexicans are not and cannot be Americans. America is and always will be WASP country.

I for the most part agree with what he says, when taken less literally and with some de-magnifications perhaps. He’s also pretty fucking funny. (If not, I wouldn’t be reading him ;))

I did see this morning this comment of his:

For almost a generation, Chinese students have dominated enrollments in our major STEM departments. They are an absolute majority of the students enrolled in most STEM programs today, especially mathematics and computers, engineering, physics and chemistry. And that is true even of our most elite STEM schools like MIT.

This has been a nearly zero-cost endeavor for the Chinese. At any decent STEM program all (as in ALL) of the graduate students are supported by the research programs they work for. That includes tuition, fees and a comfortable stipend. Support for graduate students is what distinguishes good graduate program from a mediocre one. The good ones have ample externally funded research programs; the mediocre ones don’t.

This investment shows up in many areas. China can put men into space; we can’t. China has many more super computers than we do, and they have the fastest supercomputers. Those machines are entirely home grown, from the chips to the operating systems. China also has the largest and most diverse manufacturing sector in the world and the largest infrastructure sector. Its nearest rival in terms of manufacturing diversity (but not size) is Russia. If China does succeed in integrating Eurasia into one economy, they will be the de facto world hegemon, and we will be a region power.

And I drafted and submitted a response:

You seem to overestimate China and Chinese in STEM a bit, though surely, the American mainstream tends to downgrade it. I know and talk with a guy, a very talented MIT student, who thinks rather lowly of China. Pollution, human rights, very few top mathematicians and scientists, yada yada yada. It is surely the case that even now most of the very elite STEM people of Chinese descent are in America, working in American universities or benefiting the American economy massively in American companies. It also does appear that at the highest levels, Chinese are still very underrepresented in many fields.

America is still quite a ways ahead in terms of sophistication of technology. You say China’s supercomputers are homegrown entirely, including the chips, but China’s best chip, the Loongson, is still far from the level that Intel has. Also, China has been struggling to manufacture high quality jet engines, which it has to buy from Russia, and in that, America, with Pratt and Whitney, is a generation ahead. These are examples of the most difficult technologies where China is still quite behind.

In a field I’m more familiar with, computer science, there’s no way China is anywhere close overall. See http://dubfuture.blogspot.c…. Almost all the important and foundational software systems, from the widely used programming languages, to Linux, to distributed systems, to git, have been developed in the West, and China is merely using them. I don’t see many Chinese, including those in America, creating complex, widely used open source tools yet.

China also is nowhere near competitive in the global automobile market.

So, too many glaring weaknesses. In China, people see themselves as scientifically and technologically behind, though that’s been changing. They even believe to a non-negligible extent that the Chinese education and system is ill for creativity, which seems to me way overblown, which the American mainstream promulgates, as did the professor who wrote the essay linked above.

I’ve gone through all my schooling in America, and I read Chinese online regularly, so I know a bit about China including its education and STEM, and this gives me an unusual double lens. I honestly think that American STEM education up to the undergrad level is a complete joke, and I realized this on a gradual basis. I eventually realized, starting from high school, that I had to learn on my own, as the school system by itself produces people who are not at all competitive. The American high school and college admissions system and even college is full of inane, time-wasting artificial nonsense. It has much to do with that the fact that students are simply too dumb nowadays, without selection at the high school level, which is done in most other advanced countries, including China, including Germany. There is also a ton of ideological BS within the American system, one that prides itself in vacuous democracy and freedom of speech; I’ve gone through American English and history classes to know the nightmare.

I do think though that in America, there is a sizable contingent who manage to really excel in spite of this morass, through independent learning and research, and by the graduate level, the American system is for the most part top notch. At the very top, the non-Chinese still have an edge, and that arguably extends to the younger generation as well.

By the way, how much discrimination do you see against Chinese in hard STEM fields (that does not include biology, in which it most certainly does exist). A friend of mine, a pure American, suspects that there is some pro-Jewish bias in academia right now in America, and that even in something like math, those mainland Chinese have to be better than those Jews to obtain equivalent positions. It’s hard to say. It does seem that Jews produce the most revolutionary thinkers and scientists if you look at the giants of math and theoretical physics. On the other hand, within the younger generation, Chinese are dominating the contests and Olympiads, which are 100% objective, fair contests. One ought to remember that in the older generation, China was quite poor and the Chinese came as immigrants with no money in a very foreign culture, a stark contrast to what the Jews, who are basically white European, have experienced. I’ve seen many very intelligent Jews say complete nonsense about China, more or less echoing the braindead mainstream American media, and I’ll go as far as to say that the Chinese cognitive elite does appear to be far less “full of shit.” It could be that the older generation of Chinese, to the extent that it underperformed, did so mostly out of discrimination and/or lack of resources and opportunity, or it could be that there is a relative dearth of Chinese talent wise at the very highest (say +4, +5 sigma) levels. We’ll see.

And Disqus marked it as spam!

Was it the Disqus system itself or was it some moderator of whatever forum this was, who decided that my writing was too un-PC to be publicized?


I watched part of this documentary on Japan in WWII. It is a very high quality one, with many personal remembrances of various Japan individuals, from high-ranking politicians and military men to schoolchildren, on their experience spoken in Japanese accented English. (No film experience on my part, but I can most certainly guess that many if not most of those were acted as opposed to real.) I believe it depicted rather realistically the Japanese perspective of the war.

Many individual Chinese openly express detest of Japan for obvious reasons, and in China, it is in some sense taught that Japan is pure evil. Kids will believe that. As one matures, one can of course develop a more realistic and less emotional perspective on the matter. Of course, there are many in China with family members who were killed or suffered tremendously under Japan, which has the most barbaric military culture of any country in the world, and thus, the reaction to Japan is bound to be traumatic and emotional, especially for the older folks.

I actually know little about Japan and am eager to learn more. I’ve never been there, aside from the Narita airport, which doesn’t count. I am increasingly impressed by Japan, by its ability particularly in science and technology. There is the popular stereotype (in China as well) that Japanese are uncreative copycats (they stole Chinese characters) and later they modernized learning from the West, but such is obviously not so given the plethora of original, and in some cases groundbreaking, creations by Japan since they have been an advanced country, which one can put as the 1930s. The masses see directly Japanese cameras and cars, and also their anime, and the elite intelligentsia are well aware of their contributions to pure science (on that, Japan has won sizable chunk of the Nobel prizes since 2000).

Japan modernized very rapidly and successfully with the help of the West. At that time, which was second half of 19th century, it was clear that the West was leagues ahead, having developed modern science, and later modern, industrial technology. By then, not surprisingly, Japan was obsessed with learning from the West (seeing what the defeated and colonized non-Western people of the world, especially China, were suffering), and initially, for good reason, Japanese were not sure they could ever compete with Westerners. As they made progress, doubts on that gradually dispersed, and expectedly, Japan defeated China in 1895, which devastated the Chinese national psyche much more so than did the repeated losses to the Western powers did, on the basis that China historically had always seen Japan as this puny country much as its vassal, which had relied on her as its cultural mother. Needless to say, Japan became the undisputed king of Asia after that, taking over both Taiwan and Korea. Japan experienced a tremendous boost in international status and confidence in itself when it prevailed in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, against a white, Western power, which was a huge deal at the time when white supremacy was the norm, for good reasons. That also inspired greatly the so called colonized and subjugated colored peoples of the world.

Nonetheless, the Western powers refused to treat Japan as an equal. From my limited knowledge, they made it such that Japan, despite being the victor, did not get very favorable peace terms. The same was in the aftermath of WWI. Japan was obviously resentful that the West treated it as inferior despite all the evidence that Japan was as advanced and competent as the West was, and perhaps more so in some respects. I still recall reading in this silly American grade school textbook: “Japan beat the Europeans at their own game.” So, Japan, very naturally, viewed WWII as a necessity to further prove and assert itself, and justified it on the basis of liberating Asia from Western colonialism and domination. Even though Japan lost that war, it had demonstrated itself more than formidable in cases such as the Battle of Singapore, fighting a fully modern war centered on Navy and Air Force that they lost largely owing to lack of resources and men, such that the West could not but recognize it, despite their being foreign and a latecomer.

Again, post-war, Japan stunned the world with their “economic miracle” that is well represented by the pervasion of its cars and electronics through global (that includes first-class, Western) markets, and it is regarded by many in the West familiar with it, such as Jared Taylor, as one of the best run places on earth. There was some panic in the 1980s in America pertaining to that.

It is apparent that now, Japan, as impressive as it is, has peaked, having endured a so-called Lost Decade and faced competition against its high-tech products from South Korea and now China that cut away some of its market share, further contributing to their decline in economic growth. Still, in absolute terms, it is without doubt that Japan is very high up.

We all know in WWII, Japan easily took over China’s cities with modern against primitive, and it could not win the war against China mainly due to the vast size, as well as the geographic barriers, of mainland China, coupled with their being outnumbered. It was impossible to Japan to control the smaller, rural areas in China, where there was of course a popular anti-Japan resistance. I find it rather ironic that it was China, as weak and backwards as it was, managed to fight America to a stalemate, winning the North Korean side of the war, only 6 years after the end of WWII, when there were still like a million Japanese soldiers in China. That war though, in stark contrast to Japan vs America in WWII, was mainly a land one, one where numbers and human fighting ability mattered more and military technology less. Owing to that, China faced a very different and much fiercer international discrimination and obstacle than Japan had, but it was able to triumph through it miraculously, and that was a much more of a miracle than the Japanese post-war economic miracle. In 1964, China became the first Asian nuclear power. Though at that time, China was still for the most part behind technologically, it is fair to call that the point when China reclaimed its position as the leader of Asia from Japan. China is obviously much more of a threat to the West given its size, not possessed by Japan, as well as its having had its formative years modernization wise entirely in defiance of the West under an economic embargo, after the US was forced to officially treat it as an equal in the Korean Armistice Agreement. China is much indebted to the Soviet Union, which suffered a very sad, tragic demise and further economic disintegration by taking ridiculous advice of Western leaders eager to ruin it, for the generous aid it provided to China in the 1950s, the decade when the critical foundation of modern China was built. Though there was a Sino-Soviet split, with the two in direct conflict a decade later, the immense contribution of the Soviet Union to China’s current success was a decisive factor and cannot be overstated. I believe that the ties between China and Russia are so strong and friendly today largely due to this, which the Chinese people remember well.

Though primarily an (autistic) math nerd, I do take a casual interest in power politics, as you can tell, and I have developed somewhat of a cynical attitude towards it. It is perhaps deep embedded in our human DNA for powerful groups and tribes to want to rule the world. You can see this with the (rather rogue, and also getting outdated) attitude that the American neocons and British empire nostalgists (for lack of a better word) towards international affairs. They are stupid and let their own exceptionalism delude themselves such that they demand the entirely unreasonable and refuse to give credit, in an utterly egregious way, to those they don’t like. For example, they won’t acknowledge, far from it, that it was mostly the USSR who defeated Hitler, which is obvious. They, being as powerful as they were, could sort of get away it, but now that time is past, with the rise and catching up of the rest of the world, China in particular. We all know that powerful individuals or nations generally don’t get along well and exhibit mutual distrust. It’s not uncommon for the most powerful to use a less threatening competitor against its primary competitor, and such is natural behavior. However, the US and the British do it too nastily without shame, and spread the most ridiculous propaganda that is patently false, not respecting history at all. There is also the entitlement to trample and enslave the weak without any reservation whatsoever that is patently manifested in that elite ruling class today. Take a look at the following picture, of Kate Middleton (with Prince William) in Tuvalu, which I will let speak for itself.


We all know that it is a human tendency for the rich and powerful to oppress and exploit the poor and marginalized, as has happened throughout history, just about everywhere. Aspiration for status is in our genes, and any social group operates on a hierarchy in some form or another. There will always be winners and losers, superiors and inferiors. But, this could be done in a more benign way than what is reflected in the above photo, which shows devoid of virtue the Anglo elites in the global “leadership” position they cling onto today, in desperation.

Innate mathematical ability

This morning I had the great pleasure of reading an article on LessWrong on innate ability by Jonah Sinick. Jonah has been one of my greatest influences and inspirations, having interacted with him substantially. He is unusual in one of the best ways possible. I would not be surprised if he goes on to do something extraordinary.

When I catch up with Jonah, I like to talk with him about math, mathematicians, and IQ, which happens to be what that article of his on LessWrong is about. 😉 That article resonates with me deeply because I myself had similar experiences as he did. It is hypothesized by me that I was also twice exceptional, albeit in different ways, with its effects compounded by my unusual background, all of which mediocrities within the American public school system are not good at dealing with in an effectual way.

This writing of Jonah has brought forth reflections in my own mind with regard to mathematical ability, development, and style. I’ll say that as a little kid under 6, I was very good at arithmetic and even engaged in it obsessively. However, by age 8, after two years of adjusting to life in America starting off not knowing a word of English, I had forgotten most of that. I was known to be good at math among the normal normal students; of course, that doesn’t mean much. In grade school, I was not terribly interested in math or anything academic; I was more interested in playing and watching sports, particularly basketball and baseball.

I didn’t have any mathematical enrichment outside of school other than this silly after school math olympiad program. Nonetheless, I managed to test into two year accelerated math once I reached junior high, not that it means anything. In junior high, we were doing this stupid “core math” with graphing calculators and “experiments.” I didn’t realize that I was actually a joke at math until I failed miserably at the state mathcounts contest, having not prepared for it, unlike all those other tiger mommed Asian kids, who to me seemed way beyond me at that time. It only occurred to me that I might have some real talent for math when I made the AIME in 10th grade, taking the AMCs for the first time, being one of four in my high school of about 2000 to do so. I thought it was fun solving some of those math contest problems, which were more g-loaded, with an emphasis on the pattern recognition side.

It was after that I started to read up on the history of mathematics and mathematicians. I taught myself some calculus and was fascinated by it, not that I understood it very well. But I could easily sense that this was much more significant than many of those contrived contest problems, and soon, I began to lose interest in the contest stuff. It was also after that that I learned about proving things, which the American public school math doesn’t teach. I finally realized what mathematics is really about.

Like Jonah, I had some difficulties with careless errors and mental organization. I don’t think my raw intellectual horsepower was very high back in high school, but fortunately, it has improved substantially since then that it is for the most part no longer the major impediment.

I took calculus officially in 11th grade, and it was a breeze for me. I could easily compute the areas and volumes and such but the entire time, I felt quite dissatisfied, because I could not actually understand that stuff at a rigorous, theoretical level as I poured through our textbook that went up to vector calculus during lecture, which was rather inane, expected if one considers the mismatch between cognitive threshold relative to the distribution of ability of the students. I knew from reading online the rich world of math far beyond what we were covering, most of which I was not intellectually mature enough to access at that time. However, I vividly remember during summer after 11th grade, while attending a math summer program, I was able to comfortably write out the delta epsilon definition of limit with understanding of why it was reasonably defined that way. Still, I would say I was still quite weak in terms of both my mathematical maturity and overall intellectual ability. There were too many things I wasn’t aware of, including the g factor, that I easily would have been had I been higher in verbal ability, which would have enabled me to read, absorb, and internalize information much more rapidly and broadly. In contrast, Jonah had discovered independently, or so he says, the lack of free will at the age of 7!

I made some incremental advances in my math knowledge from reading and thinking outside of school the next year. As for contest math, I almost made the USAMO. Though I had improved, I was still not terribly quick and careful with solving contest style problems and doing computations. I think close to graduation, I also solved some Putnam problems.

Only in undergrad did I learn real math more seriously, but even there, nothing too advanced. US undergrad is a joke, and I also was one, just to a lesser extent than most of my “peers.” Almost certainly, Jonah, based on he’s told me, had gained much deeper and broader knowledge at the same stage, from the reading works of giants like Euler and Riemann.

I’ve noticed how there are a lot of Chinese-(American) kids really into those high school math contests, and they now also dominate USAMO and Putnam (though careful, as in the latter, there you’ve got some of Chinese internationals drawn from the elite from China). I will say that at the lower levels, many of those kids have some pretty low taste and an inability to think outside the system that would enable them to discover the existence of real math, as opposed to this artificial math game that they enjoy playing or are pressured to doing so for college. Though those contests have a high pattern recognition component to them, there is not really much depth or substantial math knowledge. It is also my belief, with reference to Jonah’s article, that math contests are mostly M loaded while real math is more V loaded. So this behavior is consistent with the lopsidedness in favor of M and perhaps also short term working memory of Chinese students. It has also been Jonah’s belief that controlling for g, these contests select for low taste and value judgement, and I surely identify with that perspective. So maybe college admissions are somewhat fair to assess an Asian penalty?

Of the thesis of Jonah’s article, a representative figure is Terry Tao. There, Jonah also pointed out that Tao’s research in math is more concrete and problem solving oriented by pure math standards, in line with what appears to be the same lopsided (modulo the absolute level, as Terry is a far far outlier) cognitive profile of his based on testing at age 9 and 10. Again, people enjoy what they are best at, and though, Terry Tao is almost certainly at least +4 sigma at verbal, he is far more rare, at least +5 sigma, a real übermensch, in the (in some sense dual) pattern recognition component, which means he leans towards the areas of math more loaded on the latter. I have heard the saying that even other Fields medalists are intimidated by Terry Tao. The breadth and volume and technical power of his work is almost unrivaled and otherworldly. The media makes it seem like Terry is a league above even the other Fields medalists. However, Jonah seems to believe that the deepest and most leading of mathematicians are the ones who are more theory builders, who create through leaps of insight and synthesis new fields and directions that keep mathematicians busy for decades, and even centuries. That would be say Grothendieck or SS Chern, and an ability that is more loaded on verbal ability, crudely speaking. Again, I have felt the same. This might explain why the advantage of Chinese students is not anywhere near as pronounced in math research as in contests, and why some people say that generally speaking, the Chinese mathematicians are more problem solving and technical than theoretical, more analysis than algebra. Likewise, we can predict the opposite for Jews who are skewed in favor of verbal. A corollary of this would be that the Jews produce the deepest thinkers, adjusted somewhat for population, which is almost certainly the case, if you look at the giants of mathematics and theoretical physics.

I’ll conclude with the following remark. I used to revere somewhat those who placed very highly on those contests, until I realized that many of them are actually somewhat weak in terms of deep understanding and thinking at a more theoretical level. Yes, I have met MOSPers who got destroyed by real math and who are not very intellectually versatile, with glaring weaknesses; I was quite surprised initially that even I seemed to be smarter if not a lot than some of them. Once upon a time, I couldn’t understand those who appeared very strong at real math (and often also science and/or engineering and/or humanities) who struggled with more concrete math and/or contest-style problem solving, like Jonah, who has written on LessWrong of his difficulties with accuracy on the trivial math SAT. I’ve met this other guy, who I thought was an idiot for being unable to perform simple computations, who is leagues beyond me in the most abstract of math, who writes prolifically about partially V-loaded areas of math like model theory. Now, the more metacognitive me has awakened to the reality that I may never by deficit of my neurobiology be able to fathom and experience what they’re capable of. After all, there are plenty I am almost certain are and are essentially doomed to be very delusional by nature relative to me, and since I’m at the far tail but not quite so much, there are bound to be people who view me the same. I can only hope that I can become more like them through some combination of exposure and organic neurobiological growth, but I as a realist will not deem that very likely.

More on Asian stereotypes

I just stumbled upon this wonderful essay by Gwydion Madawc Williams on why the Ming voyages led by Zheng He (郑和) led to nothing. The quote of it particularly memorable to me was this:

The separation of craft and education as represented by China’s illiterate shipwrights was indeed a genuine weakness in the Chinese system.  Christian Europe always remembered that St Peter had been a fisherman and St Paul a tent-maker, and it was quite acceptable for learned people to also be involved in manufacturing.  The weakness of Confucianism was not so much that it rated agriculture and craft above merchant trade, but that it insisted on the educated being a learned caste distanced from all of these matters.

Again, it’s the Asian stereotype of being a study hard grind lacking in practical, hands-on skills and “well-roundedness” and “social skills” and all that that admissions officers use to justify denying Asian applicants. I’ll say that from what I know, that is still very limited, Confucianism was very much like that. The quote that epitomized this was: 劳心者治人,劳力者治于人, which translates to roughly “the worker of the mind governs, the physical worker is governed.” The whole imperial examination system essentially created an upper class of bookworms for whom any form of hands on labor was beneath. To be a true 君子, gentlemen, you were supposed to study the classics and write poetry and engage in all that Confucian bull shit. I myself don’t have a very high opinion of Confucianism. It’s too conservative for me, with all the emphasis on ritual and filial piety. It discouraged any form of innovation outside the system, outside what was already there, which is partly why China could not make the giant leaps in science that the West did. I’ve read some of the Analects of Confucius and know some of the quotes, and I don’t think Confucius was a deep philosopher at all; there is little actual substance in what he said. On the other hand, Mo Tzu was a much further reaching, more scientific, and surprisingly modern thinker, and had China followed his path instead of banishing his school of thought into obscurity, the world would be completely different now, with China likely having made many more leaps of progress than it had actually done. I’ll say that the West was able to escape the shackles of Christianity, but China could not by itself escape those of Confucianism, until its dire situation, with reached its nadir in 1900, forced it too.

Apparently, the elite college admissions officers aren’t terribly good at filtering out the real Asian grinds either, as I know one who went to Princeton, who I found ridiculous. He said that all he did in college was study, and even though he majored in math, he hardly knew any. Like, he didn’t know what a topological space is. When I went ice skating with him and some others, he was near the edge the whole time, and he characterized my skating backwards (not well at all) as “scary.” I told him I’m not very athletic and wasn’t even any good, unlike the girl he was dating at that time, who could do spins among other fancy “figure skating” things she was trying out. I did show him the video taken of this 360 somersault I did off a 15 feet cliff in Hawaii, into the water, which was the first time I had done anything like that. He was like: “that’s so scary.” I honestly didn’t know what to say. To justify himself, he was like: “Chinese parents only want their kids to study.” I told him that in China, there are some very athletic people who attend special sports schools. On that, he was like: “but those aren’t normal people.” I also remember when we went camping once, everybody else got drunk, so I got to drive that kid’s BMW back. He had told us that his father does business in Beijing, which might explain why he drives that kind of car. He came to US at age 4. His Chinese is absolutely awful though, and he doesn’t realize it. He will of course say: “I already know enough. Some people can’t even speak it.” 怎么说那,不仅是个书呆子,而且是个书都读不好的书呆子,连这样的sb还都被Princeton录取了。I’ve talked with one of my very smart Asian friends about this, and he was like: “but he’s socially normal, unlike us.” And more recently: “Maybe they do accept Asian grinds, just not the ones with bad social skills.”

From what I’ve seen, there are plenty of super conformist Asian grinds like him, but there are also many who aren’t, who are actually smart and interesting, like myself (or at least I hope). I think what he said about Chinese parents is somewhat true actually; after all, I saw many growing up. They do see academics as a way to get ahead more so than others, largely because in China, to get out of your rural village and/or not be stuck with a working class job, you had to do sufficiently well on the gaokao to get into a good major at a good university. It’s funny that I’ve actually seen a ton of ignorant, narrow-minded, and risk-averse uncool tiger Chinese parents. And I have also seen some extremely impressive ones, not just academically. There is again quite a wide range and variety.

There is a phenomenon I’ve witnessed, which is that if a person is extremely strong at X and merely above average at Y, then that person will seem weak at Y, even compared to another person about as good at Y but less lopsided. It seems a natural human cognitive bias to think this way. This is in fact applied rather perversely to Asians in stereotyping. For example, Asian students are perceived as weak at language and humanities because they are generally stronger at STEM. We all know that in fact math IQ and verbal IQ (which we can use crudely as proxies for STEM ability and humanities ability respectively) are highly correlated, which makes it highly unlikely that a STEM star is actually legitimately weak at humanities. He might not be interested in reading novels and such but that’s rather different. There is also that humanities is more cultural exposure loaded with a much higher subjective element to it, with much less of a uniform metric. It actually seems to me based on personal experience that is by no means representative that in terms of precise use of language and the learning of foreign languages, mathematicians and theoretical physicists are at or near the top in terms of ability. On this, I will give an opposing perspective that I identify with somewhat, which is that even if you’re very strong at Y, having an X that you are significantly more talented at is a weakness for Y, because engaging in Y deprives the joy derived from engaging in the X, which often leads to loss of interest over time. Maybe this is why employers shy from hiring people who they deem “overqualified?” On this, I have thought of how possibly the lopsided cognitive profile in East Asians (with what is likely at least 2/3 SD differential between math/visuo-spatial and verbal, normalizing on white European scores) predisposed the thinking of the elite (assuming that lopsidedness is preserved at the far tail) as well as the development of that society at large in certain ways, some of which may have been not the most conducive for, say, the development of theoretical science. This is of course very speculative, and I would actually hypothesize that the far tail cognitive elite among East Asians is more balanced in terms of the math/visuo-spatial and verbal split, given the great extent to which the imperial examination system, which tested almost exclusively literary things, selected for V at the tail instead of for M.

On the aforementioned bias, I’ll give another illustrative example. I once said to this friend of mine, a math PhD student, not Asian, how there’s the impression that people who are weaker academically tend to be better at certain practical things, like starting restaurants and businesses. We sure all know there are plenty who weren’t good at school but were very shrewd and successful at business, at practical things. That guy responded with reference to Berkson’s paradox. He said something like: “That’s because you are unlikely to see those who are bad at both. They tend to be in prison or in the lower classes.” I could only agree.

I’ll conclude with another more dramatic example. I used to, when I knew nothing about the subject, think that people who were really at math were weirdos and socially awkward. For one, there was this kid in my high school who was way better than me at math at the time, who was incredibly autistic. Also, summer after 10th grade, I saw Beautiful Mind, which depicts the mathematician as mentally crazy. Now I would bet the incidence of schizophrenia among the mathematically gifted is lower than it is in the whole population. It just happens that certain combinations of extreme traits are vastly more noticeable or exposed by the media to the public (a mathematician or physicist may think of this as weighing those with such combinations with a delta function, or something along that direction at least). I wasn’t quite aware of that at that time though. Only later, after meeting more math people did I realize that math people are not actually that socially out of it in general, far from it, at least once they’re past a certain age, by which they will have had the chance to interact with more people like them and form their own peer group.

It is my hope that people can be more cognizant of these biases described in this blog post.


Hahn-Banach theorem

I’m pleased to say that I find the derivation of the Hahn-Banach theorem pretty straightforward by now. Let me first state it, for the real case.

Hahn-Banach theorem: Let V be a real vector space. Let p: V \to \mathbb{R} be sublinear. If f : U \to \mathbb{R} be a linear functional on the subspace U \subset V with f(x) \leq p(x) for x \in U, then there exists a linear extension of f to all of V (call it g) such that f(x) \leq g(x) for x \in V with f(x) = g(x) for x \in U and g(x) \leq p(x) for all x \in V.

To show this, start by taking any x_0 \in V \setminus U. We wish to assign some \alpha to x_0 that keeps p as the dominating function in the vector space U + \mathbb{R}x_0. For this to happen, applying the linearity of f and the domination constraint, we can derive

\frac{f(y) - p(y - \lambda x_0)}{\lambda} \leq \alpha \leq \frac{p(y+\lambda x_0) - f(y)}{\lambda}, \quad y \in U, \lambda > 0.

This reduces to

\sup_{y \in U} p(y+x_0) - f(y) \leq \inf_{y \in U} f(y) - p(y-x_0).

Such can be proven via

f(y_1) + f(y_2) = f(y_1 + y_2) \leq p(y_1 + y_2) \leq p(y_1 - x_0) +p(y_2 + x_0), \quad y_1, y_2 \in U.

Now take the space of linear functionals defined on some specific subspace dominated by p. Denote an element of it as (f, U). We introduce a partial order wherein (f, U) \leq (f', U') iff f(x) = f'(x) for x \in U and U \subset U'. We can apply Zorn’s lemma on this, as we can take the union to derive an upper bound for any chain. Any maximal element is necessarily (g, V) as if the domain is not the entire vector space, we can by above construct a larger element.