Sunday, May 15, 2011

Illogical Hope

I'm still holding out faint hope for the employer that never called back. The first aviation job I ever got was offered to me after the "expect a call by" date. Sometimes it takes longer than an employer anticipates to make a decision. Maybe I'm not their first choice, but they don't want to tell me to foad yet, because the first choice candidates might go to Air Canada before they get on there. I left a polite "could you please let me know if all the successful candidates have been notified" message on the chief pilot's voicemail, and I'm a little surprised that they didn't at least e-mail, because they seemed to be more respectful than that.

I get home from grocery shopping and there's a phone message. Oooh, lovely phone message. I press the button. It's from a charity that wants to come and pick up used clothing, furniture and small appliance donations. Hey, disabled people, if I get that job you can have bags of it, as I move across the country again. I realize what I've been doing wrong though. I bought a little electric grinder, for grinding spices, because they taste so much better fresh, and I decided I wouldn't open it until I got the job and moved to the new town. That's not how superstition works! I have to open the box, throw the packaging away, and then I will get the job and have to pack it up and get cinnamon or cumin all over my towels. I take it out and use it.

I found this story (many of you have probably already seen it on Bruce Schneier's blog) interesting twice. First, there's the idea that the logic of "If P then Q; P. therefore Q" or "If P then Q; Not Q. Therefore not P," is difficult. I really didn't know that most people found it difficult to follow.

When I was in university there was a third year philosophy course that math majors took for an easy arts credit. (I never grasped the concept of paying for useless courses, so I didn't take it, but I trust the accounts of my friends). It was trivial logic problems. All you had to do was memorize the names of the different types of actual logic and logical fallacies and it was an easy A. You didn't even have to attend the classes. I guess I hang out with logical people. Perhaps I should have followed the logic that if they could get As without trying, there must be other people who were getting the marks at the other end of the scale, but then we also laughed at the kinesiology students whose hardest course was a special version of first year physics that allowed them to understand skeletal structure and musculature in terms of basic Newtonian physics of levers, mass and energy.

I imagine most of my readers will also find that type of logic simple, because the logical elite hang out with me. but I'm fascinated that even those of you who would fail the "if someone is going to Boston he takes a plane" card-flipping test nevertheless have no trouble with the exact same logic in the "has to eat vegetables to get dessert" card test. And I'm now mature enough to realize that people have different skills, and if I hurt my abductor hallucis (which I think I may have) I'd be better off consulting a kin grad than a mathematician.

In case you're wondering, there's no connection between my waiting for an employer to respond and taking a plane to Boston, eating dessert, hurting my foot, or minding my logical Ps and Qs. They're just the top things on my pile.


Sarah said...

As a programmer, I find the puzzlement about modus ponens and modus tollens really funny. These principles would be one line, and a trivial one, of any procedural program. Maybe it's ingrained in me now.

As a reader, I represent one of an infinite series sum of hopes for your speedy callback... astronaut or not.

Ward said...

Is the use of FOAD in the context of job-hunting a Canadian-ism? At some point I got the impression that it's not used the same way in the US. i.e. Americans don't say, "I got a FOAD letter" from some employer. Is it more widely used than I think?

Most appropriate (but hopefully not for long) Verification Word ever: unfly

Brandon said...

To my brain, the "Boston/flying" problem listed by Schneier is the same as the "children/dessert" problem. Like you, I find it very interesting that simply changing the subject of the problem to one of "cheating" to receive a reward greatly increases the number of people who can correctly solve the problem.

Aviatrix said...

Ward: I don't know. I don't remember where or when I first heard the term. I'd even talk about "a polite foad." (For anyone unfamiliar with the term, it's a rejection letter, short for "fly off and die," except that the f doesn't really stand for fly).

Ward said...

It was a common term at UBC when I was there in the mid-80's. Student newsletters regularly ran articles with a nice rejection letter labelled "What they say," and a FOAD letter labelled "What they mean."