I thought about writing a paragraph to describe who I am. But it was hard, so I gave up. Instead, here is a collection of things from all over the internet that relates to me in some way. They are things I like, things I think about, things that have influenced me, and more.
Regular and artificial intelligence
My opinions that I want you to read are still under construction. I’ve only just started doing this, after all.
But every researcher and person curious about research should see (in order of increasing commitment to consume):
- On Exactitude in Science, Jorge Luis Borges
- The Rage of Research, Laura Deming
- Research as Understanding, Kanjun Qiu
- On Slow Research, David Pfau
- Cultivating depth and stillness in research, Andy Matuschak
- Transcript of Surreptitiously Taped Conversations among German Nuclear Physicists at Farm Hall (August 6-7, 1945)
- The Scientific Virtues, SLIME MOLD TIME MOLD
- The Morality of Fundamental Physics, Nima Arkani-Hamed
- A Vision of Metascience: An Engine of Improvement for the Social Processes of Science, Michael Nielsen and Kanjun Qiu
- When We Cease to Understand the World, Benjamín Labatut
- The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch
Here are things on the beaten path of artificial intelligence learning that I really liked. But I’m in no position to recommend to everyone:
- Steps Toward Artificial Intelligence, Marvin Minsky
- Information, Physics, Quantum: The Search for Links, John Archibald Wheeler
- Between MDPs and semi-MDPs: A framework for temporal abstraction in reinforcement learning, Rich Sutton, Doina Precup, Satinder Singh
- The Bitter Lesson, Rich Sutton
- Why AI is Harder Than We Think, Melanie Mitchell
- Deep Reinforcement Learning at the Edge of the Statistical Precipice, Rishabh Agarwal et al.
- Alchemy and artificial intelligence, Hubert Dreyfus
- The Lighthill report, James Lighthill
- Creative blocks, David Deutsch
How I thought about school was more relevant when I was in college. But that wasn’t so long ago, and I’m still doing research.
The most important thing I ever read about American undergraduates was Violence and the Sacred: College as an incubator of Girardian terror. We were competing in a lot of meaningless ways. But it wasn’t all bad! I formed a lot of opinions about human nature. I also believe that the world really needs people who are intensely mimetic.
I might be biased, because one activity I participated in—college debate—some would say is the prime example of meaningless competition. It was a big part of college for me, and I loved it. Sally Rooney even wrote an essay about how stupid debate is (it’s socially insular, it promotes big egos and toxic idolization, etc.). But by the end of the essay we are both ready to win just to prove we can again. This essay is a trap. She must be happy about the irony.
I had a love-disappointment relationship with physics in college. Once, my naive self told a research advisor that I thought physics was the purest, highest tier of knowledge. My advisor (probably after rolling his eyes) told me I’m not special in a nice way: “Zhengdong, you’ll be able to find interesting problems in every field.”
So I decided not to apply for PhD programs in physics. But first, I found a lot of interesting things people have said about it:
- Rachel Thomas tells you What You Need to Know Before Considering a PhD. Remember how grad students are often unhappy? No PhD.
- For Brian Timar, a physics PhD was a mimetic trap, so he dropped out. No PhD.
- What Does Any of This Have To Do with Physics? asks Bob Henderson. It turns out lots of people think they’re chasing the holy grail of knowledge, and then get disillusioned. No PhD.
- Andrej Karpathy’s Survival Guide to a PhD says you get freedom, ownership, and personal growth. Yes PhD? He also says you need certainty, which I don’t have. No PhD.
- During high school space camp, I met Nicholas Suntzeff. He talked about leaving a dinner in Chile celebrating his Nobel-winning research. On the way home, he ran into a girl begging on the street. Why spend one centavo on cosmology when little girls are crouching in subway stairwells, begging? I don’t think the answer is always that we shouldn’t. But for me, it’s No PhD.
- Okay, fine, here are some real Yes PhD sources. Who wouldn’t want to discover true facts about doomed neutron stars, the timelapse of our universe, how every light in this video is not a star but a galaxy, orbital rendezvous, megamasers, or black hole star shredders? Terrifying!
The best philosopher is David Hume. I’m convinced by this essay and also this essay.
Fun fact: I have an Erdös number of at most four, from Paul Erdös to Vasek Chvátal to Yori Zwols to Thomas Keck to me. Crazy how that’s only one more than the median Fields Medalist. Anyway, I consider this a very scientific measure of my progress as a researcher, can’t wait for it to go down as I reach my final form.
Where I give you fun recommendations.
Reading is so great. You learn so much. And it takes as much time as you want. And it can be free, if you want. My favorite books are:
- One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Wikipedia says this book is “often cited as one of the supreme achievements in literature” with four citations. Come on people! What more do you need.
- Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar. Something something it’s not about the idea but the execution.
- Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. The characters remind me of people in my life. My favorite is “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine.”
- Dune by Frank Herbert. Yeah, so basic. In general I like sci-fi where technology is only part of the background, like the short story Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang.
- Bone: The Complete Collection by Jeff Smith. It feels like you got through a Lord-of-the-Rings-like experience in one sitting. The art is so sumptuous.
- Honorable mention: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. It’s a children’s book. I read it in sixth grade, so you can too. It’s very short, so don’t read any blurbs, just read the book. When I was young, every bit of the book seemed perfect. Now with nostalgia, it still seems perfect. Sorry if you’re already older than 15, you can try to have the experience I did reading it.
Be my friend on Goodreads!
My favorite poem is:
My favorite movies are:
- Knives Out. Maybe one of the greatest of all time, don’t let any pretentious gatekeepers tell you otherwise. It’s so clever. And so funny. And the obviously bad accent tells you it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
- La Grande Vadrouille. I remember watching a Chinese dub with my dad. It’s here because of nostalgia.
Other things I’ve watched on IMDb.
My favorite music would take too long to explain and the explanations are a bit personal. So without explanation, here are:
My favorite podcast is:
- This American Life. Which is even better than people say it is. I used to list other podcasts here. And I listen to others, but I’ve gotten bored of every other one, even if it takes a few years. Also, the Torey Malatia jokes at the end are great.
Play these games with me:
Eventually I want to make a game. Right now I have no experience and am not serious about getting any. But it seems like one of the best ways to practice many skills—coding the game, writing the story, drawing the art, and composing the music. The peak exercise of renaissance ability. You’re creating a whole experience for people to enjoy. Watch Jenova Chen talk about designing Journey. I really admire people who did everything or almost everything for really great games:
Fun fact: the summer before college I switched to using Dvorak. My keyboard when I’m not on a laptop is the Leopold FC750R PD, yes, that color, with brown switches. If it’s good enough for The Machine, it’s good enough for me!
Random things on the internet:
- The space camp I went to in high school had a blog. My post was a problem set of inside jokes.
- My friend Allison wrote this really nice piece about our Friendsgiving.