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List of The Hardest Ideas To Grasp

Ask the old brightest people to tell the concepts that were the hardest for them to grasp, and make a list of them.
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Just like there are ideas that certainly a dog would never in a lifetime understand, perhaps there are ideas that a person with an IQ of 100 would never understand, yet a person with an IQ of 100 + delta would. (say 5 < delta < 50)

I wonder, is this true. A dog perhaps would never understand how an a light bulb works. Are there ideas of such an irreducible complexity that a human with a higher IQ would grasp, yet someone with a somewhat lower IQ would be unlikely to grasp within his or her entire lifetime, even if he or she wanted to?

So, what are these ideas?

The idea is to make a list of such ideas by asking not the average, but the old and the brightest people to submit tell the concepts that were the hardest for them to grasp in their lives.

The old people whose IQ is very high, say >150, and having had a long professional lives, could perhaps give some insight.

Inyuki, Dec 18 2009

(??) A Facebook discussion http://www.facebook...30920220&topic=4054
Almost baked, but the pool of responding people isn't narrowed down to the brightest old people. [Inyuki, Dec 18 2009]

howtoengineerit.com howtoengineerit_2ecom
(related to question "Why?" asked by [Jinbish] in his annotation) [Inyuki, Dec 19 2009]

(??) The Prometheus Society http://www.promethe...cles/Outsiders.html
An article about "Outsiders": the extremely gifted people, who due to too high IQ have difficulties in socialization with most lower IQ peers. [Inyuki, Dec 24 2010]

Given enough heads banging against the walls https://math.stacke...are-easy-to-explain
Intelligence will evolve ways of explanation but open up new questions [wjt, Nov 26 2020]

Richard Feynman lecture (part) on Quantum Mechanics https://www.youtube...watch?v=w3ZRLllWgHI
"Nobody understands quantum mechanics." [DrBob, Nov 26 2020]

2 simultaneous realities? https://www.technol...ter_impression=true
Something seems very broken in the standard quantum physics / photonic model [RayfordSteele, Nov 30 2020]


       It's not about how hard an idea is, it's about which direction you take in order to get there.   

       A simplistic example might be to suggest that learning Japanese is really difficult, until you come across a 5 year old from Osaka who doesn't seem to have any problems at all.   

       The same might go for (to pick something at random) differential calculus.   

       (By the way, by responding I am not (necessarily - ha!) suggesting either that my IQ is over 150, nor that I have had a long, or particularly professional life)
zen_tom, Dec 18 2009

       //A dog perhaps would never understand how an a light bulb works// (sic) - Perhaps? You could start by testing the knowledge of stick insects of quantum mechanics, then gradually progress to pigeons, few of whom seem to be quite able to grasp the finer details of tensor calculus.   

       Sorry [Inyuki] but it's also [marked-for-deletion] - idea about creating a list (see help file)
xenzag, Dec 18 2009

       I disagree with the mfd tag. There is no ban, in the helpfile or the halfbakery, against ideas that create the list. (You could argue that there should be, but that's a different discussion.) Here's the entry on "list" from the marked-for-deletion section in the helpfile:   

       LIST -- the invention itself is intended as a parlour game to be played in its annotations. For example, everybody posts their favorite names, or whom they'd eat first if they were stuck with humanity on a desert island, or people write a story by each appending a single word.   

       This invention isn't asking the halfbakery users to contribute their opinions about which concepts are hardest to grasp, but proposes asking "old people whose IQ is very high, say > 150". That really is a very high IQ, whatever test you use; I doubt many halfbakery users would have that; and most of us are not "old people", although some of us, increasingly, are.
jutta, Dec 18 2009

       not really into categorizing people by "intelligence quotient": most jobs and relationships don't require (or more forcibly require a lack of) IQ. That being said, list [mfd] denied: what [jutta] said: the "no list" rule is for lists for *us* to make. [ ]   

       (also responding in spite of qualifications requirement)
FlyingToaster, Dec 18 2009

       There is no IQ. Even if there was, it wouldn't be relevant because there will always be unrealised potential.
nineteenthly, Dec 18 2009

       There's also the problem of levels of understanding. I have read god knows how many books on general relativity and now I can finally get my head around it. I also understand enough to know that to truly understand it in a meaningful way would take five more years of studying pure mathematics. I bet it would appear somewhere on the list though, just under quantum electrodynamics.
wagster, Dec 18 2009

       Here's another problem. When I'm talking to people who claim they understand, say, quantum computing, I can't quite tell whether they actually _understand_ quantum computing or whether they just don't have the same definition of "understanding" as I have. They tell me the stories I already know, and use formalisms I already know to predict outcomes that I would predict the same way, using the same formalisms - but my predictions don't seem intuitive to me. If this idea were to make sense, their predictions would have to seem intuitive to them - but sometimes, I just think they've given up on this quest for intuitive "sense" altogether. Maybe that's a sign of intelligence on their part, but that's not quite what we're looking for here.
jutta, Dec 18 2009

       I'm finding all this hard to grasp!
po, Dec 18 2009

       There was a great explanation of that problem, I think in "Hyperspace" by Michio Kaku. His argument was basically that the way things work depends a lot on scale. We expect the world to behave by the same rules regardless of whether we are in the UK or America, and it does. We then infer that it behaves the same way everywhere, and it seems to do so, with a few differences that Newton had to help us with. We then infer that it behaves the same way at extremely large or small scales, and it doesn't at all, not even slightly. We just have a really hard time accepting that our entire way of thinking is based on our local scale and that simple things like an object only being in one place at one time are merely byproducts of the scale at which we live. Our intuition is at fault.
wagster, Dec 18 2009

       Feynman said something like "Forget trying to get your head around it, you can't. You just do the maths and there it is". I'm sure I'm misquoting him, but he definitely made that point.
wagster, Dec 18 2009

       I think the idea is wonderful, and I understand it fully :-). My problem is that I understand the idea that this idea is a load of crock, equally well...< time to rebuild the kitchen, methinks>
4whom, Dec 18 2009

       //quantum computing// while I am familiar with and can manipulate the basic tenets of alternate-worlds theories found in literature (and even have my own pet theories), actually trying to figure out the real mechanism is waaaaay outta my league and likely to stay that way. (And if QC has nothing to do with alternate-worlds that sorta proves my point).
FlyingToaster, Dec 18 2009

       You can also be a skilled user of language. You can take words you hear or read and manipulate them, then spit something out which makes it sound like you understand it. The thing is, though, is there something other than the manipulation of symbols? Presumably, you find out sometime in the middle of doing your first heart transplant.   

       But, are there areas of life when the bullshitting doesn't ever have to stop?
nineteenthly, Dec 18 2009

       [wagster], indeed, it could be something that Feyman thought he understands something what most of others never wouldn't ...   

       As for mathematics, well, there are really complicated things already, such as the ~365 pages long proof that 1+1=2 from abstract axioms (in "Principia Mathematica")... but perhaps even school children would grasp them if they were specially taught that in schools.
Inyuki, Dec 18 2009

       I think understanding divergence over entirely obvious ideas is much more interesting. We hold many truths to be completely self evident, and yet there's always a set of of people that "understands" that we are completely wrong.
theircompetitor, Dec 18 2009

       //I'm finding all this hard to grasp!//   

       (I'm now reverting back to sinus rhythm.)
skinflaps, Dec 18 2009

       oh dear, sinuses playing up again?
po, Dec 18 2009

       I keep my heart close to my nose? I've never heard of nasal arrest, never mind:)
skinflaps, Dec 18 2009

       Bertrand Russell, whose name i may not be able to spell, said Principia Mathematica had completely blunted his brain.
nineteenthly, Dec 18 2009


       The power of positive thinking   


       ........to list a few.
outloud, Dec 18 2009

       Has anyone bothered yet to ask why?
Jinbish, Dec 18 2009

       Women. (ducks...)
RayfordSteele, Dec 18 2009

       I have no idea what my IQ is and am not professional in any field, but in spite of that, or maybe because of it, I have been lucky enough to have developed, (recieved?), some small insights about intuition itself.
Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it?

       I can take no credit for this.
Anything I've managed to learn about intuition is from watching a bit more of it be whittled away with every bad decision I've made and weakness I've fallen prone to.
As a child the gut feelings about things were very strong and I could use them to show off for the other kids when playing that universal childhood game of 'can you do this?'
I'll give you one example; if I got you to flip a coin I would have no better chance of guessing it correctly than any one else but I would get a certain fluttering in my gut depending on what you saw when you looked at it the first time and then I'd guess. If I guessed correctly then I would be able to guess correctly after that every time.
If I guessed incorrectly the first time then I would still get every one after that right because I would know that the first gut feeling wasn't my first guess.

       When I realized that this worked for other things and that I could use this for my own gain I naturally did so, it's human nature to use your talents to try to excel, and it worked every time...once, and then never again.
The first time I used it to win a bet was the last time it worked for that, the first time I used it to cheat at poker I cleaned up...once, the first time I used it to steal, the first time I used it to impress a girl...etc. etc. I make no excuses, I was and am a dumb-ass, but I did learn eventually, just the hard way.

       The first time always worked because I didn't know for sure that it would. It was merely exploration but the second time I had made a conscious choice to 'use' it for nothing more than greed or vanity any number of things all of which boil down to basic selfishness.
So if selfishness is the antithesis of intuition then selflessness must be its root. When I'd finally gotten this through my thick skull I stopped abusing this ability before I'd squandered away every bit of it.
This is not to say I consider myself selfless by any means, but that intuition only happens anymore when I am daydreaming or focusing on a concept deeply enough to have forgotten my "self" for a while.

       I often wonder why this gift wasn't given to someone who actually knows something, and would be able to do the greatest good with it but maybe that's just it.   

       I "know" that I don't know anything.   

       [RayfordSteele], what specifically about women? Women aren't a man's idea. Rather, they just like physical phenomena. We have many physical phenomena that no one yet understands, formation of galaxies, dark matter to name but a few...   

       What I am talking about in the idea is a list of the conceptual ideas that are in fact understood (as opposed to things that are not understood by anyone) by highly intelligent people, yet are highly unlikely to be understood by normal people.   

       Perhaps I should have put this more clearly in the description.
Inyuki, Dec 18 2009

       That's the point I'm trying to make [bigsleep]. For me flashes of intuition are just that, precognition. Whether they pertain to things about to happen in the near future, things that have happened to people in their pasts or ideas that I have to then research in order to put words to the concepts.   

       It all springs from the same well.   

       Iq tests are done with a time limit. The speed at which you can come up with solutions play a part. I wonder sometimes if a person spends enough time on a problem he/she will figure it out eventually
zeno, Dec 19 2009

       [Marked-For-Deletion] Literally a request for a list. geez.
WcW, Dec 19 2009

       // Has anyone bothered yet to ask why? //   

       In the idea "howtoengineerit.com" (see link), I am talking about a possibility to explain the creation of complex things from scratch in natural environment.   

       I tend to believe that there isn't such a dramatic difference between people's intelligence, and - as David Hilbert said - (although I might also be misquoting him) if you really understand something, you could explain it to the first man you met on a street.   

       However, the example with the dog suggests that there is a possibility that some concepts aren't even explicable to someone of somewhat lower IQ.   

       So, an answer to the question "Why?" by [Jinbish] could be "to determine the limits of explicability, which could have practical implications in teaching".
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       "Think boy, think ! Gooood doggie"
FlyingToaster, Dec 19 2009

       [Jutta] I still say it's an attempt to create a list. It's not really an idea, in the sense of creating an innovation. It's an invitation to make a list, and it describes itself as such. It fits well within the definition offered in the help file, otherwise anyone can post an idea built on the same premise.   

       ie "Ask the old brightest people to tell which clothes that were the hardest for them to put on, and make a list of them."   

       or "Ask the best authors to tell which books that were the hardest for them to complete, and make a list of them."   

       or to create an algorithm of it: "Ask the best Xs to tell which Ys that were the Z'est and make a list of them."   

       xz [aka pesky pedant]
xenzag, Dec 19 2009

       [Zeno], i don't want to advocate the notion of IQ, but concerning time limits, wouldn't attention span be a factor there? In that case, can attention spans be lengthened by training or experience? If so, are some people's attention spans less flexible than others? Also, if they can be lengthened and it is a factor, is that intelligence?
nineteenthly, Dec 19 2009

       This idea raises lots of interesting questions such as:
what are the limits of human knowledge/understanding?, what are the limits of my knowledge/understanding?, what can/can't be taught (and how)? what is the 'je ne sais quoi' that makes a genius?

       I think it would make an interesting anthology to get famous and brilliant minds to contribute short essays on the topic of 'ideas I found hardest to grasp'. It would give an insight into their discoveries and the difficulties they had to overcome.   

       Perhaps an analysis of enough of these essays would reveal better ways of teaching, or the gaps in knowledge that researchers should attempt to fill.   

       Also, it may be possible to classify difficult-to-understand concepts. For example:
1. too many variables (the weather, the economy);
2. too far removed from everyday experience (the infinite);
3. too counter-intuitive (wave-particle duality, Ramanujan summation);
4. too hard (general relativity)

       I think this idea comes close to mfd because it is verging on philosophy. However, if it is placed in a better category (e.g. culture: book: subject) it may have more legitimacy as a HB idea.
xaviergisz, Dec 19 2009

       [xenzag], most of ideas are aimed at solving some concrete problems, and wouldn't be interesting at all without knowing the concrete problem for the idea to solve. This idea wouldn't be interesting without an intriguing hypothesis to investigate.   

       Viewing at the idea from the analytic point of view, it isn't novel, but viewing it from holistic point of view, it might be.
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       [Inyuki] //the old and the brightest// You mean "the old and formerly brightest."   

       Also, I think [jutta] definitively undermines this idea by questioning the well-definedness of "understanding."
mouseposture, Dec 19 2009

       [Ian Tindale] has a point. Asking the brightest to contribute short essays on the topic of 'ideas I found hardest to grasp' without pointing out the idea behind asking it, would not equate to asking for their insight into the 'hardest topics to understand'.
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       //Are we assuming that there's a way of approaching a topic, and that a large amount of resistance or impedance encountered along this way equates to a hard topic to understand?//   

       That's very much how I see it.   

       Climbing to the top of mount Everest is quite difficult to do if you're at the bottom of mount Everest. If you've already been dropped off a couple of feet below the summit, then it's a whole lot easier.   

       Similarly, if you're at the bottom of the White Cliffs of Dover, they may look pretty imposing. If, however, you approach them from Dover, it's a whole different matter.   

       Learning a topic can change the way you look at things, and in turn, open up a whole new set of possibilities that might have otherwise been too difficult to grasp without having this particular viewpoint.   

       Concepts such as number, abstraction, substitution, representation, language, logic, basic cosmology, basic physiology, a theory of mind - all of these things are instilled in us when we are young - and all of those things shape our development. Indeed some of these things seem to be hard-wired into our evolutionary development. We are built for understanding and using language - in a way that a Sigma-Draconian might be built for using chaotic systems dynamics.   

       Things that are difficult to grasp must only be so when they are first discovered - Heliocentricity, Gravity, Relativity - Geometry, Numeracy, Calculus - Fire, Gunpowder, Fission - all must have been hard to grasp at a time before they existed - but afterwards? No - because by being grasped, and explained, they were transformed from something taken for granted, or something unknown, or something that might have been otherwise counter to the prevailing mental images and models of the time - into something understandable.   

       Hand in hand with learning, is interest - and different things interest different people, at different ages. Nobody who is not interested is going to immediately understand binary notation, while it might be relatively easy for a 7 year-old with a sense of fascination. And interest is very hard to quantify, it's such a personal and dynamic characteristic.   

       Does that leave any room for an irreducibly complex idea? Or to put it another way, is it possible for someone to be irredeemably stupid? I don't know, but I think it's very much more about interest and personal motivations than the actual ideas themselves.   

       A dog might find it hard to understand how a lightbulb works (probably because dogs have very little interest in lightbulbs) but can a person truly understand (no matter how much the dog tries to explain) what it is that's so exciting about the smell of other dog's bottoms?
zen_tom, Dec 19 2009

       so grasp the nettle eh?
po, Dec 19 2009

       Hmm I suppose so - I've never drunk nettle tea, but presumably someone figured out a way to do all the grasping without getting stung. From that day forward, nettle tea became a viable beverage.
zen_tom, Dec 19 2009

       // Heliocentricity, Gravity, ... - all must have been hard to grasp at a time before they existed - but afterwards? //   

       Don't reject the possibility of some topics are long-existing and well-explained, yet are generally difficult to grasp even for the brightest.   

       // ... but can a person truly understand (no matter how much the dog tries to explain) what it is that's so exciting about the smell of other dog's bottoms? //   

       Nice point.   

       // Wouldn't attention span be a factor there? //   

       I guess it would. And also, the ability to detract one's attention from the concrete objects.   

       For example, I couldn't teach a dog to remove the loop of the rope that holds it tied to a pole by simply lifting the loop up, because the dog would pay too much of attention to grabbing the object in my hands (the loop of the rope), and not my action of "lifting up the loop of the rope that is attached to me".
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       apparently nettles are a cure for arthritis but I can't see it myself - or grasp the idea - getting back on topic.   

       you could teach a dog anything if you had enough time, patience and doggy treats - perhaps not calculus though.
po, Dec 19 2009

       Ahh, but doggy already 'knows' calculus - in fact, if he can catch a thrown ball, he's doing it in his head - varying speeds, a curved trajectory, the ability to predict how and where to catch the ball, where he needs to place his feet in order to intercept it in time (not to mention that incredible smell over in those bushes) he is capable of doing instant split-second, master calculations in his head, automatically, that would put the rest of us to shame - without even the knowledge that he's doing it already - it's built in, automatic.   

       What people do is extract these innate functions and simplify them into forms that are repeatably transmissible via language. In order to understand them *through this transmission medium* requires highly developed skills in using this medium - and it is probably this that we talk about when we talk about IQ - but the dog really can, in the limited scope of catching a ball - do calculus. And really rather well. He just can't explain it without doing it.
zen_tom, Dec 19 2009

po, Dec 19 2009

       // extract these innate functions and simplify them into forms that are repeatably transmissible via language //   

       I don't really extract my innate functions when I solve or teach how to solve calculus problems. I simply use these innate functions to move my fingers in such a trajectory that it results in the pencil's movement that draws the description of a solution.   

       Of course, if I had to program a robot to move its fingers in that way, I'd have to extract these innate functions and simplify them down to abstract functions that represent certain classes of trajectories... but I guess I could do that by observing my actions externally, and not consciously extracting the data that circulates through my neurons when I use these innate functions.   

       Of course, we do indirectly extract these innate functions, and are able to teach other people via language. That's a great thing that we can do and the dogs can't. We can teach our children how to catch a ball by teaching how to solve differential equations...
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       It's turning into a list.
xenzag, Dec 19 2009

       [xenzag], none has yet declared his or her age and IQ range. But I agree, if you keep this idea indefinitely, the probability of getting such a list may (conditionally) approach 1... but it also may not. In addition, I posted it not in an attempt to make a list, but to share it, and discuss the possibility of finding out about the existence of such an extreme intellectual gap between people. The idea of how it could be done is so obvious, that it raises no discussions... but it makes us curious to know the answer, and it's not me who is asking for a list, but rather, the curiosity that comes from our wish to know more, gives a certain direction for the discussion.
Inyuki, Dec 19 2009

       I think understanding or not doesn't make a difference. Using the dog example, what does it think a car is? We have these inherited ability to go with the flow, to use something without necessarily knowing how it works. Sad person that I am I spent a lot of time trying to work out what dogs do make of cars.   

       "5 year old from Osaka " well, that's Kansai-ben for you. Now, if you were learning Aomori-ben, that'd be a lot more fun, if more or less completely useless outside Aomori.   

       Anyway, this reminds me of the "Peter Principle", surprised than no one else has mentioned it..   

       Lots to catch up with here.   

       The point about calculus and the dog. It's a little like the difference between a GPU and a CPU. GPUs can do all that maths stuff but they don't generally get used to crunch numbers in the conventional way. But, they can be in some situations. The problem with trig and calculus needn't be the mathematics per se so much as being able to visualise something sufficiently clearly to convert the job you want to do into a picture in your mind, then convert that picture back into numbers if you need them in that form.   

       The nature of knowledge is another problem. I've long thought about it as justified true belief, but that suggests there are facts "out there" rather than that they're created in some kind of social process. I think of this in educational terms. Learning isn't about filling empty vessels. I've not got far with this.   

       Finally, nettles! They're useful as a topical application for immune-connected arthroses such as RA, ankylosing spondylitis and so on, and would also be useful for crystal deposition arthritis when taken orally. There would have to be other approaches as well, and there are other options.
nineteenthly, Dec 19 2009

       [marked-for-deletion] discuss <x>
FlyingToaster, Dec 19 2009

       In my way of thinking, all topics are generally equal with some keystone facts. If you don't know or understand those facts then the topic will be obfuscated. How you gain those facts can be as varied as people. The White Cliffs have a top and bottom and face irrelevant of personal position and perspective.   

       In theory, anyone can be taught anything if the facts are taught in a tailor-made way.   

       P.S. This doesn't take into account subjects where the facts and knowledge are withheld for power and control of the knowledge base.
wjt, Dec 19 2009

       I'd start with risk, as the hardest idea to truly understand. If understanding means having an intuitive and yet accurate grasp, then very few people understand risk. Moreover, there is a wealth of real data on risk, but people remain refractory to it, therefore it mush be a very hard idea to understand.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 19 2009

       As a list, it could be compiled from the population of the justice system.   

       [MaxwellBuchanan] Before a risk can be analyzed the true factual situation must be had. How many people know factually the reality of the situation? A slight catch 22.
wjt, Dec 19 2009

       +1 for the start of a great debate.
po, Dec 19 2009

       //Before a risk can be analyzed the true factual situation must be had. How many people know factually the reality of the situation? //   

       Plenty. Risk of flying versus driving. Risk from pesticides versus plants' natural toxins. Risks from GM crops versus the latest "novelty" fruit imported from Zambenia. Numbers of deaths from murder versus RTA. Risk from radiation leaked by nuclear power stations versus risk from radioactives and toxins released from fossil-fuel. The list is endless.   

       Almost everyone has a distorted understanding of risks for which the facts are well known or easily accessible.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 19 2009

       Unknown unknowns.
nineteenthly, Dec 19 2009

       "You're saying that dogs should be promoted?"   

       What to? Chimpanzees? I think that would certainly make Crufts more exciting...   

MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 19 2009

       no idea or invention then pages and pages of pissing up wind.
WcW, Dec 20 2009

       I'd like to see this, love to read non-fiction accounts of really difficult tasks, but I think the parameter of "high IQ folks making the suggestions" should be changed to a peer-reviewed collection of people, starting with several known individuals who solved extremely difficult problems, and let it grow out of that, leading where it will.   

       You can kind of do this, if you start with some books on interesting problems (engineering, math, design, whatever) and then start to follow the trail of sources for all the books and see where it leads.
oxen crossing, Dec 20 2009

       Ok. I'm going to bake it. I'm just going to submit it to some Hi-IQ societies to consider, would the list show up in public, I'd attach it as a link.   

       [oxen crossing], I agree. This approach of finding relevant people makes sense, not necessarily the IQ score should be the prime factor for finding brightest people, but IQ seems also very relevant.
Inyuki, Dec 20 2009

       //I'm just going to submit it to some Hi-IQ societies to consider// Vous êtes ici, as I am sure they will tell you, or refuse to tell you...
4whom, Dec 20 2009

       [4whom], how high? See // I doubt many halfbakery users would have that // by [jutta].   

       Whether a Hi-IQ society will refuse to tell that or not, it's up to them. If they won't, and no one else of the brightest won't, the idea could turn unworkable, and not solving the problem, and not baked.
Inyuki, Dec 20 2009

       Sure [Inyuki], Ted Kaczynski had it right about boundary functions AND the Freedom Club.   

       refer to [jutta]'s interpretation of clever people above. They don't always get it right. As I am sure, they themselves, would attest to. That is all I am saying... you fucking twerp.
4whom, Dec 20 2009

       [4whom], RIGHT.   

       He certainly, had it right about boundary functions, and Freedom Club, but the public seems didn't get it right.   

       I tried to achieve some of that freedom by thinking of the "howtoengineerit.com" idea (see link), but it's far from realized.
Inyuki, Dec 20 2009

       My list would be:
1) Consciousness and everything it does.
2) Everything else.
Dub, Dec 20 2009

       [Dub], consciousness is a natural phenomenon, just like women. (See my reply to [RayfordSteele]).
Inyuki, Dec 21 2009

       this IS a list....
WcW, Dec 21 2009

       It's mostly a discussion (and I thought an interesting one). There are some bits of listing amongst the annotations but the idea itself isn't one. Even if it were though, repetition of "it's a list" is far more boring than the idea could ever have been.
stilgar, Dec 21 2009

       actually [inyuki] all humans start out as female and men turn into well, men!
po, Dec 21 2009

       //Or donkeys.//   

       Actually, we're pretty sure how a donkey works now. Cats, mind you....
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 21 2009

       Implicit in this, or at least in the discussion, is the notion that these should somehow be useful or worthwhile ideas. It seems to me that koans (eg: what is the sound of one hand clapping) are concepts intended to be hard to grasp by playing and riddling with the language: sort of like a piece of gristle with no nutritive value that some might feel satisfaction in chewing.
bungston, Dec 21 2009

       //The idea is to make a list of such ideas by asking not the average, but the old and the brightest people to submit tell the concepts that were the hardest for them to grasp in their lives.//
Well,I grasp the idea, but the old people idea won't always work. My Dad who is old and was very bright, can hardly remember what he had for lunch these days. Also, things that were hard to understand back in 1940 are viewed differently now. For instance, my Mother has asked "where is the internet?"

       [bungston] - that is a very poetic presentation!
xandram, Dec 21 2009

       //and men turn into well, men//
I think I prefer "improve", rather than "turn". (ducks and runs, very fast)
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Dec 21 2009

       yes and how useful such a list would be: you could f'rinstance...
- write school curriculums, leaving the harder paradigms towards the end or more advanced courses;
- write IQ tests (as in produce) and weight the value of the answers
- write books on the subject: the more long lived ideas could be turned into social structures; we could call them "philosophies" or "religions".

       Personally I get a little kick out of the last question on most tests:
"Given that 95% of people aren't interested in joining 'Hi-Q' clubs and 80% realize that this is the only reward for passing this test, calculate the weighting that should be applied to any given series of 'IQ tests' to produce the 'actual' IQ".
FlyingToaster, Dec 21 2009

       x+1: How absolute nothing('a space') can spontaneously give something.
wjt, Dec 21 2009

       // How absolute nothing can spontaneously give something. //   

       Assume absolute "nothing",
Conclude "existence of nothing",
Call it "something".
Inyuki, Dec 21 2009

       I think I prefer "improve", rather than "turn". (ducks and runs, very fast) — AbsintheWithoutLeave, Dec 21 2009   

       U can think all you like...
po, Dec 21 2009

       [FT], the order of a curriculum, i would think, shouldn't put the harder tasks towards the end as such. It should work out what depends on what, arrange it into chains of dependency, then put the hardest but least dependent ideas at the beginning. That way, learning gets easier as time goes by and learners get to practice on the hardest ideas rather than being burdened with the hardest tasks at the end.
nineteenthly, Dec 21 2009

       [19thly] grammar typo on my part, "hardest" including length as well as breadth and height.
FlyingToaster, Dec 21 2009

       +1 what harm does this list do?   

       What good might it prevoke?   

       I suspect such a list is beyond the ability of any one human to master, yet its existence alone would be provacative - cause to push study beyond comfort zones / cost - benefits & may result in new ideas. I salute the idea.
Zimmy, Dec 22 2009

       lists (sets) are pretty hard to ponder, as I recall a peculiar mathematician proving (Reinmann? No fast internet tonight, no searching). So, the list should be well appropriated towards the nature of the idea and, hence, fully admissable.   

       d [pesky devil's advocate]
daseva, Dec 22 2009

       There's three things right there - the true nature of conciousness (thankyou Dub), koans (thanks Bungston) and The Riemann hypothesis (thanks daseva) all of which, in order to fully realise, require some extension of the mind into realms otherwise untouched by earthly experience. I personally like the way the first two seem to have a close association, and would like to think that the third does also.
zen_tom, Dec 22 2009

       //Nested lists. Lists that relate to other lists. List items that themselves are relationships. Lists...//   

       Computing, and by extension, much of what we now call today's "Digital Age" boils down to, at its most fundamental level, the manipulation of lists.
zen_tom, Dec 22 2009

       ... things that list.
po, Dec 22 2009

       ...like the listing tower of Pisa?
zen_tom, Dec 22 2009

po, Dec 22 2009

       oh [IanT] - i just laughed so hard, I blew all the lists off my desk!!!!!
xandram, Dec 22 2009

       I'm not sure whether length is the thing. There's often an aha! moment which is instantaneous after a long period of incomprehension, but what counts as the long period? I could twist two objects around in my imagination trying to find a way to fit them together, but if i started turning one in a counter-clockwise direction i might find the way to do so more quickly than if i turned it clockwise. That isn't a trivial example either, because experiments have shown that if people are asked to turn something through an angle mentally, it takes longer the bigger the angle is. There would therefore seem to be an element of luck involved, where analogies to turning clockwise and counter-clockwise are also applicable.
nineteenthly, Dec 22 2009

       well most stuff is (or was) taught clockwise; being a clockwise person meself I can't imagine a curriculum taught in an anti-clockwise fashion; I imagine you'd have to inform the students in advance to keep them from wasting up to 359deg of movement, though I'll grant "looking both ways before crossing the street" should cover a fair percentage of that; call it 270 then. Maybe all newness should be presented at 180deg, but I imagine that would be rather taxing, though quite scenic for the brighter students.
FlyingToaster, Dec 22 2009

       Let's consider the dog analogy once again. By analogy, grasping some of these hardest ideas could be as useful as for a dog it would be useful to be able to notice that the ending loop of the rope that's hooked on a pole can easily be removed by lifting it up. Ability to notice?   

       In mathematical texts, the phrase "it is easily seen that" is quite often used, skipping chunks of calculations intended to figure out by the reader himself or herself. Some people without proper knowledge would not be able to understand these kind of texts, but if the one who writes them would try to explain in detail, then it is very likely that most would understand.   

       Does it mean that if I tried to explain my dog something really carefully and in great detail, it would understand that? Not necessarily. Something as simple as a basic hot-water heating system might require the dog to understand that the water can be pumped, just like it is when the dog is drinking it, and that it can be heated with, say, fire... and so on. There are LISTS of things to be noticed in order to understand something as simple as hot-water heating system.   

       From this it seems to follow that for a mind with a superior intelligence, vastly more complex systems might look as simple as hot-water heating system would look for a mind of average intelligence, and perhaps there is a similarity of understanding process, in a sense that understanding manifests as a series of such acts of noticing, albeit of much more advanced relationships.   

       [19thly], chances of course play role in understanding, of course you can be very bright but unlucky to have taken a longer path to understand something by an accident.
Inyuki, Dec 22 2009

       It's just an example. What i'm saying is, you could make one of a variety of choices without any particular reason, concerning how you would think of something, and one of them might make an idea easier to grasp without it indicating intelligence. There are cultural biases, such as "look right, look left, look right again" in countries where traffic drives on the left, and the reverse where they drive on the right, and there's a clockwise bias, but you could be open to questioning the right assumptions, and that will make the right things easier. However, your choice about which assumptions to question might itself be hard to break out of and you might simply challenge everything in the same way repeatedly. For instance, as a child i was in the habit of trying to add a dimension to various mathematical ideas. I've even done that here sometimes. That's a habit of mine. There may be other equally straightforward habits which are more productive, but which i've not taken into consideration
nineteenthly, Dec 22 2009

       The hardest idea for me to grasp seems to be how to get an employer to give me a job.
nineteenthly, Dec 22 2009

       [19thly], I think people could make jobs by self-organizing around profitable ideas, and a new system for that could be very useful. Look for the idea called [web-based people's self-organization tool].
Inyuki, Dec 22 2009

       OK, thanks. Don't want to veer off-topic though.   

       I have vague ideas about multiple intelligences floating about but i think they're probably questionable, and i can't help thinking that unrealised potential has got to be very important.
nineteenthly, Dec 22 2009

       // How to Teach Physics to Your Dog Is Out Today! //   

       [Ian Tindale], great find. Does it mean David Hilbert was right? (by saying if you really understand something, you could explain it to the first man you met on a street).
Inyuki, Dec 23 2009

       Just noticing isn't enough. The dog will notice and react. What is needed is modelling. The mind must incorporate the noticed into a fluid manipulatable form. It's no good noticing the car, when crossing the road if you can not model the scenario of it's speed and your action.
wjt, Dec 23 2009

       There's a difference between being able to describe in detail how you're doing something and being able to do it, and describing it may make it harder to do. If a dog can unselfconsciously catch a frisbee or cross a road but can't describe how he's doing it, does that make him less intelligent? Similarly, if a human doesn't go for the option of outlining what she's doing, and in fact it never occurs to her so to do, that might mean her skills are harder to verify but it doesn't mean they aren't there.
nineteenthly, Dec 23 2009

       don't bees relay complex information to one another ? where a batch of flowers are f'rinstance.
FlyingToaster, Dec 23 2009

       A mental picture of the trading floor and the wild shinnanegans of this type of information transfer.   

       So with any really great mind, they probably can't explain the idea simply because most of the clever abstraction and manipulation is subconscious.
wjt, Dec 23 2009

       Might there not be some ideas which are hard to grasp because they're completely stupid but less intelligent people don't realise they are, whereas more intelligent people can't explain why they are because we're too stupid to understand? So we end up thinking the more intelligent people are stupid when it's actually us. Also, if that's true don't we need some kind of Godlike referee or superintelligent alien to decide what's really going on? And how would we know they weren't bluffing or mistaken themselves?
nineteenthly, Dec 23 2009

       [nineteenthly] There is always a way (the universe is infinte). The stupidity is because the way of modelling the facts to show the light was not found.
wjt, Dec 23 2009


       // If a dog can unselfconsciously catch a frisbee or cross a road but can't describe how he's doing it, does that make him less intelligent? //   

       Indeed, some people might be able to visualize complex data they have seen as numbers in a form of a scatterplots, perform good curve-fitting and make good predictions intuitively without even knowing how exactly they do it. That certainly doesn't make them less intelligent.   


       // It's no good noticing the car, when crossing the road if you can not model the scenario of it's speed and your action. //   

       But it is good to notice the best scenario.
(Noticing is not necessarily a trivial act. Incorporating the noticed into a fluid manipulatable form (model), and using it may be a part of noticing.)

       It seems there is a hierarchy of the noticed...
Inyuki, Dec 23 2009

       Personally, I still struggle with the concept of language. I know what I mean when I say something but the limitations of language and my own grasp upon it don't always allow me to express that meaning clearly. And then there's the whole prolem of how what I say is translated into meaning by the reciever of the message. The whole thing seems terribly inefficient to me.
DrBob, Dec 24 2010

       Language is "out there". We open windows into it.   

       Really just wanted to say that the top of my list has to be object-oriented programming.
nineteenthly, Dec 24 2010

       Object oriented programming is so simple a computer can understand half of it. Try manifold deceptions.
Voice, Dec 24 2010

       Thanks, i will check it but i seem to have a blind spot about it. It seems to be to do with the fact that people try to explain it with metaphors.   

       And having checked that, i think the crucial issue is trust. I want to feel confident that the code is small, doesn't do what it needn't in different circumstances and is optimised for speed, or at least that the optimisation for speed and size is balanced.
nineteenthly, Dec 24 2010

       Yes, i suspected that that was so, [Ian].
nineteenthly, Dec 24 2010

       What I mean is this: I'm holding an object in one of two hands behind my back. you're trying to guess where it is. I say: It's in my right hand. You know I want you to guess the wrong hand. Am I telling you the wrong hand? (1 level of deception) Am I telling you the right hand because you'll think I'll tell you the wrong one? (2 levels) Or do I think you'll think I'm telling you the right one to make you think I'm telling you the wrong one so I tell you the wrong one? (3 levels) and so forth
Voice, Dec 24 2010

       I think the problem with grasping that as an idea, [Voice], emerges when you decide it's an idea rather than a hunch or an intuition.   

       OK, [bigsleep], whereas i can sort of see that i think this is probably something one might want to do, it's also something one could achieve by having a series of procedures, subroutines, whatever, which do X and Y in a standard way. I can feel this is going the same way as it always does, and in a way it's interesting to watch myself failing to grasp it because other factors come into play such as low expectations of being able to understand it confirming themselves. It's probably helpful to generalise about exactly what happens in my mind when i fail to get OOP because it's generally applicable to what goes wrong when people don't get something.
nineteenthly, Dec 24 2010

       So the idea that was apparently not intended to create a list, despite the fact that it says 'make a list" now has created a list. Bakery never ceases to confuse me. This is my addition to the list.
xenzag, Dec 24 2010

       Trying to determine why an idea is hard to grasp is not a list. It's true the title of the idea is "list of" of course, but my thought on this is that it helps to present what one finds hard to grasp so that one can work out why.
nineteenthly, Dec 24 2010

       Like many other things, this has been going on for quite a while. I became aware of it when i was about to start a course in Modula-2 over two decades ago.
nineteenthly, Dec 26 2010

MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 26 2010

       Like why mirrors appear to swap "left" with "right", but not "up" with "down"?
Mindey, Mar 14 2015

       That one is easy for any 5-year-old to understand. It's only adults who have a problem.   

       "Hey, Timmy, try this - hold up this page with writing on it. Now turn it around to face the mirror. Why is the writing flipped left to right but not top to bottom?"   

       "Because I flipped the page left to right to make it face the mirror. Derrrr."
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 14 2015

       [MaxwellBuchanan], ...as if they would understand the reason why all the people in the world have this strange custom of flipping paper horizontally, not vertically. Try to pretend to be a guy who complains when you show a text by turning it away from yourself to show him not by flipping vertically, but by flipping it horizontally. I don't think most of them understand the true reason, the chirality, and the perceptual illusions like symmetry of their body, and having only 2 eyes, and the habit, the origins of which most are unaware of.
Mindey, Mar 14 2015

       Mirrors *do not* swap left and right, but people expect them to. If someone stands in front of you, facing the same way as you, their left is your left and their right is your right. If they then turn around, these get swapped. That's what people expect. Mirrors, however, *reflect* rather than *turn around* the person looking into them, so left and right are not swapped. Chirality is reversed, however, which is the case in any reflection.
notexactly, Mar 14 2015

       Yes, that was the point of my annotation.
MaxwellBuchanan, Mar 14 2015

       i quite like this idea as a mass media target but can you see the list next to 'the top sexiest men' or 'how to keep your lover interested' in a women's magazine.
wjt, Mar 17 2015

       That may be so [wjt] but I can see this as being useful for, for example, creating a baseline for AI in a way that "ten bizarre implements to use in your next lovemaking session" won't.
Voice, Mar 19 2015

       [Voice] The super subtle affect created by having the list in the public subconscious is that it will spark new conversations, lines of interest and lateral ideas that are currently outside a field's norm of thinking. It may be a second or third hand person with a novel thought, reaching a researcher, that advances A.S.I's.
wjt, Mar 21 2015

       One of the smartest people I know, try as he might, finds himself utterly unable to grasp wave–particle duality, which is pretty intuitive to me. He also can't get his head around RF design, which, though not something I have a great understanding of, is something I can grasp at least the basics of with minimal study.   

       On the other hand, I have never been any good at calculus beyond simple derivatives. I think this may be just because it would take more than five minutes' study to begin to understand, and my brain just gives up on attempting to understand things that take that long.   

       So* what I'm saying is that while this idea is interesting, I don't think it's anywhere close to the case that there's a universal ranking of ideas by how difficult they are to understand—the ranking varies drastically from person to person, even among extremely smart people. You could maybe still get an overall ranking, but I don't see that being especially useful to any individual who wants to know what topic to study next or how much study they'll need to put in to understand a given topic. It might be useful to curriculum planners.   

       *Time for electrocution!
notexactly, Mar 12 2019

       Goedel's incompleteness theorem? Calculating algorithmic probability? Where are [Ian Tindale]'s messages gone? He had written here before, this beautiful insight:   

       // I would suggest that of all things, now that I think about it, lists really are the most difficult thing to understand, and yet everybody thinks they understand them. What they're understanding is a surface appreciation of them. Once you start thinking about lists further, you'll never come back. Nested lists. Lists that relate to other lists. List items that themselves are relationships. Lists with items that exist in more than one list. Lists that vary across time. Lists that contain things. Lists that leave things out. A list of things that aren't on any list. // [Ian Tindale]
Inyuki, Nov 25 2020

       He and I disagreed about selling creative content (music I think) vs. slapping it online for free, and then he deleted his account. I have always felt vaguely guilty ever since.
pocmloc, Nov 25 2020

       Any minute now, [8th] will try to sell you an indulgence. Don't buy it; it's for the wrong kind of purgatory.
pertinax, Nov 25 2020

       Any sort of 4-dimensional space. Honestly. Talk to me all day about time being the fourth dimension somehow and that's just fine, but visualizing it is a bit dodgy yet.   

       Any color that is outside of our capacity of colored sight.   

       What the hell is a white hole? I barely can wrap my head around the weirdness of black holes, and now I have to worry about white ones?   

       Why imaginary numbers are rotations, even though the math works well that way and it explains Euler's identity in a neat fashion.
RayfordSteele, Nov 25 2020

       List Of Hardest Ideas To Grasp: my number one would be the idea of a continuous stream of cold beans pouring down the outside of a climbing rope, which you have to grasp with hands wearing boxing gloves. Beat that!
xenzag, Nov 26 2020

       But... there are ideas where acknowledging that you don't 'grasp' them shows you to be cleverer than if you claim that you do 'grasp' them. As Feynman said "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
hippo, Nov 26 2020

       "Nobody understands quantum mechanics."
- R Feynman
DrBob, Nov 26 2020

       Surely it's the driver pedestrian problem...
theircompetitor, Nov 26 2020

       // Any minute now, [8th] will try to sell you an indulgence. //   

       Spoilsport ...   

       // Don't buy it; it's for the wrong kind of purgatory. //   

       Fie, egad ! It's the very best quality MaxCo indulgence, guaranteed by the Intercalary in person ...
8th of 7, Nov 26 2020

       Despite my mentioning them way back up there, nobody has bothered to tackle ducks yet.
RayfordSteele, Nov 27 2020

       That's because it is too difficult on so many levels.
DrBob, Nov 27 2020

       Not just difficult, but expensive; many ducks come with a large bill ...
8th of 7, Nov 27 2020

       Err, Teflon?
not_morrison_rm, Nov 28 2020

       But we are here at this volume of spacetime because large numbers of people did try to grasp them, successfully or not. Statistically the more the better.
wjt, Nov 28 2020

       //the driver pedestrian problem//   

       Is that another name for the "homicidal chauffeur" problem?
pertinax, Nov 30 2020

       List Of Hardest Ideas To Grasp: my number two to add to the list is the idea of a door bell mechanism that takes the form of a hungry captive hyena's tail which must be pulled in order to activate the lock. The lock (of course) only responds to the exact sound of a hand being chewed off by a hungry, angry, captive hyena.
xenzag, Nov 30 2020

       This is some weird-ass shit. <link>
RayfordSteele, Nov 30 2020

       Agreed RayfordSteele. The question that comes to my mind about it is does Wigner really have a friend at all?
DrBob, Dec 06 2020

       Wasn't that Heisenberg ?
8th of 7, Dec 06 2020

       How probability encapsulation/abstraction of a process suddenly is the real working explaination of that process.
wjt, Dec 08 2020


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