19 March 2008

Proof Theory and Frustration

Being an empiricist has its side effects. I guess it makes life harder if one is very much interested in questions that begin with "Why?"

Right now, I am very frustrated at one of my classes. The reason is because the material is very opaque, and the professor is not good in making it transparent. I am all for explanation, and I really hate the explanations that go like "this is the thing you get just because". I am loving my Advanced Statistics class in the Psychology department because I can clearly see why the numbers that appear in front of me are the ones that should appear, and not something else. I know why the degrees of freedom that are used in a certain experimental design are the ones that are appropriate and not the others, because there is a formula attached to it. It is not a mystery for me. I know why the denominator for some F-tests are not mean square error and instead mean square AB, and I can explain it to people, because the information is transparent.

However, that is not the case for my other class, which is being taught by a professor who I am not comfortable with. We are dealing with a different set of statistical topics, and the numbers that are in front of my face seem like magic. They appear from nowhere. I don't know why those numbers are the ones that appear and not something else, and I don't know the formula that derived those numbers. I know how to plug in data using statistical software, but I don't know how the software does that operation so that I can verify that the software is correct. And I really hate it when the professor one day said "That's the reason I just look up what degrees of freedom the software is telling me, because I don't know how to derive them myself."

It is just so opaque, and I am having a hard time believing it because I don't see the reason why those formulas are showing up.

I guess I am being too skeptical, and I am losing my faith in professors. Is that a normal consequence when one goes to grad school? Gone are the times when I accept as truth whatever the person in front of me is telling me. Now, I really hate the fact that some people say that one should believe in something just because they said so. Looking back, my parents never brought us children up that way. They always made us to use our minds, and reason for ourselves why things are the way they are.

I am frustrated. I want proof, and yet I am not getting it.

(Lamps in the library, from my New York City Series)

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