An example of the unexpected


in Daily updates

An unusual experience for a Saturday night is to spend several hours discussing your thesis, over dinner, with someone who you just met at a party. In particular, the matter of whether some sort of quantitative analysis – such as survey data – could be included was discussed at considerable length. Also debated were the history of the environmental movement from the middle of the last century to now and the role of coffee in academic research.

An even more unusual experience is waking up late on Sunday and realizing that the entire experience before had been a dream. How did I get the rollerblades used to climb the massive hill from the unknown college where the party was happening to the residential complex? And didn’t the person with whom I was conversing look a lot like the pharmaceutical company employee who I met on the train back from Reading?

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben October 15, 2006 at 2:33 pm

“An unusual experience for a Saturday night is to spend several hours discussing your thesis, over dinner, with someone who you just met at a party.”

Surely that’s because any normal party happens after dinner time…

Milan October 15, 2006 at 3:40 pm

It was one of those ‘milling around in suits beside a table with glasses of wine’ afternoon parties. Like the sort that take place at conferences, before dinner, sometimes.

I admit that the logical connections between different parts do not hold, when subjected to normal analysis.

Ben October 15, 2006 at 5:08 pm

Ah, more a drinks reception than a 3am alcohol-fest…

It’s funny how convincing dreams can be. Like the one where some sort of plane (or was it spaceship) crashed in our garden… Did you get any good thesis ideas from your subconscious?

Milan October 15, 2006 at 5:19 pm


At one point in the dream (while walking from reception to dinner), I actually borrowed a pen to write a note on my hand. If we didn’t all experience dreaming, we would think that those who did were certifiably mad.

Lee October 15, 2006 at 5:35 pm

I have the DVDs you’re looking for. I picked up the post on Bloglines but don’t see it here. Drop me a line if you still need them.

Milan October 15, 2006 at 5:54 pm


‘Need’ is not a term I would apply to a season of 24, but I would like to borrow them. I can lend you the first two seasons of The Sopranos, if you are interested.

Victoria Kowalewski October 15, 2006 at 8:08 pm

This sort of lucid dreaming happens to me all the time. Sometimes I walk past someone whose face is familiar to me but who I’ve never met, and after having a very convincing kind of dream, I’m not sure if I’ve met them or not. Am I being rude if I don’t acknowledge them in the hallway? I can never tell!

Milan October 15, 2006 at 8:18 pm

I was actually really disappointed to realize that I wouldn’t be able to continue the conversation at some later point. Perhaps it is the ultimate proof of narcissism to find it interesting to converse with a figment of your imagination.

Milan May 9, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I had a strange dream last night.

I dreamed that I was speaking with a computer that held files on a huge number of people – possibly everyone. It was capable of natural language and it could speak to me about the content of the files.

The odd thing was that it had no concept of summary statistics. It was capable of reciting all the information it had stored – names, tax information, health information, and endlessly more – but it was utterly perplexed by the idea of thinking about all the information in aggregate. It couldn’t even tell you how many files it had in total, much less compute things like the average age of the person in the dataset.

I suppose what it illustrates is the multifaceted nature of intelligence. It is possible to have vast arrays of data at your disposal but be unable to process them in ways that less sophisticated entities manage very nicely with simpler datasets.

Anyhow, despite considerable effort I wasn’t able to convey to the machine the basic idea of counting how many separate records it has, and was able to make no progress in getting it to understand how the records are all similar and can be meaningfully combined and compared. After many efforts at analogy and explanation and illustration, I was woken by passing traffic and fell back asleep to dream of different things.

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