Mathematics, psychology and sociology, philosophy.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Searching for Affinity

In a group I have been involved with (for about 13 years now) there is a set of tenets or moral guidelines called the "Code of Honor". It has 15 short phrases like, "honor the truth" and "defend humanity". Mostly appealing sound-bites with a sort of traditionally masculine (think Boy Scouts) implication. A few (e.g. "earn and honor rank") hint at militarism or authoritarianism.

Yesterday I searched for the Code of Honor on the Internet. This is something I do about once every five years.

The Code of Honor is something I already know -- I have no need to discover what it is. I have a list of all 15 tenets on a card that I have carried for that whole 13 years. However, pretending that I have forgotten parts of it, and searching as if to find the rest, helps me find other places where a Code of Honor is being published. What I am actually searching for is groups that are descended from the group that I joined back in 1995. The Code of Honor is just a cultural "DNA fingerprint".

Many of my friends find it difficult to do research via web searches, because of an apparent lack of skill in forming the search phrases. I'll try to supply some examples later (or perhaps you can share some of your own). The common problem seems to be failure to know the answer.

That sounds pretty stupid, but here's what I mean: When I search for things, rather than typing in the question, I type in parts of the answer. Even though I do not know the answer, I do know (with only a little thought) what words are likely to be used in an answer, if there is one.

So here's an example. I want to learn about the fake "laws of physics" that seem to be universally used by various animated cartoonists. I suppose maybe it started with Chuck Jones, and everyone just copied what he did in his cartoons, or perhaps it was a gradual collective effort of consensus, but however it happened, we now have a clear set of rules:

• Gravity takes effect only when the affected character notices.
• When falling, terminal velocity is determined by humor potential, for example the anvil always falls slower than the hapless character, so it can land on their head.
• When a character begins running, the parts of cos body will begin to move at whatever speed and in whatever order generates the greatest humor potential (the various parts of the character's body move along lines of equihumor in an unseen five-dimensional humor-space-time.) Once the character is running, co can stop only at the moment when it is funnier to stop than for them to keep moving.

Okay, you get the idea. So, let's try searching for websites on the topic. I know there are several. Suppose I wanted to find them just with a Google query? What query will find the pages I want?