“Logic, Logic, Logic, I’m sick to death of your logic!”
I didn’t have the luxury of chiding my Philosophy 201 professor like McCoy did when he complained to Spock. My professor did look a little like Spock, though. Pasty complexion, strangely shaped protuberances. He had lost his personality in a tragic accident many years before he moved to the US. He tried to hide his loss behind a thick, indecipherable accent and Coke bottle glasses.
Philosophy 201 is better known by its traveling names, Logic and Symbolic Mathematics. PH201 wasn’t just a requirement for my major; it was THE weed out class. Every student of Cognitive Science and Computer Science had to pass through those doors. We squeezed in cheek to jowl for the first class. Only half of us had a place to sit. Some adventurous newcomer asked him if the classroom was big enough.
”Not worrying!” our professor chimed “Room for class. Now begins teaching.”
Did it ever. This was the first class that actually gave me headaches. I mean, that class made my brain swell. I should know. I took it three times. Comprehension does not always improve with repetition, though. I didn’t understand that man any better in 1990 than I had in 1986. Logic was the first and second college classes that I dropped. The first time, I dropped it 4 days before the final. I had a solid 43% average. The second time, I rode that F all the way in. I was the first person to finish the mid term. Only took me 45 minutes to realize that none of it made any sense. It didn’t make any more sense when I took the final. I don’t know why I didn’t drop that class, but I had to overwrite that F, otherwise it would dog me forever.
He was now the warden of my own personal hell. I had to have those credits. Bringing an F home to parents who had just written an $18,000 check wasn’t easy. The A from my “Graduate” level education class saved me, barely. An alumni fraternity brother was student teaching that semester, so I gave questionnaires to 8th graders for a chip shot A. I also became one of the foosball illuminati around that time. Obviously, I was more interested in physics than logic.
Time passes, and even gnarled trees die. The warden would be retiring after the 1990 school year. I only had one more shot at him. My friends told me to wait for the young professor slated to teach Logic the next semester. I was determined to dig that hole, though. No hippy beatnik was going to hand me something I could wrest from the clutches of that man.
For a third, and final time, I packed into that tiny classroom with 35 other inmates. This time, John, one of my fraternity brothers, was taking the class with me. We had no illusions about what we were in for. I had prepared him as best I could for that brain swelling thing. Class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each Tuesday, the incomprehensible absolutes of last week would shrink under the weight of newer, more complex concepts of variability. After a two hour lecture, he would assign us our homework. He didn’t pass out the assignment; he just projected it on a fuzzy overhead for us to dictate. John and I would scribble down the five questions as best we could before he took the overhead down. Then we headed our separate ways. Tuesday was shot, any more swelling and we might learn something.
Wednesday was a special day at my college. Called “University Day”, the administration had decided that the student body could best expand it’s horizons by attending optional lectures on Wednesday afternoons. John and I spent Wednesday afternoons chasing symbolic proofs. Solving proofs takes a long time. John and I would meet for lunch… gotta carboload the motherload if you’re gonna get ahead. Then we’d head back to my dorm room, and start solving. I took question 1, he took question 2. An hour later, or whenever one of us ran out of the room, we’d swap questions. If both of us ran out, we’d start on questions 3 and 4. We did that until dinner. Dinner wasn’t as big as lunch. Caffeine affects you more on an empty stomach. We needed the juice, too. Imagine arguing with someone about what “everything” means for 14 hours.
Thursday mornings found many tear soaked sheets sitting on the warden’s desk. After two weeks, we had our own seats. 15 had escaped. The survivors eyed each other nervously, wondering who would crack next. He presided over his ever diminishing minions with an ever sterner fist. He started joking about the complexity of describing complexity.
As the mid term neared, I had two desks to write on and a chair to prop my feet up. My façade was just that. I’d failed this test twice already. This was the Godzilla that had skipped my soundtrack for four years. John and I huddled in strategy sessions and planned for the test. Four hours, 5 questions. Just a homework assignment… in a third of the time, with only a one sided sheet of paper to hold reference symbols. We had a surprise in store for our old fashioned professor, though.
1990 was the height of my prowess as an Apple Computer Dork. Bitnet provided a symbolic logic font (Thanks UC Berkeley 🙂 and MacWrite provided the layout. Another alumni brother was working for a publishing company, so we printed it at super high resolution. 300 DPI baby, state of the art. So fine, the first printout covered only half the page. After we sorted out a few things, we had the first digital cheat sheet the warden had ever seen.
He looked at us suspiciously when we presented it to him before the mid term. He let it pass, though, and we took our seats. Certain that the warden was going to pull out all the stops; we had studied the most arcane rules of logic while preparing for this exam. John and I knew uncomfortable things about each other. Logical things… the meaning of “Everything”. The evil warden surprised us all that day. He gave us a test with three questions. The old man must have melted a bit in his last semester. Maybe he was just dreaming about his retirement home back in the old country. Whatever the reason, I finished that exam. I crushed it. I was the first person to walk out of the hall, and I’d actually done the work this time.
I had only known struggle and defeat in this class, so I still had some trepidation when the day came to get our tests back. He clasped my arm as I reached for my paper. He smiled as I looked at him. I looked down, confused. 93. I got a 93. I smiled back. John met me in the hallway. 91. He got a 91. He smiled back at me.
My joy lasted that whole day and into the weekend. There was still a half semester’s worth of toil before us, but we had proved the theory that it was not impossible.