Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Miserability Coefficient: A Mathematical Theory of Misery

After great thought and deep research I have decided to finally publish my insights into the as yet unexplored field of human misery from a mathematical standpoint. While there have been quite a few books and articles on misery[Sophocles-Hugo, Burton-Beckett etc], there has been a painfully inadequate mathematical development of the subject and this has been felt a pressing need[XYZ Grad Student's life and a million others]. This work will attempt, in the restricted space allowed it, to demonstrate, first that misery needs to be quantified, second that it can be measured and, third that this field is ripe for the publication of a few hundred graduate theses.

Human misery is a well-understood and well-observed phenomenon. Human history documents that the world was begun in misery[Big Bang]. As the world developed and man started finding his voice, it was the cry that came most naturally to him. Even literature began with the tragedy[Greece, Valmiki's shloka]. In fact, a famous poet went to the extent of saying good literature dealt with human misery exclusively[Shelley-Ode to a Skylark]. So the first question that bothers any self-respecting grad student scraping away at the edges of existence is, "How well is the Science of Misery understood? How mature is the mathematics in the area? And how easy is it to publish papers in this field?" Well that was three questions but we have already said the questioner is a grad student. Anyway, the answers to the questions are quite obvious to any unbiased onlooker. Misery has never been studied scientifically, the mathematics is as mature as a teenager with pimples falling for the first girl with a dimple and it is just as easy to publish papers in the field as it was for Einstein to walk away with the cake in Relativity.

Given these answers, it would seem insisting too much on too small a point when we say we still have to justify our claim that misery needs to be quantified; but we still intend to do it given it is our first big result. So, misery's importance has been established and now we find ourselves faced with the task of trying to distinguish between the various forms of misery[Burton - Anatomy of Melancholy]. Pain has its own units[Dols] and we know pain is but a very dilute form of misery and all pains are included within the big superset Misery. And anybody knows how irritating it is when, in the midst oif a deep depression, we find someone else who claims he is even more depressed. A measure will alleviate the need for all this and to measure misery, we need to quantify it. Thus follows the first thing to be proved -

Now, any rational person worth his salt knows that it is never enough to show the need for a thing but, more importantly, we need to show that the need can be fulfilled, not partially or in full measure, but atleast substantially[Nehru]. And given all the literature that math has afforded us over the course of its existence, we know that a measure is defined only on certain things and that we have to be careful what we measure or the cup may overflow[Lebesgue et al with apologies to the Bible]. So, can misery be measured? At first sight, it seems a very daunting task - trying to measure misery. Everybody always claims he is more miserable than anybody else whenever he is in the mood to say so. There even exist some who believe misery is the sole cause and bedrock of our existence, and as such pervades us all, making it an immeasurable quantity, which we partake of every now and then[Cioran, Schopenhauer et al]. But, a closer examination using the most subtle glass of Common Sense, that we have managed to grind successfully after 25 years of constant and unflagging perseverance, has shown that the view hitherto held is flawed as it overlooks quite a few distinctive features that make up the sum of misery. For example, consider the washerwoman[Gandhi - the movie of course] who has to bend down and strike the white cloth on the jagged slab of stone in a polluted river - that is a miserable job blow by blow. On the other hand, imagine a grad student sitting up past 3-4am and hard at work on his laptop, all alone, with no possibility of ever getting to see the sun that beats down on the sweating washerwoman ever, nor ever to be seen by a Gandhi as he squats nearby admiring her whatever, just imagine and you can see that the misery levels are vastly different. This is a rather good analogy, but to be mathematically rigorous, we still need to show that the measure exists on the field of real numbers and that it satisfies a host of conditions[Vague Math Literature]. This, I assure you, has been done, and will shortly be submitted to a prestigious journal. So we will skip the troublesome details and go on to define the measure of misery - the miserability coefficient - while we take for granted that the second part of the paper is established too -

The miserability coefficient that we propose is a simple measure that maps human misery to the reals(chuckle at the pun). After all, most miserable people only imagine their miseries while misery is thrust upon others. The coefficient is defined thus -

The miserability coefficient, denoted by :(, is the sum derivative of all the distillable pain that can be obtained by imagining the worst possible outcome to the most enjoyable event, in the mind. The amount of pain itself is calculated as the logarithm of the squared pain added to a miserability constant that is given to all men at their birth and changes with time according to environment, character, experience etc. Its unit is pains and can take all possible values from the negative infinity to positive infinity, the more negative pains one has the happier one is, with -infinity corresponding to infinite bliss and +infinity corresponding to total despair[Milton's Devil].

The miserability coefficient can be easily measured for simple scenarios and we calculate some. The miserability coefficient of God(if he exists) is -infinity and that of the Devil(again if he exists) is +infinity[any amount of religious literature]. The :( of a grad student typically hovers from between -5(if the said person is hazaar over-enthu) to about +1786.23(this is the highest recorded but is no upper bound and increases with the number of years one spends on research). The Buddha had a :( of +50 pains after seeing four random guys but brought it down to -1234234525.232 after sitting under a Bodhi tree somewhere(the treatment of this subject is an open problem - how to optimally adjust the :( of people). Almost anybody's :( can be calculated quite easily given the past history and all details of their lives and this is left for future papers in the field by enterprising grad students. Further studies will be published shortly.

In conclusion, we note that we have justified our first and second claims and the third claim has been self-justified by the wealth of open problems still left in the field like - How to determine the miserability constant? How to find the happiness coefficient? What is the maximum/minimum achievable :( given a particular set of incidents in one's life? How can the :( be optimally changed to suit one's mood? etc etc. We intend to work on these problems and, for now, accept the thanks of a large community of people for having thrown open a whole exciting field of research and amusement.


nice try said...

1. Rate your familiarity with the topic of the paper.
Some knowledge
--> Expert, few would have experienced more misery

2. Recommendation: Your overall rating.
Definite accept (top 10%, excellent paper)
Likely accept (top 15% but not top 10%, significant contribution)
Accept if room (top 30% but not top 15%, borderline)
Likely Reject (top 50% but not in top 30%, needs more work)
Definite Reject

--> Likely Accept

3. Contributions: What are the major issues addressed in the paper? Do
you consider them important? Comment on the degree of novelty,
creativity, impact, and technical depth in the paper.

--> The post addresses the issue of misery. It made the reviewer treat himself to a fleeting smile, an event that the reviewer has a grad student rarely has to experience.

4. Strengths: What are the major reasons to accept the paper? [Be brief.]

--> The paper raises an interesting question, and attempts to provide a quantifiable basis for a commonly observed physical and emotional phenomenon.

5. Weaknesses: What are the most important reasons NOT to accept the
paper? [Be brief.]

--> The evaluation section is weak, and the data is inconclusive. The authors have not addressed the related work adequately. The treatment of such a serious subject deserves less frivolousness on the part of the author.


{P.S. Couldnt resist given that you have citations in the blogpost}

madatadam said...

only a likely accept for a conference!!! dude wait till i get my journal acceptance.. actually wanted to do an abstract and a bibliography but decided it just would become too long and not all who read this r grad students :-) and do get off ur perl mode da - the braces seem really pompous..

Phoenix said...

Is there a way to measure :), especially while reading your blog?

hehhe.. :P