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1 ≫ 0: One Is Better Than None

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Hard and Easy
This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Mediocre Excellence

“All failure comes from trying too hard.” / NAKATANI Akihiro

1 is bigger than 0.

Obvious, I know. Common sense, I know. But common sense isn’t common. Common sense is the least common of the senses, as other people have pointed out.

1 is bigger than 0. How often we forget this simple fact.

You know how it is. We all learn about mathematical concepts like negative numbers — which were probably considered a wild and crazy idea at one time, and perhaps for good reason — so we tend to think of 1 as only being slightly bigger than 0.

But it’s not. 1

In RL 2, 1 isn’t just slightly bigger than 0. 1 is infinitely bigger than 0. That means it’s not just a matter of 1 > 0 (1 is greater than 0). 1  0 (1 is much greater than 0). Because 1 is the start of everything. While 0 is the path to nothing. No matter how many 0’s you string together, you get nothing. But a bunch of 1’s adds up. A bunch of 1’s, multiplied by a bunch of time, adds up. And it doesn’t just add up — it even compounds, like interest.

0 is a white shirt. 1 is a blue stain. 100 is a red stain. 1 is much closer to 100 than it is to 0. No, 0 isn’t even a shirt. It’s a transparent Ziploc bag. No, it’s not even that. It’s a vacuum. 0 is the total absence of existence. Add 0 to anything and…you get the same anything. Add 0 (nothing) to 0 (nothing) and you get…nothing.

The current evidence from places like Swaziland suggests that humans have had math for some 35,000 years, give or take. Yet for most of human history, we didn’t have the number 0. Apparently, mathematicians in Greece and Egypt were like: “Dude, how the FXXX can nothing be something?!”. The entire Roman empire 3 started, rose, declined and fell all without the number 0. Engineers in ancient Rome implemented public works projects — roads, aqueducts, indoor plumbing, massive buildings — on a scale and to a standard that was not equaled in Europe until about last Tuesday 4…without 0. We’re talking about people who had to write the number “2347” as “MMCCCXLVII”.

Here — count to 0. Where’s your zero finger? 0 is a very weird number-slash-concept. It sits next to 5 1 on the real number line 6, but the real number line, names notwithstanding, isn’t “real”. In content and character, 0 is nothing like 1 or any other number. 0 is not of this world; it is of the math world.

So when you do 0, you’re not just doing slightly less than 1. Doing nothing is of a fundamentally different character than doing something. And doing something is of a fundamentally different character than doing nothing. Something (1, etc.) and nothing (0) are not the same; they’re not friends; they’re not neighbors; they’re not cousins; they don’t know each other; they don’t even live in the same universe.

It’s not doing too little that kills you(r projects). It’s doing nothing. No need to hit home-runs. No need to hit 100. Go easy. Take it easy. No need to swing with all your might. Screw that. Just bunt it. Just do 1. Right here. Right now. No big deal. No fanfare. No parade.

Don’t listen to Japanese. Just play a Japanese song and turn up the volume.

Just do 1.

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  1. That crap is only true in theoretical mathematics. It just doesn’t seem theoretical because negative numbers have become so common and useful.
  2. away from the real number line
  3. AFAIK — I could be wrong
  4. OK, the Industrial Revolution 😛
  5. let’s…just…politely ignore real number density here 😛
  6. Well…the integer line — thanks for the correction, Pikrass 🙂

  21 comments for “1 ≫ 0: One Is Better Than None

  1. ShinigamiRyuk
    January 29, 2012 at 03:24

    Sickest post so far! I’m 8 months into AJATT and only just getting how fun and easy it can be 🙂 

  2. January 29, 2012 at 04:48

    This post came dangerously close to sounding like Nike’s advertising. xD

    • ハゲロス
      January 30, 2012 at 23:11

      Awesome post, your blogs great. it kept me studying through the summer. One question though, how does 1 output to 0  unless 0 is a string. 😀

  3. トラビス
    January 30, 2012 at 22:13

    Wow, I never thought of it that way. Great post!

  4. Agent J
    January 31, 2012 at 02:15

    Same… never thought of it this way either. At first I thought this post was going to be repetitive (from past content) and a bit disappointing but it turns out this evaluation of the discrepancy between actual numbers and “zero” is one of the coolest things I’ve ever read. It just makes so much sense. Saved.
    (and it’s a decent length. we’re watching you Khatz; don’t you skim on us)

  5. Pikrass
    January 31, 2012 at 05:08

    You confused real numbers and integers, right ? If you think of 1 and 0 as integers, they sit next to each other. But in a real number line there’s an infinity of numbers between them, hence 1 is infinitely bigger than 0. 🙂
    Maths agree with you Khatz !

  6. Rou
    February 3, 2012 at 02:25

    Allow me to go slightly off-topic here…

    I recently had to stop doing well… about anything in Japanese, due to my computer breaking down (funny how much depends on a machine, huh?). According to Anki, the break has been 1.2 months. Wow. Maybe I haven’t done that much learning beforehand (just RTK and about 350 words in Core2k), but I got rather used to at least doing Anki reps every day and during that time without a computer I really felt… bad, without being able to study. 

    I’d say it’s a success – I got addicted to Japanese! But still, whenever I think of this language I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of Mount Everest with a guidebook in hand but no equipment or training. In other words, I have theoretical knowledge of what I should do to climb the mountain (learn the language), but I feel completely lost when trying to apply that to real life.

    Okay, maybe that’s not the best metaphor, but you get what I mean. Nevertheless, AJATT and similar sites give me hope that someday, I will succeed and my dream of being able to speak and understand Japanese will come true.  

    • February 4, 2012 at 03:45

      If you can, get some Japanese books (children’s books are awesome) or manga that you can read whenever you’re not “wired”.
      It does seem like an impossible journey even as you go along, when it seems like there’s so much you don’t know. Only when you step back and look at your results (“oh wow, I understand the gist of the plot to this drama without subtitles”, etc.) does it become apparent that you’re getting anywhere.

  7. Magdalena
    February 4, 2012 at 21:06

    You are right. Common sense knowledge should be constantly reminded. I think this will be my motto from now on: “One is better then zero”. Your post immediatly got me doing things. Thank you!

  8. February 7, 2012 at 19:37

    You know, before I started studying Japanese all the time, I used to be quite a runner.  And the only problem with being a runner is that you become a better runner.  Like at first, running a mile is hard.  Then running two miles is hard.  But if you keep at it, pretty soon you’re clocking six miles a day.  And then more.  That’s just the way it is.  You get good at things.  What a mess.
    Who wants to be good at stuff?  Being talented takes up all your time!  Pretty soon you’re knocking out 90 minute workouts.  And while that’s cool, it also feels pretty daunting.  I remember so many early mornings when I was like, Jeez, it’s raining, do I really have to go out for an hour and a half?  And I did then what I do now in Japanese.  I let myself off the hook.  I said, Okay fine, I’ll only go out for 20 minutes.  Just a quick jog.  Mentally, that’s waaay easier to deal with.  And invariably, once I ran 20 minutes, I’d feel pretty good and just keep going.  It’s the same thing now.  The hardest thing is just doing something small, getting out the door.  Once you do that, you’ve got momentum, and it’s a lot easier to continue.

  9. Kanjiboy
    February 8, 2012 at 03:19

    This post kinda goes against the “10,000 hours” one you did. I gues the 10,000 hours of listeing are for people who are “serious” about Japanese, where else this is more about people who usually complain they dont have no time and people who are scared to put a foot forawrd at a time. As for me, I am studying at fast but steady rate. I am a;ready much better than probably anyone in my college who studies Japanese. Butg I listen to All Japanese and novles at least 20 hours a day, while leraning 64 new kanji a month and 16 new grammer points and 10 new particles a month. And I am not tired or wear, in fact. The more I study, the mre I love Japanese.

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