Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speak to Me Lover

I live my life completely unknowing of why I am here and what this is all about. We can come up with hypothesis about God and such, but all of it seems shaky to me. There is one thing that I cannot understand but I can count on, and that is in the ability of nature to completely floor me with its beauty. From a glorious sunset to a tiny detail in a complex flow. It is all amazing, every piece of it. Nature is beautiful, inspiring, surprising and unwavering, just like a perfect lover. That is the one thing that I know.

And what language does nature speak. Mathematics.

“Nature’s grand book, which stands continually open to our gaze, is written in the language of mathematics. Its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures. Without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one is wandering around in a dark labyrinth.”

-Galileo Galilei, 1623

Monday, October 20, 2008

Higher States of Being

Considering my recent review of an unfortunate series of correspondences between a Mathematics teacher and an aspiring English teacher in her class, I'm compelled to discuss the underlying problems in the discussion. Let me begin by offering a sort of hypothesis regarding people and their vocations. I conject that there are fundamentally two types of people; each one best suited for one of two types of vocations. Simply put, there are vocations that sustain and vocations that advance. I use the word 'vocation' to imply more of a societal responsibility or calling rather than simply a job, but of course as the argument progresses transposing 'vocation' for 'job' will suffice.

The vast majority of jobs are those that sustain our way of life. They are vitally necessary in order to maintain societies accepted levels of existence. Jobs in civil service are an excellent example. Businesses (in general) operate by exploiting a societal demand for luxury or necessity; again sustaining. One might argue that business entrepreneurs advance humanity. In some cases they would be absolutely correct. However many entrepreneurs take advantage of a missing service in a community rather than advance that community beyond any other. As we develop as a whole these vocations also develop in number and skill. They are an essential part of society.

The vast minority of jobs are those that advance our way of life. These vocations are where we find the creators. Scientists are the obvious example of the 'creator.' They are responsible for every technological breakthrough in the history of man. I submit that technology is the foremost method of advancing humanity to higher states of pleasure. Those versed in philosophy can liken these higher states of pleasures to the concepts proposed by John Stuart Mill. For those not, please understand that 'pleasure,' in this context, refers to not only physical pleasure, but comfortable living, intellectual stimulation, enlightenment, and so on. I am confident that anything created, concocted, or envisioned by man can be traced back to a fundamental science as its enabler. I cannot go without acknowledging artistic creation. The pure skill in the brush or Rembrandt, or the vision of Picasso, or the torment of Blake, the genius of Shakespeare, or the inspiration of Milton cannot go unnoticed when segregating vocations. Without question, these individuals advanced humanity and were also creators.

I give special attention to the teacher. From one perspective teaching serves as a vocation for advancement. By enlightening young people, teachers are an integral part of advancement. On the other hand, the concept of teacher has shifted. We no longer learn by the Socratic Method. The emphasis is now to unsure that students run the gauntlet of classes in order to give them a superficial exposure to many things. Clearly, the purpose is to create well rounded individuals because well rounded individuals are a benefit to society. Unfortunately, this idealistic approach is polluted by the fact that uninspired students leave this arena to embark on careers that sustain. The terrifying truth is that some become teachers themselves. This leaves the teaching vocation in a state of perpetual stagnation and therefore, with the exception of a few teaching, is unable to be classified as an advancing vocation.

I come back to the original purpose of this discussion. The argument posed in the correspondences mentioned in the opening paragraph was that no more than rudimentary mathematical skills are needed for many vocations and therefore advanced mathematical topics should not be forced upon students should they choose against it. There is a fundamental flaw with this statement in that collective advancement cannot be bore on the backs of a few. Collective advancement is the responsibility of the collective, with both creative and logical thinking being its cornerstone. Consider a world in which there were only scientists and no artists. Invention would stagnate. Creativity for invention would be lost. The 'think outside of the box' mentality would be a fairytale. We would have the most scientifically minded collective imaginable but nothing to do with it. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining this extreme because almost by definition science is creative thinking, but bear with me. Consider the other extreme; no scientists and only artists. The world would be as beautiful as anyone could possibly imagine, but it would go no farther in its development. There would be no way to support itself and inevitably would fail. I also have a hard time imagining this extreme because without scientific creation the tools of creation wouldn't exist.

It becomes clear that both extremes are not beneficial. Ideally all people would excel in both venues. This is not possible and therefore divulges the critical foundation of a society: people contributing to the common good by providing their individual skills.

Science has shown how the brain is stimulated by logical thought process verses emotional or creative (liberal arts) thinking. Pure logic and pure creation produce very specific responses that account for 'right brained' and 'left brained' thinking. Science has also shown that both sides can be stimulated simultaneously. This type of synaptic response produces a nonlinear increase in memory and skill retention. Long term training shows an increase in overall cognitive ability. It becomes irrefutable that persons well versed in both types of thinking have a significant advantage over persons who do not. This creates a scientific basis to suggest it is the responsibility, or perhaps obligation, of the individual to train in both areas.

I must discuss myself in all this. I am a scientist, an engineer who was fortunate enough to have the ability to place myself in a vocation for advancement. The title given to those who endure my topics of research is one of high intellectual regard (the astrophysicists might scoff at that statementJ), but one that is expected to have an extreme bias toward logic rather than emotion. There is some truth to both statements, but even in my position I can differentiate the worth of my peers based on their level of enlightenment through well rounded intellectual stimulation. I am confident that the tangible worth based on productivity, not just my perception, is greater for those who observe the benefit of both logic and emotion. In this case we can specifically consider the fruits of science and the fruits of literary work and communication. I personally have a deep appreciation for the liberal arts. My education doesn't include these personal indulgences so I must seek them out on my own accord. Perhaps I am too bold, but if history prevails, it wouldn't be a stretch to say that I and my aforementioned peers have as good or even a better understanding of classical literature and artistic works than does the average liberal arts major.

We are caught in a vicious cycle of ignorance and argument. People in general don't appear to have a sense of self awareness. They don't observe how their actions ripple through time and space. They can't appreciate how the ripples of others have contributed to their current state of being. It is asinine to believe that society as a whole can advance though the minds of scientific or artistic geniuses alone. A society that seeks higher pleasures collectively will outshine the achievements of any single individual. At this point, it becomes a social responsibility, not a personal choice.

To the Mathematics teacher: I rambled a bit, but I hope I have supplied a stronger basis for your argument. You touched on some of these topics and I have the feeling that you'll be in agreement with much of what I said, but certainly being the teacher you must tread lightly.

To the prospective English teacher: I'd like to know what school you teach at. That way I can insure my children aren't accidentally placed in your class. Opinionated ignorance is dangerous.

And now a deep thought…

The fortunate few cannot reach the pinnacle without the wide base of support below them. If the base of support starts a little higher, then those fortunate few are that much closer.