Thursday, May 1, 2008

That's All Folks

To Infinity and Beyond

Okay so THIS is the last blog of the class. I went to Kanye West’s concert last night and I just wanted to say that this class has definitely made me a “harder, better, faster, stronger” writer. Based on the title I bet you thought I was going for something more Buzz Lightyear-ish…No, Kanye whoops Buzz’s plastic butt any day.

Looking back on this class I thought I had started out as a pretty decent writer, but this class has humbled me in a lot of ways. I thought I could just spit out a prize-worthy paper by taking an hour or so to write at the last minute, but now…well I still think I can just spit out a prize-worthy writing at the last minute (i.e. this blog), but I KNOW that the quality would be much greater if I really took the time and effort write a better paper. Just look at the last 3 blogs (all by me) just imagine if I had managed to think them out and write them on time and not just spewed out whatever ideas popped into my head at the moment.

At the end of the day, or in this case, the semester, I really enjoyed the literature, the discussion, pretty much every aspect of this class and I know that it has been a value to my life in academia and in the “real” world. I never really understood that phrase. Aren’t we all living in the “real” world? That’s a topic I guess I’ll never get to cover. Well, that’s it for me. I’m off to my “Spaceship” to find a place to live the “Good Life.” We’re done, so throw ya hands up to the skyyyyy….


Pythagoras was a famous and controversial Greek philosopher who lived from 570 to 490 BC. He is responsible for what’s known as the Pythagorean theorem which relates to the geometry of right triangles. The formula is a2 + b2 = c2. Contrary to modern beliefs Pythagoras was famous during his lifetime for his philosophy on the nature of the natural world as opposed to the science and mathematics for which he is known today.

There are many post-Aristotelian ancient sources that portray Pythagoras as a semi-divine entity, leading to much future controversy. He influenced future Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle who in turn focused their memoirs of Pythagoras on his way of life and emphasize his philosophy rather than any supernatural abilities that he was claimed to possess.

Pythagoras eventually went on to found his own school based on his teachings. The schools dictum was “All is number.” According to philosopher, mathematician, historian Bertrand Russell believed that Pythagoras works in mathematics and philosophy became the model for works of future scholars such as Plato, Descartes, and Kant. He believes that Pythagoras brought together the idea of mathematics and theology to explain the nature of the universe where thought and reason was placed over the senses and intuition as superior to observation. The concept of the explaining the world through intellect rather than through the senses is accredited to Pythagoras. The teachings of Pythagoras’s school were as religious as they were intellectual. Many students of the school went on to found as society known as the Pythagoreans.

Themes of the Class

What have we talked about in class? Well, for starters we talked about math, or better yet mathematicians. We’ve learned that many of them tend to be loony but geniuses at the same time. It seems like every mathematician and some in real life suffer from schizophrenia or they’re reclusive or orphans or just associated with something negative. I think that’s a bit unfair. Why not create a story about a rich playboy mathematician? Hmmm, maybe I’ll write it and it’ll show up in a future Lit & Math class. That brings me to my next point. We’ve definitely talked about literature. We have literary analyzed and blogged about work after work after work. It’s safe to say that if you can’t write a paper based on the characters and themes and plot and etc etc, and if you can’t back up your claims with evidence, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing for the past few months. That was a bit harsh. I apologize.

We’ve talked about patterns. I’m starting to see the most ridiculous patterns all the time now and I curse this class for it. I can walk from the tower to the classroom in about 216 seconds…think about it. We’ve talked about dystopian societies where everyone is the same. We’ve talked about eugenics where everyone is trying to build the genetically perfect man or woman (which I think will end up killing us all if that happens). We’ve researched math related themes. What else can we do? What else can I say?

The Passion of The Mathematician

I’ve noticed something about the mathematicians we’ve studied in class - D-503, John Nash, Max Cohen and others. They are just like us. They have all have the same hope to make their existence on this earth matter. D-503 writes in his journal for future generations. John Nash attended and taught at some of the most prestigious universities in the world, all while coming up with some of the world’s greatest economic theory and battling schizophrenia. Max discovered the secret number of God (at least in his own mind). There are also others such as Einstein and Pythagoras that we didn’t extensively cover in class but they too are credited with some of the most influential works created thus far. Yes, some of these characters are fictional and yes, many of them were absolutely crazy, but the difference between them and us is that they were fortunate enough to find something in life they were passionate about and dive into it with reckless abandon. I find that to be admirable.

It’s easy to distinguish ourselves from them and say “well, they were all crazy,” but I bet if were to try hard enough we could all find something that we felt so drawn to that it might drive us a little nuts too. Just think about all the crazy things people do for love. This sounds obvious but I believe that mathematicians truly LOVE math and will do almost anything to discover its secrets. What do you love? What are you so passionate enough about that it could drive you crazy? If you don’t know, that’s fine. Neither do I, but summer is coming quickly and it’d be a great time to find out.

Final Blog

It looks like, by nature of my procrastination, that I might have the final word on this course blog. We'll pretend that that's why I waited until 6:30am on the last day of class to post this.

When I signed up for this course, I didn't really know what to expect. I thought we would be reading a lot of books featuring mathematicians, and discussing both the literary and mathematical merits of the novels.

I think the course was interesting overall. We discussed a lot of interesting topics, but I can't help but feel that we didn't talk much at all about math. We spoke in depth about rationality versus emotion, and about whether a logical choice equates to a "right" choice. But I think that with a room full of math, engineering, and computer science majors, we could have covered more technical material.

In the end, I think we all found this class a lot more rewarding than your standard writing component course, and so I hope that interdisciplinary writing classes like this one continue to be offered in the future.

Universe in a Neuron

On the top is a picture cosmologists developed which shows what the universe probably looks like if you could zoom all they way out.

On the bottom is a picture of a human neuron.

I think it is pondering this kind of thing that drives mathematicians nuts and makes them want to drill their brains out.

Georg Cantor, for example, spent most of his life contemplating infinity. He developed the Continuum Hypothesis which classifies the different "levels" of infinitude. He also happened to spend the last 20 years of his life in an insane asylum.

I think that to focus one's thoughts so intently and for such a long time on a subject which is essentially completely removed from reality is to risk becoming detached from reality in general, and appearing insane to the "normal" world.


Staring at the pages of Pi posted earlier in the blog reminded me of this drawing. It is so interesting to consider where these seemingly mystical constants like pi and e derive their values from...

Last Blog..for real this time.

Wow, I'd never thought I'd get to say this but I really do think this is my last blog. Well, first I'd like to thank God and my family. And of course my classmates, because I could not have done this without you all. Thank you so much. *Cue the music.

Nah...but I would like to talk about how I've learned some interesting things on the way, such as eugenics, Einstein's lovers, Miss America, and mathematicians' psychological disorders. This class does provide for a good conversation starter with friends. And also, there are some things here and there that remind me of this class and make me laugh a little bit. For example, my last roommate was an Aerospace Engineering major and wow, that guy was weird. I think he's pretty much the weirdest guy I have ever met in my entire life. Seriously. Anyways, I thought about him when we were watching Pi and A Beautiful Mind because that's what he's like.

So in conclusion, there's a couple of things I feel I've grasped from this class, along with maintaining and hopefully improving my writing skills (at least I think so). From writing 1.1 to 3.2, Gardner to research, the semester in this class has been pretty helpful and interesting for the most part.

On a more serious note...

Isn't it ironic how geniuses are the target of both honor and ridicule?
Think about it. Geniuses get praised for their work right? Whether it be music composition, an art masterpiece, or hypothesis/theory, geniuses have their own concentration in which they are honored.
However...what they excel in one category, they often lack in another. For instance, aren't most "geniuses" socially inactive? Minus the few exceptions, ala Einstein, Warhol, Dali, etc., most geniuses live in a dark attic or cellar in which they conduct their works of art. (Just kidding about that last remark by the way. )
Point being, while they are hailed for their accomplishments, I'm sure people make fun of them behind their backs, and not because they're jealous, but because the honoree is probably a major weirdo.

Humans Are Pattern Recognition Machines

So my girlfriend is writing a thesis paper, and her research style involves writing discrete facts on post-it notes, sticking them to her desk, and referring to them as she writes. But for this paper, she has ~260 post-it notes, and so she had to plaster them all over the walls of her living room, with research papers spread across the floor, and traipse about through the room from fact to fact looking for connections. It reminded me so much of John Nash in his schizophrenic "code breaking" episodes that I had to laugh, but worry a little on the inside at the same time...

The point is, our minds are designed to recognize patterns, so you don't have to be crazy to spread all your work out and analyze it from a high level.

Pirsig, Poincare, Pi

Since we have at least 3 motorcyclists in the class, I think it's appropriate to look at a passage from the venerable Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, in which Robert Pirsig explores Henri Poincare's views on axiomatic systems:

To solve the problem of what is mathematical truth, Poincare said, we should first ask ourselves what is the nature of geometric axioms. Are they synthetic a priori judgements, as Kant said? That is, do they exist as a fixed part of man's consciousness, independently of experience and uncreated by experience? Poincare thought not. They would then impose themselves upon us with such force that we couldn't conceive the contrary proposition, or build upon it a theoretic edifice. There would be no non-Euclidian geometry.

Poincare concluded that the axioms of geometry are conventions, our choice among all possible conventions is guided by experimental facts, but it remains free and is limited only by the necessity of avoiding all contradiction.

Max from Pi seemed to take a similar view. He regularly discarded or changed his accepted axioms according to his situation. But at the same time, he made sure to remain consistent with his axioms, and the result was huge leaps in his understanding.