Reflecting upon Summer 2017

It seems funny to be reflecting back on this season now, but as my profession is inexorably linked to a scholastic calendar, it is accurate. Schools all over the valley are starting up, teachers are prepping their classrooms if they haven’t already begun classes, and my colleagues at AIMS and FPU are filtering back into the office and continuing their efforts to understand and know more about their various topics. I recently recorded a podcast in which I describe three events from my summer and how they interrelate around a theme of humility.

That was not the only possible interpretation of the connections for these events. I have focused, for several years now, it seems, on the concept that mathematics and science are legitimate topics to be discussed within the Humanities. For so long, and for many reasons, I was raised to perceive that these two subjects were somehow not a part of the core of studies that we apply to coming to understand more fully what it is to be human. Literature, history, politics, art, these subjects are the traditional ones within schools of Humanity in universities, and colleges across the western world. What I have become convinced of, however, and had reinforced for me this summer, is that this separation is both arbitrary and harmful.

To undertake a scientific exploration is to acknowledge a fundamental human trait of curiosity and a genuinely human behavior of tool development and use. We seek to know because we are curious beings. Our biology and personality development aim us toward exploration of our world. To get to the end game of knowing, we invent devices, or tools, to assist us in these inquiries. This technological development seems to be part and parcel of our species.

One of the more profound experiences I had this summer was at a conference called Bridges Math-Art conference in Waterloo Ontario, Canada. At the conference, there were hundreds of people engaged in discussing, at very high levels of competence, this very intersection between subjects I was raised to consider as different activities; so different that it is common to talk about them as being conducted by opposite hemispheres of our brain. What I saw were people who were fully integrating all their human faculties.

I admit this may occur because I have recently read an excellent book by friend and colleague, Sunil Singh titled “The Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics.” In this book, Sunil connects math and several very human characteristics, the first of which is humility. I recommend this book for your enjoyment and betterment.

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