The other day I attended a private banquet in the Skyroom for grad students, professors, a select few undergrads from the Math Department (and their spouses), and a visiting Professor from UC San Diego, Ronald Graham. He is rather famous; not only is he a fantastic mathematician, he co-authored “Concrete Mathematics” with Donald Knuth and Oren Patashnik, and is also a fabulous juggler.
The events that led to my inclusion in the event are somewhat peculiar. More than peculiar, they may be inexplicable. As those who know me well may know, I am not heavily associated with the Math Department; to date I have taken 1 course in mathematics at BYU; calculus.
A friend of mine (David Wilcox), received an invitation in the mail. However, only a select few undergrads had received these invitations, and they were hand picked by professors. David’s professors did not seem to pick him, yet he received an invitation. I had tried to set him up with a cousin of mine, Rosie Ricks, suspecting that her brother would be present, but she had a class. He didn’t feel like asking a date, yet he had 2 tickets to a really nice banquet. Suffice it to say, I ended up going.
I had no idea that it was going to be like. I would estimate that there were 150 participants. There were 3 parts; eating, an awards presentation, and a little speech by Dr. Graham.
- I would say that the food may be the best catered food I have ever had.
- I was somewhat surprised that my cousin, Russell Ricks, received an award. That is to say, I knew nothing of it in advance. I am not at all surprised that he received an award, because he excels at math.
- I was surprised by another award given to Gretchen Rimmasch; She was the grad student that taught the aforementioned math course that I have taken here. I was not surprised that she won the award for best teacher (or some such thing). I was, however, surprised that while reading why they gave her the award, they quoted from something that was very close to, in fact, nearly identical to the end of semester rating I had given her!
The real reason I am actually writing this is because of something Dr. Graham said. Do not expect it to be a new concept. Those are so few and far between, don’t even expect it. I just hope that the way he said it will make something extra click for you. If it is new, congratulations. He said, “Math is one of the best tools to think clearly.” In context, he failed to specify an opinion of what is best; your native language or math, but I do not fault him for that; that is far too individual an attribute.
Recently, I have been writing a bit on thought, and understanding related to language (part of which will soon be published in this blog). Math is a language, a language that is very much like a program, but without certain restrictions necessitated by the shortcomings of computers (computers cannot generate new knowledge, only follow rules).
The content of the phrase is not new, but in the context of what I have been working on, it seemed to be very clear. Math is perhaps the most accurate method of description that we have. It allows us to communicate with less ambiguity than any other language that I am aware of. Just like natural languages, it mutates to allow for expression of new ideas, but these mutations are not random, they are designed.
Unfortunately, I do not enjoy math for math itself, but for its application. When I am not either applying my learning (in a real problem, not homework) or enjoying the topic that I am reading about, I do not learn well.
For me, math is a tool, while software, algorithms, and code are art.