Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Lack of Courage and Clarity in the Rush to Judgement against Andrea Bertozzi.

I was disappointed, but not at all surprised, by the news that the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) had recently decided to condemn Andrea Bertozzi, through facts that turn out (after careful, nuanced investigation) to not be facts at all. The evident lack of care is not surprising, but the incidents point to much deeper problems.

I am referring to the articles you can find here.

Now, while I deeply respect the right of the article and letter writers to write what they wrote, the whole spirit of this ongoing saga, with its deeply religious/ideological perspective — one that crosses the line repeatedly to the “the end justifies the means” principle — is something I find very disturbing.

I suppose that if was in favor of policing as it is, thought that racism was not a problem, or believed that the left/progressive side of things has nothing to offer, I would shrug this off as another example of the “idiotic leftest academics” not getting their facts straight.

But I don’t believe those things.

In fact, I have had very deep problems with the way policing is done, with the cultures that are tolerated, with the extreme lack of wisdom with the new fad of machine learning for everything, and the fact that the data we use is extremely problematic.

So why am I not a fan of this edition of the AWM newsletter?


To begin with, the facts, with respect to Andrea Bertozzi, are wrong. She did not come up with the core algorithm developed by PredPol, the paper by Lum and Isaac did not even use the actual PredPol algorithm in daily use by the company (that, again, Andrea did not develop), and, as can be seen by a careful look here, while Andrea’s name was on the list of organizers, she did not even attend the workshop on predictive policing at ICERM, so she could not have actually led the event. As mentioned above, the PredPol algorithm was not developed by Andrea, as evidenced by the fact she is not on the patent underlying the company and the one paper that has her name on it, was a paper to which she contributed only a very small amount, but again, long after the invention of the method (which is based on a model of earthquake aftershocks). Additionally, the Lum and Isaac claim that PrePol attempts to “identify future offenders” cannot be true, since Prepol only uses the distribution in time and space of crimes (including their types) in their prediction calculations, without any personal data or identification of previous criminals being used. And as others have noted, Lum and Isaac apply this to the one type of data the PrePol algorithm is not intended to be used with — drug offender data. The fact that the perpetrator and victim are usually the same person in drug crimes, is very significant. Finally, since the article was clearly intended for the general public, the speculation and hypothetical nature of various assumptions should have been couched in much more careful language. The “scientism” of the general public often leads them (and, actually, too many scientists) to treat hypothesis and conjecture as fact. (It was only clear that they used the algorithm published openly by those associated with PrePol, instead of the proprietary version used in reality, in their 2018 Medium article. Those acquainted with how what is used in practice differs from what is released to the public, in companies like PrePol, understand the significance of this difference. While Lum and Isaac could not be expected to use the proprietary version, the fact they were not, should have been made very, very clear, especially given the certainty of the controversy the paper would generate.)

There is another fact that seems lost on the writers in the AWM newsletter — the study and description of crime (just one of Andrea’s many threads of research) is not the same thing as its use and does not dictate whether that use is positive or negative. That is up to the (non-academic) culture that the activists are correctly wanting to change.

A deeper, more nuanced analysis, looking for the true source of the negative uses of what academics discover, finds it in academic culture itself, in the culture of separation, disconnection and lack of grounding in the barehanded reality of the world we live in. (As a result, everyone in this saga of judgement and protest against judgement is implicated (to some extent) in doing too little to connect and be relevant — and that includes me!) I am convinced that if those academics that study and discover (all sorts of) things were deeply grounded and connected to the nuanced reality we live in, their empathy would kick in and help them craft how they innovate and how the connect so that the uses of what they discover would be positive.

But, with the facts wrong, and nuance jettisoned, there is no way that the freedom I support in terms of what was written in the newsletter will also get my agreement or applause.


What makes this all the more distasteful is the fact that I agree that data science and machine learning are very frequently, deeply unwise and damaging, and that trauma, the true elephant in the room, is screaming at us to be healed, yet is in actual practice, ignored. We would rather give that trauma a pill to silence it, immerse ourselves in struggles against symptoms, with a deep sense of self-righteousness and an invigorating belief that our adoption of “the ends justifies the means” is OK because what we fight for is so clearly, so good.

For what is being aimed at is truly good. And this is clear to anyone with any kindness or love.

Because, those not outraged by the way many young black men are treated by the police are truly calloused and lacking in basic human decency. Anybody not deeply disturbed by the outrage of what is called the justice system in the US clearly needs help, empathetically speaking, and the fact that so many groups of people have been mistreated in systematic ways is depressing when the comprehension begins to grasp the enormity of it all.

I suspect that the difference, for me, originates in the experience of being raised very religiously, leading to a deep acquaintance with a very wide variety of very enthusiastic coreligionists. While eventually I was led to a personal spiritual walk that might be described as primitive Christianity, not attached to any particular denomination, that did not happen before I developed a deep allergy and acute sensitivity to self-righteousness, to good people believing that “the end justifies the means” if the end you are trying to reach is good enough. I suspect that many of the (typically) privileged souls that are driving the kind of thing we see in the AWM newsletter, do not have similar experiences that would have, at least to some extent, inoculated them against self-righteousness and misguided principles.


But there is something even more disturbing — and that is the silence of almost all the leading mathematicians in this matter. On the other hand, this is not surprising. Prestige and advancement in academia (and in society in general) is systemically biased against boldness, against nuance and wisdom and towards cleverness that masquerades as wisdom, and towards attention seeking that masquerades as boldness. The result is “leaders” and “experts” that lack real courage, have little to no wisdom, and no willingness to risk their social capital for the principles that are the actual foundation of the freedom and rich flourishing that make living a joy.

This is a deep shame.

Because the fundamental aims of the activist — stop the killing, remove prejudice, create a human culture in which everyone can truly flourish — are incredibly important and timely. It seems that there are reasons to think that the current chaos could, with wisdom and true empathy, be transformed into real progress.

But the misguided principles in evidence, the lack of courage and wisdom that can be seen from spending the time to think and see and hear and feel all suggest that this opportunity will be missed.


But, let us say for the sake of argument, that Andrea was actually much more involved in predictive policing (which she is not), was actually making money from the technology (which she is not and did not), and was actually somewhat insensitive to the plight of the criminals police are trying to obstruct (which again, she is not). Even under these (false!) hypotheses, a fair and balanced look at her, to determine whether or not she should be uninvited to give talks (as she has been) or that honors should be rescinded (as they have been) would have to look at the rest of what she does.

Because, even though this is an unpopular idea in the current climate of instant, knee-jerk shaming of people not in your tribe, the whole person must be understood to correctly assess any action of that whole person.

Such a look would be deeply revealing.

Those looking would rapidly find a woman who has bent over backwards to help junior mathematicians, both men and women, who has worked hard to create opportunities for students and postdocs. Digging deeper, they would find some of odds stacked against her that she overcame, that helped encourage her to become the encouraging champion of younger people. They would find, at her core, a very warm heart and someone who is fundamentally kind, even though her energy and enthusiasm for progress can make that hard to see at times when she moves fast and makes things happen.

If in fact, those that have a problem with her took the time to sit down with her, they would see this side of her as well, and the more reasonable ones might see the wisdom in starting a debate with her, instead of a war. Because, they would understand whatever mistakes she makes (she is human) are precisely the kind of mistakes they have made themselves!

In a nutshell: such a strategy would not only have a higher chance of effecting change, it would also reveal that the negative things they observe are not a result of any kind of racism, but in fact are much, much more nuanced and complex — in the same way that they themselves are complex and a mixture of light and dark.

Of course, it is rare to find people who are honest and disciplined to this extent, because it moves them out of their comfort zone (which is another of Bryan Stevenson’s principles of change — be willing to move out of your comfort zone!)

In the end though, Andrea is not actively involved in predictive policing, she is not involved in the company PrePol, she did not actually make money from the company, she did not attend, let alone lead, the workshop at ICERM (that her name was on the organizer list is actually a clear indication of her generosity in lending her stature to those that ask for help), and her real interest is in the science of crime — something that is not the same as predictive policing, any more than biochemistry is the same as Purdue Pharma’s deep abuse of the products of biochemistry).


Actually though, this whole saga is no surprise if you believe, as I do, that the trauma almost all humans experience, is the true source of misery in the world. Trauma is experienced by the vast majority of people, but is almost never effectively dealt with. This unhealed trauma leads to a seemingly infinite variety of dysfunctions and disconnections that in turn opens the door for mistreatment and atrophied empathy. I am speaking from experience here: both my brother and I ended up with severe PTSD after watching both parents die from cancer over an 8 year period, starting when we were both preteens. In addition to that, I experienced severe psychological abuse from an (extended) family member that took years to recognize and deal with.

All this has convinced me that the methods themselves dictate the results, that the means has in itself the seeds for the end you actually reach, and that love and healing are at the roots of all means moving us to any truly good end.

So, while I am a general foe of the idea that machine learning can add anything of value to the world, while I believe that the culture of policing must change, and even more radically, that love is the only thing that cannot be defeated in the long run, I cannot align myself with much of what currently claims to be for progress.

In the same way that so much Christianity has too often aligned itself with evil in spite of its truly phenomenal foundation and (I believe) divine origin, social activism that uses impure principles to get ahead is doomed to fail.

Being intent on helping create an increase in human flourishing, means, for me, that I have to use my freedom to protest the methods of those who claim to be for progress, but instead are adopting methods and strategies that auger against their success.


There is one last point that I believe has been lost because of the lack of imagination that seems to have overtaken our current culture. Instead of simply opposing all predictive policing and “mathematics of crime” methods as fundamentally racist, why not attempt to inject corrective ideas and thoughts into what gets produced? This would have the advantage of simultaneously correcting what is done and building defensible trust between the police and the public. It should be clear to careful observer on both sides, that policing would be far, far more effective and humane with an informed, engaged and supportive general public. The data that could be used to help solve the trouble at the roots of the current crisis is actually only going to be available in a society that is characterized by trust. The evidence for this is very, very strong. It is also clear that in a society based on trust, tools like data analysis can be positive. While I am for thick data and grounded, action based on insights like those in Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, and I also believe the knee-jerk “big data” and “machine learning for everything” instincts are dangerously foolish, tools that mathematics gives us can, with wisdom and constraint, be very useful.

With enough imagination and creativity, in an environment rich with thick data, filled with people having widely different experiences and perspectives, in an environment with a dedication to taking the time to think and see and hear and feel, and a real focus on wisdom and groundedness, the tools of mathematics and the hearts of healed humans can help craft a future that anyone would want to be a part of and in which everyone is welcome.


I suspect, that if I were able to sit down with the letter and article writers, in the patient proximity that Bryan Stevenson so effectively argues for, and we were to actually see and hear each other, the power of that proximity and basic human empathy would enable us to see a path forward based on nuanced awareness of the barehanded facts of each other’s lives. I can easily imagine that while we might not agree on everything, we would agree deeply on the supremacy of the goal of human flourishing for everyone.

Quietness and Confidence

In a world obsessed with data, and at a constantly accelerating pace, the idea that to know, we might need to surrender the idea of arriving there through rational means, seems just silly.

Yet this is precisely what I now believe.

The struggle to express the state of being implicit in the opening statement seems similar to me to the struggle I wrote about in Speaking the Language that cannot be Spoken. Yet the fraction of my energy expended at various times in the pursuit of certainty leads me to persist. For I believe imperfect explanations are better than none at all, at least in the case of this subject.


The search has led me to the wisdom literature and so I begin with two quotes:

“In him we live and move and have our being”

St. Paul

“If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Jesus

The last quote has admittedly led to huge excesses and is undoubtedly deeply misunderstood because of the stubborness of the human desire to not surrender control. Yet when surrender to the only Power that will not exploit you is finally embraced, you begin to see this last quote as something entirely different, entirely positive — we begin to see it as the beginning of an abundant, thriving life not built on illuision, one not having to hide from pain in order to be characterized by joy, one that reveals the influence of a living water spoken of so long ago to the Samaritan woman at the well.

Yet, in spite of the almost irresistible impulse to identify the above quotes and associated traditions with Christianity (as a religion or whole family of religions), I believe there is very good reason to consider the (subtly different) alternative of seeing them as invitations to a transformed life from those with insights into how the universe actually works.

This will be a distinction lost on those who are certain “spirituality” is some product of natural evolution, an illusion that will pass from the collection of useful things in the future.

But to those who believe there is more than the material world, that the physical is indeed an epiphenomenon of the spiritual, perhaps this slight shift in perspective will enable them to consider the depth and power of the wisdom in those two quotes and the possibility that the ideas, the paths suggested, should be reexamined, separately from the masochistic fetishes which have attached themselves to ideas like those.


Admitting that knowing is never divorced from faith (small f) is the first step to an acknowledgment of the necessity of the “things not seen”, and a step in the direction of acceptance of certainty as something that must be transcendent, beyond the reach of the finite rational process of thinking, yet somehow intimately connected to the mind.

And yet, certainty — confidence, without qualification — is central to whole fabric of wisdom and the transformed life we are invited to:

“They that wait on the Lord shall renew their quietness and confidence …”

Isaiah

Letting go of the attempts to save ourselves from inner storms that rage when we resist surrender, we find peace and quietness. Certainty finds us, for we rest in Him and His constant stream of life and quietness no longer finds resistance in us. The same virtue that went out from him to heal when He walked among us so long ago, works its miracle in our hearts, bringing stillness and confidence.


Quietness and stillness, then music — the music emerging from a new stillness marks the dawning of a confidence, a certainty we will never mistake for anything but a gift from Him in whom we live and move and have our being.

Freedom is a Delicate Thing – A Manifesto

The violence of the belief that you have found the way all others must conform to, must give in to, is rarely evident before there are concrete collisions between two different groups with this perspective. But those collisions happen frequently enough that the assertion this belief is violent, is not controversial. It also seems most of us become entangled in these type of struggles in some form.

The universal experience with traumas of one sort or another makes us all susceptible to (or even ruled by) fear. As a result, the understanding and practice of freedom and love in their most natural, primitive and sustainable forms, become casualties to our efforts to save ourselves from these fears. Very frequently, the inspiration at the foundation of a religious practice becomes deeply perverted by these efforts, by these arrangements we make for our own salvation. Shared with a group, there is a sense of deeper validation for this violent perspective.


The false notion that science is uniquely free of this bigoted, religious spirit is quite common these days, especially among those that are insufficiently grounded by first hand experience in the diversity of universal religious forms present in religious experience.  Thus, those raised in a nominal Christian household or a household that is essentially (traditional) religion free are at a disadvantage because they are less able to recognize religious behavior in its many disguises, including the current bigoted form of science as a religion.

While I am a Christian in a deep organic sense — and I certainly believe things that the materialist and atheistic thinkers will see as deeply deluded — I believe that Jesus did not come to start a religion, even though I believe he was God in human form, and that his life, death and resurrection form the universal singularity through which all life flows.

The true, spiritual inspiration at the foundation of every religious tradition invariably morphs into religious, institutional forms over time scales associated with how inspiration works. Without constant innovation and deep renewal to overthrow the religious, institutional instinct, the original inspiration is captured and perverted.

It is very important to underline the point that I do not consider primitive Christianity — that organic, deeply personal walk with God, intrinsically individual, based on a direct and living connection between the individual and God — as a religion. It is also clearly not possible to institutionalize this path.

There are similar, organic paths in other religions, likewise avoiding the religious, institutionalized paths.


The principle to understand is that the religious instinct is a universal human instinct, powered by the very real need for connection. But the instinct is particularly vulnerable to the corrupting influence of the drive to save ourselves from fear. It is also true that this instinct, in and of itself, has nothing to do with a belief in God or faith in some mystery, and can just as easily emerge in, for example, an atheistic ideology, because those carried away by any ideology are still human.

The deepest crimes against humanity have always been perpetrated by those motivated by a religious zeal. While deeply evil individuals, amoral and without consciences, have often been key players in these deep crimes, these individuals are rare enough that, without the masses gripped by the religious fervor of that moment, they would have been powerless to inflict the catastrophic harm that ends up being inflicted. Nazi Germany is a classic example of this fact.

While I believe the depth of what Jesus taught in its fullest form is absolutely breathtaking and inexhaustible, this would be true, even if you looked at his teachings as insights into everyday wisdom. His thoughts were universal, deep at every scale, to every perspective. But this is lost sight of because he is seen as belonging to one religion.

Turning inspiration into idols, we are enslaved and robbed of life and light.


We have come to a time in which the underlying the dogma of almost every group is a bigoted violence ready to rise up and dismember those that disagree and dissent. While the burning at the stake is not yet a literal experience again, the metaphorical experience is not rare when one questions the dogma in a way that is considered threatening by the group in question.

Take, for example, the battle between conservatives and liberals.

Broadly, crudely, conservatives do not mind philosophical dissent as long as it stays completely philosophical, but dissent that costs money or property becomes something to hound out of existence. Liberals go on the attack when the ideas are heretical, because ideas are somehow the the fundamental touchstone, perhaps because they are less obviously driven by financial greed.

But both groups are capable of great violence, if violence is measured organically, intrinsically, and not just by its grossest, most primitive physical forms. The liberal class uses weapons of ridicule and hate, attempting to bludgeon dissenters into submission, while the conservatives use authoritarian control and financial dominance and subjugation. (At the highest levels, the two methods of operation merge — dissent is fought with every tool in the toolbox of the powerful.)

In very similar ways, the conflicts that fill a world divided into warring tribes have moved us closer and closer to a world ready to sacrifice the foundation upon which everything worth living for is built — the foundation of freedom, powered by love.

Watching this process, we learn that freedom is a delicate thing — it is strong, even invincible, only when powered by a deep, transformative love.


The deep, created harmony of all things, disrupted by equally deep violence, presents a puzzle for an incomplete worldview.

I believe the resolution found in the story of creation and a great controversy between between love and freedom on the one hand and fear and slavery on the other, understood in its deepest, most profound form, passes Occam’s test — it is the simplest, most elegant path explaining life, the universe and everything.

Last Voyage

Beata’s mother, Lucyna, passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

From the instant she met me, very soon after Beata and I married in 1993, Lucyna — Mom — accepted me completely, in a way that moves and warms me every time I think of it.

Mom was a deeply kind soul, generous to a fault.

She loved quietly.

Remembering, I feel it in those deep places opened by grief.

I will miss her so much.


15 years ago, Beata’s father Jan passed away (at the young age of 63). An enthusiastic explorer, playful in his approach to business and life, I was just beginning to know him. I have very often longed for what I know would have been a deep friendship illuminated by his fine mind and warm, adventurous heart.

26 and 22 years before that, when my brother and I lost our mother and father to long illnesses, we became acutely sensitive to the presence or absence of family, to the very few individuals that have opened in the rarest of ways.


With Lucyna’s passing, our son Levi no longer has a living grandparent.

And a large hole in our world has become even bigger.

I used to believe we have had great misfortune. While, in some ways, this is true, I have come to realize that not so many people have been privileged with the intensity of love and inspiration that has been ours.

For those four grandparents of Levi were each giants in their own way.


Lucyna passed away on Tuesday afternoon.

She who loved quietly, faithfully, now rests in Infinite Love.

I will miss her so much.

From Left to Right: Wojtek (Beata’s brother), Beata, Lucyna, and Irene (Beata’s Cousin)… and of course, Obi, in front of Wojtek and Beata.

Verses and Footnotes

I very recently completed the first version of the short book, Verses and Footnotes.

I have a different perspective on writing and editing, including the fact that I am very, very careful about letting the process of editing remove too much. In fact, I think that the real art is in letting there be just enough of what some would call raw or rough traces in the writing to lend real authenticity to the writing.

I think perhaps a better term would be “idiosyncrasies”, instead of the phrase “raw or rough traces”.

But I know that a trained editor might itch to make those pieces conform to their view of writing. And this is not something I believe is the right thing to do if readers are to see into the writers experience, into what they might experience in a conversation with the writer.

Here is a link to the PDF of version 1.1

Link to PDF of Verses and Footnotes, Versions 1.1

The book is now in print and is available for 15$ a copy. This price includes shipping. Simply email me at vixie@speakeasy.net to arrange payment and shipping. (Of course, the e-copy is, and will remain, free.)

Speaking the Language that cannot be Spoken

Though I have gone further in my mathematical career, my past is also filled with music.

Violin performance in multiple orchestras and chamber groups, together with with several concerto competitions and intense practice this required, had a large impact in my life. There is also the fact that my father was a musician, that our family was immersed in a musical environment.

I recently listened to a concerto while watching the notes scroll by. The complexity of the notes on the page were, somehow, not matched by the experience of music in that innermost place — that place from which you play when you perform. I found this experience very similar to the experience of creating new mathematics and then writing it down to communicate what I see.

Why?

Because I believe musical notes on paper and detailed proofs in a book or published paper are both misleading.

The music and the mathematics are, somehow, much simpler in their pure, newly created form. The complication evident in the written form comes from the unnatural way we have to communicate music and mathematics.

When I slowly recall or relive the creation of a proof, whose written form is non-trivial and may even seem imposing, I find the natural state of the proof in the imagination to be simpler, even minimalistic. Yet when written, expanding to something that looks imposing, it is often hard to read or imagine.

In the natural language of the soul, both mathematical proofs and musical compositions sing and flow. But in the language of things written down, we usually lose this living simplicity and beauty.

When we do harmonize the imagining and the telling, it is through the action of a whole person, in real time, speaking, writing, drawing, adapting, listening, responding … finding the music that, for us, connects the inner and outer universe.

For it is the human being integrates the universe, speaking the language that cannot be spoken.

 

 

 

A Guide to Previous Posts: January 2020

Here is a guide to posts so far: I am writing this for myself and anyone else that does not like the WordPress navigation system for older posts. This makes is easier to quickly browse through past articles. The first is the most recent …

  1. Yunfeng Hu in Seattle My former student is now in Seattle and I wrote a short note about it.
  2. A Sort of Synesthesia Thoughts on the difficulty in writing about deeper things.
  3. Silence and Beauty Inspired by Makoto Fujimura’s paintings seen at the Jundt Museum (at Gonzaga University) and videos the experience led me to.

  4. Ode to My Father Poetry.
  5. Soul Vibrations Poetry.
  6. Goodbye Twitter Thoughts about deleting my twitter account.
  7. Finding Depth, Seeing Clearly A meditation on judgment and nuance in the age of Trump, with a thread connecting to Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, The age of Surveillance Capitalism.

  8. Finding and Following Your Own Path The title is pretty descriptive — what I wrote is pretty autobiographical, inspired by my finding my own path and the power of words.
  9. Fun with simple analysis problems I: the rest of the story A continuation of the earlier post with the same title, containing an exploration of an elementary problem in analysis.
  10. The Colors of Memory and Wisdom Reflection on Zeyn Joukhadar’s novel, The Map of Salt and Stars.
  11. Cultures of Creativity and Innovation Thoughts on Daniel Coyle’s book, The Culture Code.
  12. Letting Go Poetry.
  13. Median Shapes A short invitation to explore the paper, Median Shapes, that I wrote with collaborators.
  14. A Silence, Rich with Inspiration  Something inspired by Glynne Robinson Betts’ 1981 Writers in Residence
  15. Everything is Illuminated Poetry.
  16. Dual Tyrannies of Data and Democracy (and what to do about it) Being data driven is almost always assumed to be equivalent to correct or right. But the assumptions or axioms that one must have in place to use data are very often unexamined, without nuance, shallow or in some other way deficient. And since when did the majority have an inside track on the truth?
  17. Other Planets Poetry
  18. Animals and Empathy My reflections on why I do not support experimentation on animals, focusing on what happens to us when we allow ourselves to participate in these acts of cruelty.
  19. Freedom and Writing terse notes on writing
  20. The Space Between Poetry
  21. Faith Is Connection Reflections on the nature of faith.
  22. Obi Requiem for our late dog Obi
  23. Disrupting Digital Delusions Reflections on David Sax’s book, Revenge of Analog.
  24. Metrics and Inequality Thoughts on how we mislead ourselves in the practice of being obsessed with metrics and idea that this makes us fair.
  25. Fun with simple analysis problems I An exploration of where a simple analysis problem can take you if you sit with it and listen to it speak to you.
  26. Finding Quietness Also inspired by Glynne Robinson Betts’ 1981 Writers in Residence.
  27. Connection vs Attention A meditation on quietness and inspiration that is unleashed by attention.
  28. Doing Mathematics What it means to do mathematics, why I do mathematics, how to do this in a way generous to others.
  29. Learning to think and to act Thoughts inspired by William Deresiewicz’ book  Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.
  30. Heresy and Freedom Thoughts inspired by the Epilogue of Albert Schweitzer’s autobiography, Out of  My Life and Thoughts, Schweitzer’s autobiography and by Roger Williams’ life.
  31. Using Photography On my beginning to take photogtaphs and my perspective about photography
  32. Beginning Again Poetry
  33. An Invitation to Geometric Measure Theory: Part 1 The beginning of a book on geometric analysis — this piece is about differentiation.
  34. Thoughts on receiving a negative review Inspired by a rude review of a paper.
  35. Geometric Measure Theory by the Book A review of 9 books on geometric measure theory, an area I work in.
  36. Higher Education: the real problem is not the cost Short thoughts on four mistaken assumptions about higher education.
  37. Connection Poetry.
  38. The Power of solitude … and Social Connection Meditation on the power of a life tha combines time to think and deep connection with others.
  39. Rage Poetry.
  40. Stillness Thoughts on stillness and the power of walkabouts
  41. Anarchy as Optimal Versatility In this perhaps too provocatively titled article, I talk about the advantages of not tying yourself to an authoritarian system and what the import of the phrase Ye are the salt of the earth means to me.
  42. By the Light of the Moon in Broad Daylight Review of the movie Moonrise Kingdom.
  43. Cultures of Disrespect Reaction to commonly used phrases in mathematics that are not helpful.
  44. Scream Poetry.
  45. Brilliance and Renaissance My reactions to the the documentary The Philosopher Kings.
  46. First Post self-explanatory …

 

Yunfeng Hu in Seattle

IMG_003311

View From Yunfeng’s New Office in Seattle

Yunfeng Hu was recently moved from EMSI in Moscow, Idaho to a new research team at Amazon in Seattle. He is understandably very excited. Not only is the pay good, but the work is challenging and interesting and he has an excellent, inspiring team leader, Dennis Craig.

As readers of this blog know, Yunfeng was a PhD Student of mine that graduated in the spring of 2018. His work with myself and Bala (and a couple of other collaborators) is talked about in this post.

Yunfeng deserves this — he worked hard as an undergraduate, becoming an expert problem solver and as a graduate student, becoming an accomplished analyst and programmer as well. His internship and following year and a half at EMSI has prepared him very well for this new challenge.

Congratulations Yunfeng — you deserve this!

 

Finding and Following Your Own Path

When my brother succeeded in persuading me to join an Alanon group in 1995 or 1996 I had little understanding of the healing for mind and spirit I would find among those gentle, powerful souls. They opened the door to healing simply by listening to me and speaking of their own paths in a way that made it clear I could take what I found healing and leave the rest.

I did know I was deeply afraid of others trying to tell me how to think, how to live, or even who to be. But I did not know the boundary violations I had experienced when I was young had created some very large traumas that were only increased by living through the slow deaths of both of our parents when my brother and I were teenagers.

Healing and a deep inspiration flowed from a combination of those illuminated spaces for listening and the walkabouts in the forests and mountains, first in Oregon, and then in New Mexico. In those experiences I found an understanding that no one had the answer for me, no one had the right to tell me what I should do, that only by that personal walk with God in those places of quietness and stillness could I hear and see and feel and find my own muse, my own path, my own unique way of creating and connecting.

I began to experience the power of the right words, at the right time.

 

I am still learning to understand the enormous power of words and the extent to which the misuse of words has created large swaths of humanity and society with seriously reduced capacity for sensing reality, for understanding the negative power of  words and images thrown around carelessly or even maliciously.

So much of what we say to each other is either powerless, without inspiration or filled with power to damage and limit those who accept the words. This comes either as a result of ignorance (the most common case) or intentional malevolence. I have been guilty of using words in ways that were not respectful of the need for others to find their own way. Phrases like “you should do …” are rarely helpful or useful and are often damaging. I would now argue that they never belong in print because, when they are appropriate, it is always very situation dependent. When they do appear with well intentioned people, I believe it is most often due to enthusiasm for discovered insights that have worked well for them.

We discover something that works for us and we immediately evangelize others, certain we know the way, that we have the answer for them as well. This is most pronounced in those that have an undeveloped gift for teaching, but it seems to effect everyone who has made discoveries they think others might need. So often we speak these words and add force of our own, lest those listening (or who are forced to listen) not get the importance of what we are saying.

Yet this betrays a misunderstanding of the power of truth and inspiration. It shows we are not sufficiently aware of how others find their muse, their path of creativity and connection.

It is arrogance, blind as it always is, that leads us to think we can find the path for others. Sometimes that arrogance is a subtle, cultural type of arrogance. Other times it is overt and obnoxious.

When we begin to see clearly and deeply, the humility that must accompany this leads us to get out of the way of others in their quest to discover who they are, where they can go and what they are privileged to create. We discover that the path of the creative teacher and mentor, collaborating alongside those involved in the joy of finding and following their own paths, is an experience full of living energy and fresh discovery.

 

Balanced, wholistic truth contains in itself all the power needed to take root and grow. In growing, it adapts to the soil it finds, encouraging the uniqueness it finds, illuminating the creativity that results. The creativity that results in turn illuminates new and original facets of the truth.

A narrative containing a truth, told simply, without force, transmits the truth in a way most likely to be accepted, though sometimes lying, like seeds in the ground,  awaiting just the right conditions to take hold and grow.

A telling of parts of our stories, encouraging listeners to find, explore, hear the stillness themselves, to become adventurers and participants in that deepest conversation with their Teacher — this becomes the most powerful thing we can do for others.

In their seeing what we have learned, what we have found, what is part of our story, they are inspired to begin their own journey, to find their own muse.

 

Connection vs Attention

At our fingertips, in the present, in the place we find quietness, we may find boundless inspiration for a rich, creative life. When this is focused and refined under the influence of our own uniqueness, our own particular genius, we find illumination and a deeply satisfying flow.

Far too often we surrender who we are in an effort to gather attention, when what we are seeking is connection with others, connection with a richly creative life. Human society has almost completely abandoned the cultivation of truly individual genius for the pursuit of attention. As a result we are infinitely poorer.

Yet this choice is completely under our control — we may refuse this lopsided bargain. We may instead choose an abundance that more than makes up for whatever loss of fame or fortune our choice entails. Those that turn away from that obsession, towards quietness and life, find a healing, restoring force, gently coaxing them back to playfulness, to a place of freedom, to originality and creativity.

Immersion in nature, connection to the life that surrounds us, communion with quietness that speaks and engages us with Infinity — here we find sustenance for a life that never loses freshness or originality.

Boldly choosing connection rather than attention, such a life does not sacrifice its own brilliant originality to the temptations of fame or fortune, nor does it hide from the face of fear. Instead, that life enriches everyone and everything it touches, and in so doing finds connection.


In a present quietness cultivated, we find inspiration for a rich, creative life.

P1060219-1600-wide

 

Using Photography

I am building a website for the Analysis + Data Group that I am helping establish at WSU. I am trying something new, in order to communicate to potential student recruits much more than a usual mathematics website communicates. I want students who visit the website to begin to get a feel for how we think, who we are, even what it is like to think with us and learn with us. To do this I am partly using non-standard (for mathematics) photography: no mugshots allowed!

(A little about the group: there are five principal members — myself, Bala Krishnamoorthy, Haijun Li, Charles Moore, and Alex Panchenko — and about 12 Graduate Fellows in it — that number will firm up this fall. We will focus both on pure analysis and applications of insights from analysis to data problems.)

Here are a few of the photos I have already taken (or my son Levi has taken of me), that I will be using in the new website.


20140612_144412-wide-short

Alex Panchenko, who combines insights from nonlinear analysis and statistical physics in his work in analysis/applied analysis.


20140612_173724-cropped-1

Chuck Moore, who works on problems in PDE and Harmonic Analysis.


20140613_180757-cropped-1

KRV, about to explain 4.2.25 to Levi (and Obi).


This project has revived my interest in photography. As a result, I have also been doing some macro work, on my walks with Obi.

20140629_124341

20140629_125157

The last picture, of the aphid farm being tended by the ants, pushes the limits of the Samsung S-4 phone I have been using to get these pictures. So it has prompted me to get some new equipment. In that process I discovered Mathieu and Heather’s wonderful blog on  mirrorless cameras and photography MiirrorLessons. They introduced me to the electronic photography magazine Inspired Eye  which I also recommend without reservation. The two founding editors of the magazine — Olivier Duong and Don Springer — have precisely the right attitude/philosophy. That philosophy results in an environment that is rich and generous, a fact that is made abundantly clear once you read and  experience the resulting publication. They get art, in a fundamental way. That might seem like a funny statement since the magazine is about photography, and mostly street photography at that. But I stand by what I said — they get art in a way that very few do.

And life is about art, be it creative work in mathematics, or the way one makes food, or the way we (can) relate to others, or how we think and write. While it doesn’t upset me any more, I still protest when people express the idea that mathematics is somehow a non-creative non-art. Those kinds of statements are my cue for very gentle, non-forceful illumination.


I will post a link to the new group website when it is released in a few weeks.

First Post

As indicated in the “About” page for this blog, I am using this blog as a place to put things I have written.  As also noted there, though I have comments turned off, I welcome email conversations with anybody interested in respectful conversations. For that purpose, you can email me at vixie@speakeasy.net