Saturday, 19 September 2009

Me me me

Some time ago Gadjo was kind enough to tag me; it's taken this long to think of anything to say.

1. Telling people that I'm a mathematician stops most conversations. It's easy to change the subject: "That's a fabulous bracelet, it looks like something worn by a warrior princess". Some women like being compared to warrior princesses, but real warrior princesses tend to think I'm a drip.

2. One of my ambitions is to introduce my brother (divorced, single, straight, glamorous, good-looking) to warrior princesses, such as Miss Whiplash and Nursemyra. He spends his time going to horrible places full of angry people (Iraq, Kosovo, Darfur, Burundi, ...) and trying to fix their lives. Ladies, form a disorderly queue please.

3. OK, settle down, more math now. It was chemistry that got me into science in the first place; my dad gave me a chemistry set when I was 8 or 9 and it was the best present ever. The experience of doing math is like that of doing chemistry; things (chemicals or ideas) react and transform, creating new colours and smells in ways that are at first unexpected, then explicable. Without the unexpectedness it would be dull, without the explanation stupid. And of course it brings pleasure, at its best like a rocket shooting up your spine and exploding in your brain.

4. When I had just finished my PhD I first met my US contemporaries at a conference and was blown away by finding out how much more they knew than I did. That was the single biggest intellectual event of my life till now, because of the way it overturned my view of what it means to be a mathematician and taught me that knowledge, deep and broad, and creativity are inseparable.

8 comments:

KAZ said...

When I tell people I'm a teacher (or was) they ask what I teach. I answer 'chemistry' and that stops the conversation. If I ask them to guess they are always wildly incorrect which I love.
I never had a chemistry set - but the more chemistry I did the more I loved the mathematical bits.
At least Health and Safety can't ruin them.

Lulu LaBonne said...

I can definitely see the attraction with Nursey - mmm lovely corsets, Whiplash is a different kettle of fish. Is your brother into Warrior Princess/Dominatrix types Inky?

Is he actually your brother or is he your alter ego?

inkspot said...

Kaz, your last line breaks my heart. I don't see the advantage of teaching young people that science is boring, which is what stupid interpretation of H&S rules leads to.

[Flicks through gallery of bro's exes.] They span the spectrum Lulu, from wonderful to ghastly. Hmm, they've all been blonde. But so what? Anyone can be blonde these days [checks chemistry set].

Oh, ooh, brilliant psychological insight, v clever Ms Labonne. But wrong!

nursemyra said...

I'll go blonde for your brother :-)

Gyppo Byard said...

An old friend of mine once taught chemistry at a whackily experimental private school, and tried to engage their enthusiasm for the subject by starting off with "how to make fireworks". This proved to be a mistake, since they were unwilling after that to do anything else, and the episode ended with an explosion perilously close to (indeed, aimed at ) the headmaster and a cordial invitation to go and try his luck at some other profession...

inkspot said...

Warrior Nurse, that's the spirit. Will you post the pix?

Gyppo, at least those kids learnt that things can be exciting. But ill-discipline (which I infer from whackily experimental school) is no good either alone or combined with chemistry.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I take back everything I ever said about mathematicians, Inky, and hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive me.

inkspot said...

Gadj, just saw your comment. Never apologize, everybody deserves a kicking sometimes. I would only say that your target should be infantilism rather than arrogance; I have more colleagues who are wrecked as scholars and intellectuals by infantilism than by arrogance.