There is an interesting story told about David Hilbert, a German mathematician considered by many to be one of the fathers of mathematical logic. One day he noticed that a particular student hadn’t been showing up for class. He inquired as to why this student had vanished and was told that the young man had decided to give up his studies in math to concentrate on becoming a poet. Hilbert replied, “I can’t say I’m surprised. I never thought he had enough imagination to be a mathematician.”
This is the first post I’ve ever written while on campus. I’m up to my eyeballs in Symbolic Logic homework and preparation for a midterm on Friday and I must confess – my imagination is being stretched way beyond the proverbial breaking point. Math isn’t supposed to be about the imagination. It’s about numbers and formulas and having only one right answer at the end of the day. Not so, I am learning. Slowly. And this morning I feel a bit like the embodiment of Darwin’s idea of a mathematician, “a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there.”
And yet, I see beauty where I never imagined there to be any. To work a proof and come out on the other side with something that makes a modicum of sense, even if only to myself, feels . . . dare I say . . . good. Like I’m boldly going where no man has gone before. Well, at least to a place where I’ve never been before. And when I sit my pencil down and take a much-deserved break, I remember the words of former Mensa president Buckminster Fuller who claimed, “When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”
And I can’t help but smile at the craziness of it all. Learning feels good, after all. It’s liberating on so many levels. As publisher Malcolm Forbes once said, “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” I’ll take that any day . . .
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get crackin’ . . .