Thursday, December 22, 2005

Re-Education

My four years of college had not really included any math (I came away with a history major).
However, during college, I had studied a lot of painting and art history. Along the way I had learned a little about the lives and personalities of the great western painters from Giotto up to Germaine. One of the things that becomes evident is that these masters of painting and sculpture did not fit with our modern conception of who an artist is and what he or she wants to do. Very few of them would have agreed with “art for art’s sake”. Art was a science to these old masters. It was a vehicle, a technology. The great masters were more akin to engineers and architects than the “artists” we have today, who fling paint mixed with whatever at their canvases and get all excited when they can see each other’s brush strokes. I realized that if Leonardo Da Vinci was suddenly transported to today, you would not be able to drag him out of the nearest public library for about ten years while he was getting caught up on everything that has happened in science. Vermeer you would not be able to drag away from a computer. Everyone else you could not convince to ever leave their laboratories. Most likely, every one of these great painters would experience zero compulsion to spend any time painting if they found themselves here in the twenty-first century.

This certainly made me a little curious about the world of science. Unfortunately, my time and energy was pre-occupied with completing the degree and getting done with school, so I was unable to seriously pursue it at the time. Finally, after having left college behind, getting married, starting a family, and spending a couple of years figuring out how to not get fired from a full time job, I got the chance to crack open an old college algebra text.

It is safe to say I was hooked from the start. I worked all the odd-numbered problems in the book (because those had the answers listed in the back). I fell in love with those eureka moments when I worked a problem backwards and forwards then turned to the back and saw that I had got it right.

Next came a book on trigonometry, then the first couple chapters from a book on calculus. By then I had been at it for a while and had worked hundreds of math problems. I desired to see the application of all this math so I delved into an algebra-based college physics book. Again, I proceeded to read and study the text, and then test my understanding by working the accompanying problems till I get them right. I am now about halfway through the book.

My wife says I am crazy and that I am wasting everybody’s time with this inane little hobby. I agree - my time is better spent doing things for my family and I do not let this get in the way of that. But it is the kind of thing that can get squeezed into the little nooks and crannies of a busy schedule. By consistently staying with it, one can get through quite a bit of material over the course of time. And it is already bearing fruit. My children see me doing this at the dining table and as a result may become interested in it at an early age. And when the time comes, I should be capable of helping them with their math and science homework.