Some Miscellaneous Thoughts On Turning 200

It’s hard for me to believe that this is my 200th post.  Frankly, I never thought I could come up with enough ideas to furnish so many posts.  There was also a question of existence;  I never thought I’d live to be 62.  But, here I am and I still have ideas for further posts.  I’m so grateful for my 100 followers, who continue to read my posts and offer helpful comments.  That I have forged strong links with people from Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Russia and the Ukraine, makes me very proud.

Our world is a tempestuous one, and now that the U.S. has broken open the magic bottle of the Middle East, not so nice genii have spread their wickedness throughout the region.  While the Cold War had well-defined enemies, the current wars often have shadowy figures that lurch between good and evil, making them hard to pin down.  The concept of “freedom fighter” has often appealed to gullible Americans, who often give aid to “fighters” of dubious character.  Throw “religious motivation” into the mix and you have a real mess.  The malignancy of misguided hate has spread throughout the world, and only time will show if we have experienced and intelligent enough “doctors” to cure it.

On a more technical note:  We humans tend to be rather bad at long-term reasoning.  Our history confirms this fact over and over.  One reason that this is so is because we cannot predict all possible outcomes of a given event.  Hence, it follows that we cannot predict the collection of events that form what we call future.  Is this an inevitably fatal flaw in our mental structure?  Again, time will tell.

“Man’s a kind of missing link.  Fondly thinking he can think.”–Piet Hein

One of the most disturbing books I’ve read in the last twenty years is Dale Peterson’s stupendous and highly insightful biography of Jane Goodall.  Disturbing, because it reveals often surprising connections between the lives of chimpanzees and the lives of humans.  At times, it’s hard to differentiate the two worlds.

I know that French naturalist, Francois Buffon, tried to show that there is an unbridgeable gap between animals and humans. He thought that man was the reasoning being, while all animals were irrational beings.  Alas, scientific research has shown that this gap is not as large as Buffon suspected.  We now know that the rational aspect of the human brain developed late in our development.  Those primal desires that we inherited from our cave ancestors dominate our lives.  We have only to look around us to see the proof.  Most of our TV programs thrive on greed, vanity, cruelty and other basic human instincts.  How many programs deal with the nature of mathematics, forms of problem solving, or what we can learn from peoples other than ourselves?

“Who is to say that we’re born and we die, and what’s in between doesn’t matter?”–Charles Kalme, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Southern California, 1970.

What is my philosophy of life?  I think it’s a mixture of Samuel Beckett, Thornton Wilder and Walter Kaufmann.  From Beckett I take the tenuous quality of life;  from Wilder the belief that some moments are special and Kaufmann’s belief that reason is our best defense against chaos and madness in the political realm.  As to free will and determinism, I see life as a boat ride in Disneyland;  you think you’re doing the steering, but you don’t realize that your boat is being guided by unseen underwater tracks.  Let us hope that we are guided by tracks that will take us to greater understanding and the light of unbounded human potential.  In the end, nobody knows what is really at stake on this tiny planet.  That is the great mystery.


Something To Think About: Two Mathematical Thought Problems From Russia

The Russians have a long tradition of mathematical thought problems which occupies a distinguished part of their elementary mathematics classes.  Here are two samples by J. I. Pearlman:

  1.  Who Counted More?  Two people counted the number of people that passed them on the sidewalk for a period of one hour.  One stood at the gates of a house, the other walked up and down the sidewalk.  Who counted more?
  2.   The Grandfather and his Grandson.  What I am going to tell you took place in 1932.  My age then was the same as the last two digits of the year I was born.  When I told my grandfather about this correlation, he surprised me by declaring that the same correlation was true for his age as well.  How old was each of us?