Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Dream

I have this theory that everybody's notion of "recent history" starts not from their memories but from their birth date. Case in point: Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. The first major event of my then very young life came from an oppressed people making their voices heard. The newspapers in the early days of my life were full of fear of violence that might come from the upcoming march on Washington. But 200,000 souls came out fifty years ago today in a peaceful demonstration asking for the basic freedoms the rest of America had.

Having moved to the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr from the hometown of the first black president, I know much has improved in the last fifty years. But we know King's dream is far from fulfilled, obvious to us from the paucity of African-Americans in our conferences and classes.

Take a moment of your day, watch the greatest speech of the 20th century, and remember how far America has come, and how far America has yet to go.


  1. Sing out that dream … and

    leep your eyes on the prize.

    Scientifically speaking, it was an epoch of individual and collective cognitive reconsolidation, in which painful old memories and narratives were brought into the light … and put away better!

    Eat yer hearts out, Mylie Cyrus and Walter White.

  2. Thank goodness people couldn't leave long, rambling, nonsensical comments after Dr. King's speech. That probably would have cheapened the moment.

  3. It is a good moment to remember how FBI abused its power to intimidate Dr. King and threatened him with revealing the information it had about his private life to stop him from his fight for civil liberties. The fight for civil liberties continues. Don't honor Dr. King just with words, be part of today's fight for a better tomorrow.

  4. Anonymous reminds us "The fight for civil liberties continues … be part of today's fight for a better tomorrow."

    Is free access to knowledge — mathematical, scientific, and medical — a civil liberty? What are the individual and collective obligations of the STEM community in this regard? These are contentious questions.

    Good. Long may we embrace contention!

    1. Some (but not all) GASARCH/Fortnow readers will know the name Medgar Evers from Bob Dylan's song Only a Pawn in Their Game (beginning minute 3:18). Perhaps fewer GASARCH/Fortnow readers will have visited the web page of MIT philosopher linguist Norvin Richards, which hosts a celebrated short story by Eudora Welty — written in a single day upon hearing the news of Ever's assassination and titled Where Is the Voice Coming From? — that (like Dylan's song) examines the cognition of Evers' assassin.

      Good on `yah Norvin Richards, for hosting Welty's work without scruple for copyright restriction; MIT needs scholars like you!

      Older folks recall that Evers' slaying was just one more in a too-long sequence of 20th century civil rights slayings. Somehow those systematic slayings came to an end. Now, 50 years later, it is legitimate to wonder, why did the evil slowly wither? Perhaps the key element of King's speech, and Dylan's song, and Welty's story, was not their call to virtue, but rather the deepening (even sympathetic) appreciation of the all-too-human elements of the cognition associated to evil-doing, that was reflected in their oratory and singing and story-telling.

      That would be good news for our 21st century, because there is a *LOT* that we still do not know about cognition, and about the reconsolidation of cognition that nowadays we call "learning", and so our deepening public appreciation of these matters may (hopefully) lead to good results, in the 21th century as in the 20th century.

      To paraphrase today's cultural icon Walter White: "Complexity Theory is the Study of Change." The cognitive elements of this 21st century reality are both a wonderful opportunity and a sobering responsibility for the STEM community.

  5. Dear John, here is how I read your comments:

    Blah blah blah, blah blah blah. Blah blah blah, "blah blah blah."
    Blah blah blah, STEM, blah blah blah.

    You post essentially the same content independent of the topic at hand. You would say something about STEM even if the topic was Miley's twerking dance. My advice for you: "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen."

    1. The illumination that your remarks provide regarding the nature of evil cognition is appreciated, anonymous.

      Your post's cognitive dual is perhaps Faulkner's aphorism "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

      Several of the young people of our family, as with many millions of families, in many nations around the world, in serving with peacekeeping forces, have grappled with this reality directly: the red mist of bystander blood, dispersed by terrorist bombs, has descended upon their young heads and hands. Surely in the 21st century, as in the 20th century, it remains legitimate for these young people and their families to wonder "How can these evils wither?"

      In this regard, please allow me to commend to your attention David Hilbert's radio address of 1930:

      Die Ehre des menschlichen Geistes, so sagte der berühmte Königsberger Mathematiker JACOBI, ist der einzige Zweck aller Wissenschaft. Wir dürfen nicht denen glauben, die heute mit philosophischer Miene und überlegenem Tone den Kulturuntergang prophezeien und sich in dem Ignorabimus gefallen. Für uns gibt es kein Ignorabimus, und meiner Meinung nach auch für die Naturwissenschaft überhaupt nicht. Statt des törichten Ignorabimus heiße im Gegenteil unsere Losung: Wir müssen wissen, Wir werden wissen.

      The glory of the human spirit, so said the famous Königsberg mathematician JACOBI, is the single purpose of all science. We must not believe those, who today with philosophical bearing and deliberative tone prophesy the fall of culture and accept the ignorabimus. For us there is no ignorabimus, and in my opinion none whatever in natural science. In opposition to the foolish ignorabimus, I offer our slogan: We must know, We will know.

      Needless to say, in respect to various roles of complexity theory in human culture — and especially in regard to human cognition — it is neither necessary, nor feasible, nor even desirable, that everyone think alike. After all, complexity theory (like all STEM disciplines) does not belong exclusively to complexity theorists; there would be scarcely any point to complexity theory if that were true.

    2. Miley's dancing could actually be used to generate data points for a Brownian motion simulation in an attempt to bring STEM into the eyes of the pop culture generation.

    3. Alternatively, today's students might beneficially reflect that David Hilbert's great lecture of 1930 was delivered, as a plenary lecture, to a live audience of the Association of German Natural Scientists and Medical Doctors (and broadcast by radio to all of Europe).

      If fundamental mathematics was considered relevant to the practice of science and medicine in David Hilbert's Europe of 1930, how much *more* crucially relevant is it today? The great objectives of medicine in the 21st century — including (for example) the eradication of disease and the regenerative healing of trauma — can scarcely be conceived, much less assuredly achieved, without continued fundamental advances in mathematics and physical science.

      Fortunately, the required fundamental advances are continuing apace!

      Conclusion  Today's STEM professionals need not await "the knock on the door" of Martin Luther King's spiritual heirs … because we are "the ones who knock."

      Or are we?