I've been reading 'Surely You're joking Mr. Feynmann' for quite sometime now. I am taking a lot of time to read it, but not because it is tough or anything. On the contrary, it is so interesting that I don't want to finish it so soon. An office friend of mine owned its copy and I asked him to lend it to me in a different kind of way. In a bid to better utilize my time, I was experimenting with different ways of scheduling and using my time. I have a problem that if something gives me a high, I follow it until it is exhausted, or I am. Adding to my troubles, while I am doing it, other important things get neglected. So, I asked him to keep it at his desk and during our lunch hours, when we are done eating, I'd come to his seat and read it while the lunch lasts. I won't carry it to mine because that would make me just read it above anything else, and I won't take it home. Turns out, this is the best book for the maiden experiment. I have so much to talk about him, or what he said, his book is like a treasure trove and I am only astounded by what he did and how he did it. It doesn't humble me, it whets my appetite for what I say, 'knowing everything'. I can relate to it so much (not that I compare myself to him) that I cannot help it. Now, because I have so much to say, I will not limit myself to a small review post for this guy (of course that will be there, but writing a review isn't why I read); also that I am not reading much these days because of other commitments, except for the few minutes of bliss after lunch breaks, I'll share my thoughts which I could relate with his while I read him. These will be rants, or whines, or real issues that I see, and it is your discretion to put up with me. Here goes nothing.
Learning Math or Learning to DO Math
I’ve had problems with our education system. I don’t know why, but there are teachers whom I like and then there are some whom I absolutely detest. But overall, I feel most of them are living a lie. They don’t question everything. It is like, if you have a scientific temperament, it affects all walks of our life; it doesn’t stay limited to that particular field of study. They weren’t like this. Somehow, I didn’t like most of the books too. Now that would be wrong, because I didn't know if I liked the books that time, but looking back now, I don't like most of them. For example, the Higher Engineering Mathematics by B.S.Grewal: it is like a catechism, you learn to DO math, but know nothing where it came from, how it was deduced. You can't answer why is it the way it is. You know its solution would be derived by doing this and that, but most of the time, you don't know why you're doing that. You believe what they say, and they're not wrong, just incomplete. These things matter to me, a lot. I cannot understand it until I know why I did it.
To demonstrate, I’d have taken up the solution to a second order partial differential equation (Poisson's equation), which our Maths books just present as a matter of fact (perhaps I've been reading the wrong books to begin with). I feel deeply dissatisfied with the education system we have today. It isn’t education. It is spoiling children, no wonder many of us just want to get rid of it as soon as possible and earn money. I say I'd have taken up, because I've been spending the last three days in trying to make this Latex format to work in my documents here, but somehow, the typesetting is not working properly. Right now, I've decided not to pursue it any further. If necessary, I'll put up a pdf as demonstration if need be.
I read Feynman telling his seniors that if they took the protractor and drew a tangent on the lowest point in the curve, it would be horizontal. They all knew the mathematical part that at a maxima or minima, the first differential is zero, they just couldn’t apply and see it in that protractor. Similarly, when in a random philosophy class he was asked if an ‘electron’ was an ‘essential object’ and he said he’d answer it after the philosopher students could tell him if the brick were an essential object or not and how the philosophers argued on so many viewpoints if a brick was an essential object or not; They did their brainstorming, but not before he had asked them the question. Before that, they were just memorizing what the book said, never applied it to reason. They never had that teacher, who'd ask them why, who'd allow them to imagine the possibilities.
That time in America and present time in India (I cannot speak of their contemporary education system without experience), I think nothing much has changed.