The millions who are poor in the United States tend to become invisible. Here is a great mass of people, yet it takes an effort of the intellect and will even to see them.
—Michael Harrington, from his classic 1962 work The Other America
If you’re looking for a whole new perspective on the value of mathematics, Stanford University’s Keith Devlin shall provide. With his wonderfully lilting English (Yorkshire?) accent and as sharp of a mind as you can imagine, he compares mathematical equations to sonnets and says that what most of us learn in school doesn’t begin to convey what mathematics is. That technology may free more of us to discover the wonder of mathematical thinking — as a reflection of the inner world of our minds.
Indian Muslim girls reciting the Qur’an in their classroom at Madrasatur-Rashaad religious school in Hyderabad. (Photo by Noah Seelam)
I just love how the photographer included the variety of backpacks in this photo. It’s what makes it special — and relatable to the Western observer who might easily focus in on the religiosity of the girls studying. I see a young schoolgirl out my front window in Minneapolis who is carrying a similar Hello Kitty bag.
~Trent Gilliss, chief content officer
ATTENTION folks, there is currently an astronaut posting to Tumblr from space. I repeat, there is a human being, that is currently in freakin’ SPACE, posting pictures (from said SPACE) to their Tumblr blog.
There are things, called words, that are failing me, about the other things, that I am feeling.
Expedition 35 Commander Chris Hadfield: You sir, are cooler than a polar bear’s toenails.
(He’s also on Twitter)
On the Universality of Creativity in the Liberal Arts and in the Sciences
by S. James Gates
In this lecture for Westmont College’s series titled “Beyond Two Cultures: The Sciences as Liberal Arts,” string theorist Jim Gates offers his thoughts on the complementary natures of science and the liberal arts — and how the human mind formulates “systems of belief” in both disciplines.
This is the first time, in a formal structured way, I’ve been asked to speak before a group of academicians on this set of issues. It is a great honor to be invited to speak on behalf of one of the two “cultures” mentioned in the commentary by C.P. Snow (1905-1980) in New Statesman. It is also a great challenge to be so called upon to speak for an entire “culture.” Of necessity, my comments were created from the vantage point of thirty or so years of working embedded within the academic/scientific culture, and specifically within the field of physics. My views have been molded by this experience.
In preparing for this conversation, I have given much thought to how I, as a scientist, could make a valuable contribution to this tradition established at Westmont College. I believe this is best accomplished by spending most of my presentation describing the attributes of the culture of science as I have experienced them and reflected upon this experience. I claim no special abilities or qualifications to be making this presentation. I am most certainly and woefully uninformed on what I am sure must be a vast liberal arts literature on science and culture. I am, however, a theoretical physicist who has made an effort to think on such matters.
Detroit Becoming, Detroit Jesus
by Susan Leem, associate producer
Kids play at the Campus Martius Fountain in Detroit. (photo: Maia C./Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)
After listening to this week’s show with Grace Lee Boggs ("Becoming Detroit"), Peter Putnam sent this inspired response:
"Time Inc. was here for a year — and this is the story they missed: Detroit becoming. Full disclosure: I’ve known Grace since 1993. In fact, I met my wife, Julia, through Detroit Summer, Grace and Jimmy’s (r)evolutionary idea to utilize the spirit of young people to revitalize, re-imagine, and re-spirit Detroit. Julia was actually Detroit Summer’s first volunteer and is now deep in the process of creating a place-based school in Detroit, the Boggs Educational Center, that will draw on many of the people and principles that came out in your show. Ending with Invincible’s hip-hop song was also right on.”
He then ended his note with this poem, which he composed for Grace Lee Boggs on her 96th birthday:
Time, Inc., buys a house in Detroit
and tries to track him for a year.
But he’s invisible to those looking for a
blue-eyed dude in a white robe
or for a city gone completely to hell.
He is the cinnamon of my son’s skin
with a green thumb and a Tigers cap
and my daughter’s dove-grey eyes.
He prays into Blair’s guitar,
hangs out on Field St.,
bakes bread at Avalon
and plants tomatoes on the East side.
He rides his old-school bike down the heart
of Grand River,
paints a mural in the Corridor,
shoots hoop in the Valley
with priests and pimps and lean young men
trying to jump their way to heaven.
while the Border Patrol counts cars,
he walks across the water
grabs a bite to eat,
born in Providence,
he lives so simply,
he could live anywhere:
Dublin, Palestine, Malibu.
But Detroit is his home.
It was here one Sunday
a boy invited him down
off the cross
and into his house
for a glass of Faygo red pop.
That was centuries ago, it seems,
and how far he’s come,
reinventing himself more times than Malcolm.
He’s been to prison,
been to college,
has a tattoo of Mary Magdalene on one arm,
Judas on the other,
and knows every Stevie Wonder song by heart.
He’s Jimmy, he’s Invincible, he’s Eminem.
He’s the girls at Catherine Ferguson
and their babies,
and he’s the deepest part of Kwame
still innocent as a baby.
The incinerator is hell,
but he walks right in,
burns it up with love,
comes out the other side,
He can say Amen in twelve religions,
believes school is any place
where head and heart and hands
and wears a gold timepiece around his neck
with no numbers, just a question:
What time is it on the clock of the world?
And every second of every day
he answers that question
with a smile wide as the Ambassador
and a heart as big as Belle Isle,
hugging this city in his arms
and whispering to each soul
words no one else dares to say:
You are Jesus,
this is your Beloved Community,
and the time
on the clock of the world
Show Your Gratitude and Honor Your Favorite Teacher for StoryCorps' National Day of Listening
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
If you read this blog or listen to our public radio program, you more than likely know that we’re super-big fans of Dave Isay and his StoryCorps project. And, for the fourth year now on the day after Thanksgiving, they celebrate by sponsoring a National Day of Listening. This year’s theme: show your gratitude and thank a teacher.
Honor your favorite teacher and share a story about her or him. You can write an essay or, even better, take your iPhone or Android set and record something for yourself and for us. We’re teaming up with NPR and StoryCorps and posting some of our favorite stories — audio, video, text, or tweet — right here on this blog. Or send a “thank you” Tweet to us at @Beingtweets (#thankateacher). Don’t worry about the technical details or that you say (or write) it perfectly, sometimes it’s most important that you just show up and say “Thank you!”
We can’t wait to hear your stories!
Later, when I learned more about history, it became more evident how it is all based on Christian values, like how there are a lot of squares across C, G, and F chords — I’m not saying it’s bad, but I wanted the musicology to be more based on nature. It’s like how kids are told, ‘If you train many hours a day for 10 years, you might get VIP access to this elite world.’ But not everybody wants to be a performer in a symphony orchestra, and kids are not encouraged to write songs and find their own style. That age is perfect for making things because you don’t have inhibitions; if you start developing your own musical language at 10, imagine how great it would be 20 years later.
Steve Jobs: “Love What You Do” (video)
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
"Death is very likely the single best invention of life."
We can’t think of a more fitting way at On Being to pay tribute to the passing of Steve Jobs than by sharing the commencement speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. He shares his thoughts on the value of education, the importance of passion and curiosity, serendipitous encounters with typography, and the lessons of living with cancer.
Rest in peace, Steve Jobs. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
[update] And, here’s the the complete transcript:
"I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots.
I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.
This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.”