"Genius is an African who dreams up snow."
"Everything you’ve learned in school as “obvious” becomes less and less obvious as you begin to study the universe. For example, there are no solids in the universe. There’s not even a suggestion of a solid. There are no absolute continuums. There are no surfaces. There are no straight lines."
Found this anecdote from Alan Kay while reading Bret Victor’s piece on how using symbolic abstractions in Math is the most fucked up thing ever invented by man and that genius-class scientists and inventors are able to do what they do because they have a deep, intuitive understanding of the topic and resort to f(x) and g(x) style symbolic math only after making landmark discoveries but somehow need to communicate the game-changing results to mere mortals.
Here’s Alan Kay on how Einstein did math that baffled the planet…
Jacques Hadamard, the famous French mathematician, in the late stages of his life, decided to poll his 99 buddies, who made up together the 100 great mathematicians and physicists on the earth, and he asked them, “How do you do your thing?” They were all personal friends of his, so they wrote back depositions. Only a few, out of the hundred, claimed to use mathematical symbology at all. Quite a surprise. All of them said they did it mostly in imagery or figurative terms. An amazing 30% or so, including Einstein, were down here in the mudpies [doing].
Einstein’s deposition said, “I have sensations of a kinesthetic or muscular type.” Einstein could feel the abstract spaces he was dealing with, in the muscles of his arms and his fingers…
The sad part of [the doing -> images -> symbols] diagram is that every child in the United States is taught math and physics through this [symbolic] channel. The channel that almost no adult creative mathematician or physicist uses to do it… They use this channel to communicate, but not to do their thing. Much of our education is founded on those principles, that just because we can talk about something, there is a naive belief that we can teach through talking and listening.
Alan Kay, Doing with Images makes Symbols
Einstein didn’t do math, he experienced math like how you and I would feel hot or cold depending on our surroundings. For Einstein, e = m x c x c is literally a walk in the park, a mathematical one. That visceral experience is why he could go where no one could go before. That is what we should be helping kids do, not drown them in formulae and equations that even the teachers themselves can’t make head or tail of.
Our educational system is fucked, our teachers suck, our tools suck and it’s high time we did something about this.