Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Ever So Elegant Universe


She had encountered several bloggers who seemed to use their blogs as a notepad--especially when sitting in conferences and professional meetings. The notes were often very telegraphic in nature (as notes tend to be) and often intermingled with personal observations, applications, and/or metacommentary. She found that she really appreciated such notes because she could quickly get a sense of the key ideas without having to wade through tons of text or added interpretations.

On the other hand, she found that she had tremendous difficulty posting her thoughts in that fashion. Perhaps the strategy worked well when one was attempting to sift through someone else's pre-organized presentation, but she suspected that her present thoughts would appear to be gobbledygook to the casual observer unless and until she added a bit of context and signposted the way through the web of conceptual connections her brain had been making. She wasn't even sure what to make of them, so she couldn't imagine that they would make sense to anyone else! However, someone had told her once that writing is not about telling what you know, it is about figuring out what you think. Well, she certainly needed to do that, so . . .

She was also fascinated by several recent conversations she had had in which she had tried to elucidate her thinking for others. Bouncing around from concept to concept during the course of her conversations was helping her to begin to untangle the threads of association that bound them, and to thicken the connections between them. However, she was intrigued by how difficult it was to marshall all of those beautiful and complex clumps of thought into a linear and sensible package. How does one preserve and convey the beauty and dynamic/reciprocal elegance of a magnificent array of wildflowers in a static flower arrangement? An artistic eye, a skillful hand, and a beautiful vase all help, but much is lost in the "translation!"


So, I've made it to p. 176 of The Roots of Things, and to Ch. 10 (p. 276) of The Elegant Universe. I'm left with much to ponder and little to say except, "Wow! Is it ever elegant!" (And I'm pleased to be able to include that word with a purposeful eye toward its mathematical connotations!)

I was ineptly trying to explain the implications of the ideas to a friend, who sat and nodded politely. There was no reciprocal spark of response to indicate that I was successfully conveying any of it on even a superficial level. So I defaulted to superlatives, "It's absolutely elegant." As I was thinking about what I meant by that in hopes of being able to extract and convey its significance to her more clearly, the profundity of it all overwhelmed me and I surprised myself by spontaneously bursting into tears and exclaiming, "It's just so incredibly beautiful!"

Now honestly, what was THAT about?! Me crying over math? Granted, I've shed many tears over it during the course of my lifetime, but only in frustration; certainly never in admiration, much less the reverence, awe, and deep joy that accompanied these particular drops!

Yes, I will eventually get to WHY it is all so beautiful, but that post will take more time than I currently have to devote to it. And once I accomplish that, ohhhhhh the implications! I can't imagine how people would behave if they really understood! (Of course, that presumes that I am correct in thinking that I do!)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The ABCS: A Symmetry, Balance, Control

So I've been trying to get my life "under control" for some time now (a lifetime, to be quite honest). However, I've also been thinking about symmetry for quite some time now . . . first in terms of visual symmetry, but now in terms of other kinds of symmetry too. Breaks in symmetry really represent disruptions of a larger system, disjunctures in harmony, a lack of balance. They are also important signals (at least according to the quantum physics I've been reading) that something is amiss in one's theoretical framework.

"Let me answer your question using a symmetry argument. Symmetry is an important concept in science. You ask if I could combine my career with marriage, and yet very seldom is the same question asked of a man. That shows a lack of symmetry. Question: Is this lack of symmetry imposed by cultural differences or by nature itself? It seems to many that it has been imposed by tradition" (Weyland, 1984, p. 150).

Weyland, Jack. (1984). A new dawn. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company.

I was reminded of these musings when one of my clients today explained her thoughts about the problems created by "information asymmetry" in higher education as part of a paper she was writing. In thinking about education, I came to the conclusion that when we feel overwhelmed by the complexity of teaching, learning, or education in general, we attempt to "control" it by legislating it, wrapping it in policies and procedures, writing course syllabi, and assessing our efforts.

Then I started thinking about the movie, Space Camp--specifically, the scene where the female astronaut is in the gyroscope and is trying to "control" her situation, which is spinning out of control. The key to that situation was balance . . . in 3 dimensions.

It occurs to me that the same is true of life. It will ALWAYS be complex. It is IMPOSSIBLE to control it. Every time something changes in the system (which is constantly), imbalance is introduced in the system. It can feel chaotic, but the trick is to avoid the common response in which we instinctively try to impose order on the chaos by controlling it, and instead, allow ourselves to embrace the chaos, feel its rhythms, and eventually, realign the various dimensions of ourselves in such a way that we bring the various elements of the system back into balance (or harmony).

Musically speaking, we have to "listen" to our lives, and then seek to replace dissonance with the beautiful sound of resolving chords that restore harmony.

The Treekeepers

As I read this today, I was captivated by the metaphor used to describe the interplay between grief, regret, and profound sorrow. This really resonated with me.

"Day after day Soladin cried, not with great sobs, but with leaking tears of regret . . . . Yet the relief tears usually give never came, and her grief grew day by day, as if a grave were being dug inside her that could never be large enough for all she must bury" (Britton, 2003, p. 161).

Britton, Susan McGee. (2003). The treekeepers. NY: Dutton Children's Books. ISBN 0-525-46944-3.