The Power of Abstraction, Part 2

I wrote about the power of abstraction earlier, and I just came across a beautiful passage on the same subject by one of my favourite authors, the prolific and master expositor, John Stillwell (see also here). It’s taken from the preface to Elements of Algebra: Geometry, Numbers, Equations, Springer1994: Algebra is abstract mathematics — let … Read more

Black Earth Into Yellow Crocus

Perhaps my favourite joke of all time is actually an anecdote that I read in the wonderful book Thirty Years that Shook Physics, by George Gamow. The book is available in an inexpensive Dover edition, and would make a fine complement to a course textbook in modern physics, which amounts to introductory quantum mechanics. Gamow … Read more

The Disney World of Good vs. Evil

One of the traditional purposes of culture is to educate. Before books were common, the spoken word was the essential tool for teaching. Stories are memorable, and so telling stories was an effective way to pass on life lessons, particularly moral lessons. But in recent times, “information media” have been used overwhelmingly often only for … Read more

On Failure

A great line from Gretchen Rubin’s delightful blog (The Happiness Project): If you’re not failing, you’re not trying hard enough. It’s similar to a basketball truism about playing defense (“If you commit no fouls at all, you’re not trying hard enough.”), and just as true. She has a book by the same name, which I … Read more

Words, Episode 2: compassion

Jian Ghomeshi interviewed Karen Armstrong (her recent book is 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life; for reviews see here, here, and here, for example) yesterday on Q, and she made the point that the major religions have largely failed at training their members to be compassionate, instead emphasizing doctrine, and rigid adherence to rules of … Read more