Posts Tagged ‘reading’

I took a calculus class when I was 18 years old.  It was hard.  I remember studying what I was taught on Monday then being scandalized that something new was being taught on Tuesday before I was really sure I knew how to do Monday’s problems.  I finally figured out how to work Monday’s problems on Friday, but that meant I didn’t catch any of Tuesday – Thursday’s lessons.  Then came the Friday exam.  I got 25% correct.  Monday’s lesson.  This was what the whole semester was like for me.  I had to take Calculus again.

The second time through, I was able to keep up a little better (after all, I knew all the Monday lessons).  But what I remember the most about that course, and what flashes before my eyes every time I hear the word “calculus” after 30 years … is what happened one evening while doing homework in a little cold dorm room at midnight.

The homework that night was one question.  I was already 3 pages into solving that one question.  It had to do with a huge cylinder of water.  Some water was flowing in, but the cylinder had a leak that got bigger as more and more water leaked out of it.  The question was about the volume of water left in the cylinder after a specific period of time.

My pages of work looked something like the illustration above.  At the end was an answer to three decimal places.  Anyone who has done this work knows you are only half done at this point.  I turned back to the beginning and started going over my work to check all the steps and all the math.

As I was doing this, something magical happened.  My brain stopped looking at little numbers and symbols and started to read the math.  The comprehension had nothing to do with the squiggles on the page…and everything to do with it.  My brain was not thinking in words.  It was thinking in numbers and the concepts behind the formulae.  I grokked calculus fully.  *angelic choir sound*

The best analogy will be trying to remember being a child and sounding out each letter of the alphabet in order to read your first word.  Can you remember that transition from a phonetic reading to sight reading?

I was deep deep into that cylinder and that flowing water when my roommate came in and broke the spell.  I was never able to go back there again.  I know that scientists and mathematicians do this every day.  It is not special to them.  It was to me, though.  Very special.  A whole world opened up to me that night.  I got a glimpse of magic that came and went.

I think this happens to artists and musicians as well.  I have found myself lost in that world when painting, when listening to Wagner and Beethoven, and when writing.  There is a creative part of the brain that takes your consciousness and puts it in a timeless place where language only gets in the way of meaning.

Plato called this place the world of forms.  I have been there.


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Libraries are more important than we think.

I liked saying that because it was sort of a pun.

Until the advent of the internets and LOLcats, people could only know what other people knew through listening to a lecture, being part of a lively conversation, or reading a book, a newspaper, or a magazine.

Young people have no memory of those times.    When I see an image like this:

Canada's Parliament Library

I remember that feeling of wishing I could read every book.  I wanted to know everything.  Now I realize even given more than one lifetime, I could not read every book.  Gah.  I remember that scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast  when he “gives” her his library.  I was like, “I’m done.  Movie is over.  Time to start on the left and go around…wait…is there a card catalogue?”

Look at this one from Brazil:

Oh no! they are all in Portuguese!

I think of all the time and money that went into building libraries like these.  Do you think, in the future, that humans will be building sacred monuments like these libraries to house and protect video games?  iPods?  A single Nook? (don’t forget the power source).

Nowadays your information will disappear and never come back when the battery dies or the power goes out.

In the old days it was lack of literacy or the death of a language that made the pages go dark. Ancient Egyptian history, poetry and science were lost in hieroglyphs for centuries, and would have been forever, if the Rosetta stone had not been uncovered.  I do think about an entire library like the one above, written in a language I cannot read.  *shivers*  It is beautiful, but silent.

This looks like chickens walked across some mud..,

In a straight line, mind you, but imagine trying to read what the chickens wrote.

Everything we are as human beings since we first started thinking and talking must be preserved for the next generation, or else every generation will start over again from scratch.  Without accumulated knowledge there could never have been the explosion in technology we enjoy today.   Future discoveries are built upon today’s knowledge.

First we read books on clay tablets, then papyrus. vellum, paper and now light.

We used to worry about fire and water, the great enemies of books (and ipods) and war (the greatest enemy of the book).

(We still worry about war.  Here is a story about the library at Sarajevo.)

(And the Library of Alexandria)

What happens when there is no electricity?  We used to just need the sun and a book to discover what was in the minds of the other humans who came before us.

The sun will be around for another few billion years.  Will the book? Will we?

“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves”   –Gilbert Highet

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