It’s hard to believe that this past weekend was already the 60th Anniversary of The National Mathematics Conference in Carmel, a beautiful town located just south of Monterey. I thought it would be a rainy weekend but to my greatest surprise, the weather was magnificent which made it even more pleasant during my presentation which I participated every year since 2006. My audience consists of high school math educators from all over and they travel from as far as Reno, Sacramento, Texas, Chicago, Boston and Washington DC. I usually picked topics that are relevant within their curriculum but often place stronger emphasis on applications in the real world so that mathematics can be viewed as an essential survival skill and not just a subject with bunch of rules for memorization purposes. Unfortunately, most of the time the subject is presented in such a dull way and in so doing, students do not realize the relevance of it in the real world and they tend to make fun of it. Just to make a note here: common core is not going to make it any better. All it does is to fail those who are already weak in mathematics even sooner.
Every year I select a topic to present and this past weekend was spent on discussing “combinatorics” which isn’t a very popular topic at the high school level, but it drew a fair amount of people in the audience who wanted to know more about the topic. The most exciting part of presenting to the educators is that they ask good questions and they are very interactive unlike students in my classes including at the college. This is precisely the reason why I enjoy giving the presentation at the conference for the past 11 years, and maybe more to come in the future. I spend a great deal of time making connections between mathematics and physics aside from my two teaching jobs and that defines my passion of what I do. As a scientist, I need the mathematics to help me formulate and test the models. To seek truths, I am not going to sit here and ponder or speculate but to go out there and look, make observations and formulate hypotheses, then design experiments to collect data and see how well the data fit the hypotheses. It doesn’t mean the hypotheses are correct just because the data fit well, it only means the hypotheses are reliable compare to pure speculations until something else better comes along to supersede it. One of the greatest things about science is that we update our knowledge as new information comes along and make flawless progress. Scientists are not arrogant in that we admit our thinking is wrong as long as the data is demonstrating it, and we will go back to the drawing board to sort out the potential errors within our theories. One of the best theories in cosmology is the General Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein, but someday there might be a much better theory to supersede it and it is possible that the theory has been completely wrong all this time. But as of now based upon all the tests it has surpassed and the regime of its applicability, it is quite difficult to be discarded. It is conceivable that there are angels guiding all the planets and the stars and the galaxies to moving around in the sky precisely the way Einstein described it in the Theory of Relativity and there is no way I can disprove it, but the real question is ” Is it believable?” Science is not about being conceivable because anything is conceivable. Its all about being reliable and that is science. Although the reliability can never be 100%, it is much better than pure speculations for the latter is superstition.
Many times I question myself: ” How often do we exercise our rational thinking ability on a daily basis?” Humans are certainly capable of rational thinking. Take a look at the technologies we have: computers, space telescopes, modern medicines, cutting edge cancer therapies, rockets, nuclear weapons, etc. We are supposed to be intelligent but I often think that we are not that smart after all. We are subject to all sorts of biases, false hopes, wishful thinking, pure speculations much more often compare to utilizing rational thinking ability for major decision making. Mathematics and science have taught me the use of logic and rational thinking to draw conclusions even though there is no 100% chance that I will be making the right decision, but I appreciate the process of learning within this approach and this is what I do on a daily basis as a scientist. I have accepted the universe the way it is and I don’t spend any time speculating about reasons for everything that happened because there are none to me, but rather I spend the time in creating meaningful purposes within my life to make it worthwhile for me to live. The universe doesn’t grant me any meanings and purposes to be here, but while I am still here, I grant my own.
Another holiday season travel is approaching now. This time I will be travelling to the Philippines to meet up with long lost friends whom I have not seen for many years and spend Xmas with them. I have no other agenda on my mind other than looking forward to be with them in celebrating this holiday season. Cebu City, then Tagaytay, Manila, and finally to Myanmar for New Year, a total of three weeks vacationing. Life is good to me even though nothing is ever 100% perfect, but life is all about making changes for the better. Life is a process, not any fixed scene that you live in and brag about. There is a light that you don’t see and there is a dream, don’t let it go out. Here I wish all my friends, here and abroad, a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year. May all of you stay well while keeping the laughs going and continue with living your precious life to the fullest. Don’t forget to create meaningful purposes for yourself and cherish your loved ones because nothing lasts forever. Life is precious and so are you!