Poetry Tuesday: VIII

Happy Poetry Tuesday! Today we’re hitting up some Walt Whitman, who, if you didn’t already know, is awesome. If nothing else you should recognize the phrase “O CAPTAIN! My captain!” in all it’s profundity (Yep, that came from a Whitman poem). I’m convinced that if I lived in the 19th century he and I would have been best friends and pen pals. He would send me poetry and I would send him drawings and we would understand each other.

In my high school days, not everyone understood my love for Mr. Whitman. We had to read poems in one of my composition classes, and while everyone else chose poets like Shakespeare and Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein (all solid choices), I bust out my copy of Leaves of Grass and showed everyone how long a poem can really be (Not all of his poems are long. I just happened to pick “The Wound Dresser,” which has four parts). Even the teacher was giving me the look that said “are you done yet?” They just didn’t get it.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Walt Whitman as much as I do, and that you understand sometimes a poem does need to be that long. So find a grassy spot outside where the only thing you hear is the wind and the trees and the birds of early fall (wear a poofy 19th century dress if you will), spend some quality time with Mr. Whitman and have a happy Poetry Tuesday.

Give Me the Splendid Silent Sun

GIVE me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;
Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard;
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows;
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape;
Give me fresh corn and wheat–give me serene-moving animals, teaching
Give me nights perfectly quiet, as on high plateaus west of the
Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars;
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers, where I can
walk undisturb’d;
Give me for marriage a sweet-breath’d woman, of whom I should never
Give me a perfect child–give me, away, aside from the noise of the
world, a rural, domestic life;
Give me to warble spontaneous songs, reliev’d, recluse by myself, for
my own ears only;
Give me solitude–give me Nature–give me again, O Nature, your
primal sanities!
–These, demanding to have them, (tired with ceaseless excitement,
and rack’d by the war-strife;)
These to procure, incessantly asking, rising in cries from my heart,
While yet incessantly asking, still I adhere to my city;
Day upon day, and year upon year, O city, walking your streets,
Where you hold me enchain’d a certain time, refusing to give me up;
Yet giving to make me glutted, enrich’d of soul–you give me forever
(O I see what I sought to escape, confronting, reversing my cries;
I see my own soul trampling down what it ask’d for.)

Keep your splendid, silent sun;
Keep your woods, O Nature, and the quiet places by the woods;
Keep your fields of clover and timothy, and your corn-fields and
Keep the blossoming buckwheat fields, where the Ninth-month bees hum;
Give me faces and streets! give me these phantoms incessant and
endless along the trottoirs!
Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me comrades and lovers
by the thousand!
Let me see new ones every day! let me hold new ones by the hand every
Give me such shows! give me the streets of Manhattan!
Give me Broadway, with the soldiers marching–give me the sound of
the trumpets and drums!
(The soldiers in companies or regiments–some, starting away, flush’d
and reckless;
Some, their time up, returning, with thinn’d ranks–young, yet very
old, worn, marching, noticing nothing;)
–Give me the shores and the wharves heavy-fringed with the black
O such for me! O an intense life! O full to repletion, and varied!
The life of the theatre, bar-room, huge hotel, for me!
The saloon of the steamer! the crowded excursion for me! the torch-
light procession!
The dense brigade, bound for the war, with high piled military wagons
People, endless, streaming, with strong voices, passions, pageants;
Manhattan streets, with their powerful throbs, with the beating
drums, as now;
The endless and noisy chorus, the rustle and clank of muskets, (even
the sight of the wounded;)
Manhattan crowds, with their turbulent musical chorus–with varied
chorus, and light of the sparkling eyes;
Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me. – Walt Whitman

Science Thursday: Fields Medal

Yay, more writing!!! I finally made it to my third series. Remember people – writing is a marathon, no a sprint. Though sometimes you do start just running like a madman with your arms flailing in the air and those around you begin to question your well-being. On that note, welcome to Science Thursday! I didn’t want things here to be skewed too heavily towards any one category, so I figured with Poetry Tuesday, Pluggadamunt, Science Thursday, and my other unscheduled ramblings, I would have enough space to have everything covered. I might add more series, I might not, I don’t know. I am an unrefined being and I roll with it (I am currently drinking applesauce out of its little cup. “Refined” might as well be my middle name).

So about Science Thursday. Back in ye olde days, science was a broad term that meant a body of knowledge, and I plan to keep to that definition here. This will allow me to write about things like history, philosophy, business, etc. without having to title this series something grotesque like Academia of the Past and Present on Thursdays, because I know no one would read that. It sounds awkward and it’s grammatically incorrect. 😦

Onto the actual science part. This week’s topic was inspired by my Abstract Algrebra class. In a room full of Senior math majors, I was the only one other than the teacher who knew that the fields medal was. That would be the equivalent of a Physicist not knowing what the Nobel Prize is: shocking and unacceptable. I don’t mean to sound harsh. Well, I do actually, but in a way that promotes self-awareness of one’s field, not in a way that hurts people’s feelings. With that in mind, please, read on.

The Fields Medal is called the “Nobel Prize of Mathematics” for good reason. The Nobel Prize categories are Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Studies, so unless a mathematician is doing great work in one of those areas, he or she would be ineligible for the Nobel. However, the Fields Medal is specifically for mathematics, and is just as prestigious, though there are some marked differences.

The Nobel Prize is awarded annually to a single individual in each category, though there are exceptions (a category may have up to three recipients or laureates). The laureates are chosen much like the Oscars: the Nobel committee sends out a list of nominees to about 3,000 people (or to governments in the case of the Peace Prize), and they take a vote. A fancy dinner is involved. And you get to visit Sweden.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years at the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union (held in various places) to two, three, or four (never just one) people not over forty who have demonstrated remarkable work in their field. If you go to the Wikipedia page, you find that the medalist have been awarded for work in things like Reimann surfaces and complex geometries and topologies and crazy things with weird names. I can help you out by saying that most of those categories lie in the field of Complex Mathematics. Not “Complex” in the traditional sense, but in the mathematical one.

In Mathematics, “complex” means that you’re working with imaginary numbers, meaning the square root of -1. If you’re unfamiliar, the square root of -1 is strange because a square root separates a number into two equal factors (Remember factor trees? Man those were the days). Unfortunately, there’s no way to break up -1 into two equal factors,  so an Italian fellow by the name of Gerolamo Cardano said “Screw it! Just call the damn thing i” sometime in the 16th century, and that was that. Okay so maybe he didn’t say it exactly that way, but you can’t prove that beyond reasonable doubt, so I’m sticking to my story. (If you want to learn more about i, you can check out the book An Imaginary Tale: The Story of [the Square Root of Minus One])

This past year, the Fields Medal was awarded to four people: Artur Avila, Manjul Bhargava, Martin Hairer, and Maryam Mirzakhani. I’m going to focus on the first and last person, because they are the most interesting to me, and I make the rules here.

Artur Avila is a Brazilian/French mathematician who won the Medal for ” his profound contributions to dynamical systems theory, which have changed the face of the field, using the powerful idea of renormalization as a unifying principle.” That’s a big friggin deal. Dynamical systems theory is used EVERYWHERE. Whenever you see people on TV predicting something kind of outrageous with a mathematical function, 9 times out of 10 that’s a dynamical system. Dynamical systems model things with respect to time. And I say things because what they model is so broad you can’t narrow it down to a specific category. Those earthy people who predict how many of [insert animal] will come back each year? Dynamical Systems. Physics? Pretty much all dynamical systems. Avila is also the first Latin American to win the Medal. So Kudos to you, man. 🙂

Maryam Mirzakhani is the first woman (and first Iranian) ever to be awarded the Fields Medal. Oh, and she’s a professor at Standford, which I guess is impressive or whatever. She was awarded the Medal “for her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces,” which is a fancy way of saying she made a major contribution to the understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces (Symmetry is a huge deal in Mathematics. So are curved surfaces). An article on Stanford’s website suggests that her research has major implications in Physics and Quantum Field Theory, which is pretty baller.

Mirzakhani is a standout kind of special because she is talented in many diverse specialties of mathematics. In general, in Math you’re either an Algebra person, a Calculus person, an Analysis (statistics) person, or a Geometry person. She is all four. It makes her kind of a magical golden unicorn of Mathematics. She’s also super pretty. Although screw that reporter lady for suggesting that men are genetically better at math. That’s ridiculous and scientifically inaccurate. Keep to the facts.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your first taste of Science Thursday. I’ll admit, I enjoyed writing this much more than I thought I would. I’m looking forward to finding more things to write about and more science-y things to share with you.