Does poetry offer the best analogy for humanity’s greatest scientific breakthroughs?

In the novel The Robots of Dawn, third in Isaac Asimov’s Robot trilogy, a preeminent scientist, the best on his or any other world in his field, says:

“You know it always bothers some of my colleagues when I tell them that, if a conclusion is not poetically balanced, it cannot be scientifically true. They tell me they don’t know what that means.”

Baley said, “I’m afraid I don’t, either.”book Asimov Robot novels - 1

“But I know what it means, I can’t explain it, but I feel the explanation without being able to put it into words, which may be why I have achieved results my colleagues have not. …”

I made note of the quote as I re-read this classic novel last week because it echoes so closely something I myself have struggled to put into words for my entire adult life.

As a teenager, I chose the identical comparison for explaining my delight with certain physics experiments:

[The experiment’s demonstration of the concept] is so perfect. It just sings. It’s like poetry.

I know I’ve repeated the phrase, “it’s like poetry,” many times in conversation about great ideas. I have yet to find a better expression for “the intuitive sense of the rightness” of a theory. It’s definitely something to do with harmony and balance.

Having devoured Asimov’s Robot novels in middle school*, it is now obvious to me that I’d read the quote with which I began this post well before I myself used the poetry simile. I’m now begging the question, did I get this idea from Asimov, leaving it to quietly percolate for another half dozen or so years before I re-expressed it, taking a distant memory for my own idea?

Or is this notion a truth, existing in the intellectual universe, waiting to be uncovered by one likely mind after another?

Does anyone else find herself using this expression to express a certain balanced perfection in knowledge?**

If you do, did you also read Asimov at a formative age?

Is poetry as distillation of language from the prosaic to the artistic a fundamentally apt metaphor for great leaps in scientific discovery and the expression thereof, or does the comparison only resonate with creative writers? Pardon me, please, for lumping my humble efforts with the greatness of Asimov in this respect!

Finally, as an aside, I want to shout to the world that the Robot series holds up well for revisiting decades after their impressive effect on a young reader. Asimov was a genius, and these books remain a fantastic diversion.

*roughly age 12

**Here’s a person writing about science and poetry in a literary journal. She maintains that the disciplines aren’t mutually exclusive, though they might seem so to less perceptive thinkers. A search also shows me that someone once had an e-zine at poetryandscience.com, but the link appears to be broken so I can only wonder at what took place there.

Books by my bedside 2017/09/14

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

books-2017-08-2x-1-e1503620159745.jpg

Non-Fiction

History, Politics & Social Science

Anti-Education by Nietzsche, Friedrich

The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Gracián, Baltasar

Churchill & Orwell: The fight for freedom by Ricks, Thomas E.

College Disrupted:The great unbundling of higher education by Craig , Ryan

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s history-making race around the world by Goodman, Matthew

Grand Hotel Abyss: The lives of the Frankfurt School by Jeffries, Stuart

Margaret Fuller: Bluestocking, romantic, revolutionary by Wilson, Ellen

Walden by Thoreau, Henry D.

Language

Pimsleur German I (audio CD)

Pimsleur Spanish I (audio CD)

Mathematics

Life of Fred: Pre-Algebra 0 with Physics by Schmidt, Stanley F.

 Books Math Life of Fred Prealgebra

Fiction

Anecdotes of Destiny by Isak Dinesen

Edge of Evil by Jance, J.A.

Finding Her Way (YA title) by Faigen, Anne

M.C. Higgins the Great by (YA title) by Hamilton, Virginia

The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland (YA title) by Rebekah Crane*

Reading Notes:

I’ve been reading a fair amount for two disparate reasons. Continue reading

Books by my bedside 2017/08/12

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

Non-Fiction

History

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu : and their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts by Hammer, Joshua

White Trash : the 400-year untold history of class in America by Isenberg, Nancy

Language

Pimsleur German I (audio CD)

Mathematics

Life of Fred: Kidneys by Schmidt, Stanley F.

Life of Fred: Liver by Schmidt, Stanley F.

Life of Fred: Mineshaft by Schmidt, Stanley F.

Life of Fred: Fractions by Schmidt, Stanley F.

Life of Fred: Decimals and Percents by Schmidt, Stanley F.

Memoir

Casting Lots : creating a family in a beautiful, broken world by Silverman, Susan

Fiction

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Backman, Fredrik

Books 2017.08.12 fiction - 1

Reading Notes:

I haven’t been feeling very well for a week or so (not interesting to talk about), but one happy consequence of spending hours on the couch is that I’ve had more time for casual reading.

US History of White Trash

After two weeks of grumpy interactions with Isenberg’s White Trash, I let it go when my digital library loan expired and I don’t intend to finish it. There’s some interesting history here, but I found myself annoyed by what felt like intentional misunderstandings by the author more often than I gained insight into America’s past.

Typical example: stating that Thomas Jefferson was failing to enact political change while describing an episode of gradual political change. I think the author meant that Jefferson should have done more, and more quickly, but I quickly tired of watching the author grind her axe.

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Now here’s a book I couldn’t return to the library before completion.

To me, Timbuktu means “the ends of the Earth.” Timbuktu is synonymous with exotic foreign locales. Timbuktu is a place I knew by name before this book but with little understanding of its unique place in the history of learning and culture.

Bad-ass Librarians was written by a journalist, and it sometimes reads like a series of articles glued together to make a book. It’s worth reading anyway.

The provocative title aside, this is the story of ordinary (and extraordinary) people in Mali fighting back against a jihadist invasion of the region around Timbuktu. This book celebrates the thinking person’s ability to triumph over willful ignorance and wanton violence.

Here’s a rare celebration of centuries of African scholarship as glimpsed by the West. The threat to its tangible artifacts—a treasure trove of rare, priceless manuscripts—by Islamist extremists made my heart pound. I’m left with a yearning to see some of these documents for myself, and a renewed interest in learning some Arabic.

I can think of no better way for me, personally, to express my wish for peace in this world than through the cross-cultural sharing of books.

Adoption & Jewish motherhood in Casting Lots

Casting Lots came to me by way of a philanthropical organization that sends free books to Jewish families. Usually, it’s the kids who get the loot, but this month, there was a gift for me.

I am familiar with comedienne Sarah Silverman. I was intrigued to read that the author—her sister, Rabbi Susan Silverman—is considered “the funny sister.” There’s certainly a family resemblance, including some of the crude punchlines that I most associate with Sarah.

In spite of that (because I get why potty humor is funny, but it’s not my first choice for entertainment), I enjoyed most of the time I spent with Casting Lots. It is, at its core, an engaging personal story. Silverman would be someone interesting to have a cup of coffee with.

The subject of international adoption is one I’ve considered for myself and observed through friends and family, and it is genuinely moving to follow her along this path to parenthood.

Her take on Judaism in general resonates less with me, and I see this story as a readable tale that happens to be written by a Jewish woman, not a Jewish parenting book, per se.

Mathematics textbooks, specifically, the Life of Fred

I wrote about this the other day, but I’m brushing up on my pre-algebra terms and presentation in preparation for working with the child* of a friend as a math tutor.

Life of Fred is a nontraditional approach to teaching math. Author Stanley F. Schmidt, PhD, presents the subject from elementary arithmetic up through college level courses in Linear Algebra and Real Analysis, all told through the lens of a 5 ½ year old professor named Fred at fictional KITTENS University.

Yeah, most of it really is as wacky as it sounds.

And yet: my younger son has read many of these books for fun, and more than once. He’s begging me to buy the Life of Fred: Calculus textbook so he can finally learn Fred’s origin story.

I’m in no rush to get my elementary schooler into calculus, but I’m impressed by a math book that promotes such a devoted following in a child who regularly declares himself averse to “being taught” anything.

We’ve had the elementary and intermediate arithmetic series for years, but I’ve just ordered the three volume pre-algebra series (Pre-Algebra 0 with PhysicsPre-Algebra 1 with Biology, and Pre-Algebra 2 with Economics) and Life of Fred: Beginning Algebra Expanded Edition.

I can’t speak to using this collection as a stand-alone mathematics curriculum, because that isn’t how I chose to use these books with my home educated child.

I do think that the method employed—every math problem to be solved is presented in the context of a character’s real life and search for solutions—might be exactly the right remediation for a child who has internalized the notion that learning math means memorizing occult procedures.

I spent the better part of two days perusing all of my current mathematics texts, then more hours compiling lists and ordering next year’s curricula in this and other subjects for DS1 and The Scholar.

The math curriculum I did use extensively with DS1 is also pictured above. (Beast Academy, by Art of Problem Solving.) Because I’m so familiar with them, I only picked out chapters and exercises for The Scholar to begin with; I didn’t read extensively from any of these. I mention them now because I can wholeheartedly recommend BA as a complete home school curriculum. They are also suitable as enrichment for a weak classroom program, or a student who needs a challenge.

*I’ve dubbed her The Scholar

Books by my bedside 2017/07/22

I’ve noticed that I often bring up in conversation one or more of the fascinating books I’ve been reading lately, only to fail utterly at recalling titles or authors’ names. I’ll take this opportunity to at least have a handy reference available for anyone who cares to follow up on something I’ve said.

Just check my blog!

books 2017.07.22 - 1

Non-Fiction

History

The Bad-ass Librarians of Timbuktu : and their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts by Hammer, Joshua

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s : three men, five great wines, and the evening that changed America by Cerami, Charles

White Trash : the 400-year untold history of class in America by Isenberg, Nancy

Language

The Little Schemer by Daniel P. Friedman and Matthias Felleisen

Pimsleur German I (audio CD)

Memoir

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind Kamkwanba, William

True Crime

In Cold Blood : a true account of a multiple murder and its consequences by Capote, Truman

Fiction

 

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Begler, Peter

 

Reading Notes:

Do you have a logical mind? Do you enjoy mental puzzles and games? Maybe you do, but you’ve never tried any computer programming? Or you know something about programming, but haven’t read this book?

books 2017.07.22 - 2Consider picking up a copy of The Little Schemer.

Your library might have The Little LISPer instead. It’s the same thing, just an older edition. Consider them equally good reads unless you have a specific need to learn the Scheme dialect of the language, LISP.

Though the first edition of The Little LISPer is as old as I am, I didn’t read it in college, where I majored in Computer Science. I picked it up a year ago for fun.

The Little Schemer is one of the most mind-stretching things I’ve ever read.

You don’t need a special application or even a computer to learn from this book. A pencil and paper or text editor will do. For an intellect that revels in a certain kind of logical thought, it is well worth the effort to give it a whirl.

This isn’t about learning a piece of technological equipment. It’s strength training for your mind.