Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Zen koan, MIT-style

A few weeks ago I was sounding off about the fact that one of my classes isn't a whole lot of work and the math isn't that hard. Well, that was, uhm, ... premature. Very premature. In the meantime, the professor has opened up a whole new can of mathematical whup-ass -- pretty much every lecture in the last few weeks has consisted of him doing math on the board for an hour and a half and I just handed in a problem set that consisted of close to 30 pages of handwritten math.

Given this, I had to laugh today when he started the lecture today by saying "The next couple of lectures are going to be rather math-intensive", as if he thought that so far we'd been taking it pretty easy on the math. What really made me snort, though, was his next comment: "The math isn't hard, you just have to know how to do it."

This struck me as a very Zen statement -- it says nothing and a lot, all at the same time. It's content-free from the perspective that obviously if you know how to do something it's not really hard [modulo some things that are tricky because they're not fully under your control, like performing a tricky surgery]. On the flip side, it's also a very positive statement if you look at it as "You don't have to be a math genius to be able to do it, as long as you're not intimidated by it."

I'm choosing the second option. We'll see how that works out for me ;-)


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