[David Strom's Web Informant] Do the math

David Strom david at strom.com
Tue Nov 24 09:38:53 EST 2015


​Web Informant, November 2​4, 2015: Do the math

Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of Einstein's General Relativity
Theory and I am happy to contribute the following anecdote from my past.
Einstein was a big deal for getting my early nerd on. Now I can finally
tell the tale without fear of being shamed: nerds are also celebrated these
days.

My very last class as an undergrad was working through the math for
Einstein's field e[image: mathp]equation, that link gravity and mass and
space time. For those of you interested, it looks like this:

Now, reading this explanation doesn't really help me much
<http://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/179082/laymans-explanation-and-understanding-of-einsteins-field-equations>,
and I am sure most of you are just as lost as I am now in trying to get
deeper into the actual variables that are part of this calculation. It
actually depresses me somewhat, knowing that I spent weeks studying tensor
calculus and differential geometry to decode this thing. At the time, I
remember thinking that I actually understood what was going on. Remember it
took Einstein several years to come up with his theories of relatively.

This actually is the second time in about a month where I realized that I
have forgotten more mathematics than I have learned, which I guess is part
and parcel to growing old. Earlier, I spent some time with my daughter and
her fiance, who is taking a class in mathematical economics. As he showed
me some of the equations that he is trying to figure out, I realized that I
took several classes as an undergrad and at one time actually knew what
they meant. Now they were just as impenetrable as Einstein's equations. It
was a frustrating experience for both of us. But then, it isn't like I have
had to use this stuff in any capacity in my daily life for decades.

I don't want to give you the impression that I didn't have a very good
education -- quite the contrary. It was an important experience that shaped
so much of what I ended up doing, even if I can't do the math any longer. I
was a very lucky undergraduate at Union College, a small school in upstate
New York. First, I had some terrific professors who guided my learning and
put up with me in general. Second, the school at the time had a very
liberal independent study policy that I was able to take advantage of.
Eventually, I would take an entire year's worth of independent classes,
which taught me self-study and research that would serve me well as a tech
journalist. And being a small school I was able to mix and mingle and
dabble in non-mathematical classes and meet non-nerds too. Finally, I even
had a very geeky part-time job, rebuilding a series of antique geometric
string models that the college owned: that taught me a love of mathematical
modeling before we had PCs, built-in pivot tables in Excel, or ways to
write math in print, such as with TeX and MathML.

But anyway, it is nice to see all the posts (including a very nice NYTimes
article) on the topic. And for those of you that can do the above math,
kudos to you!
​Comments always welcome: http://blog.strom.com/wp/?p=5088​
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