Monday, October 8, 2007

75th Anniversary Lecture

Bennington College threw itself a great party last weekend to celebrate its 75th Anniversary. Over 400 alumni came back for a three-day weekend of lectures, performances, exhibitions, classes, dinners, dances, and parties. President Elizabeth Coleman delivered an exhilarating keynote address, about which there is much, much more to say. Right now I'm just going to quickly upload the presentation I made on Sunday morning.

It was basically a lecture, although I also gave everyone in the audience a packet with illustrations and other things to read in parallel.

The lecture hall was filled to capacity - 75 enthusiastic people, from alumni to parents to students. I was touched by how willing everybody was to follow me through some peculiar twists and turns. There were some terrific questions at the end, touching on all of the threads in the talk, from the literary to the mathematical to the pedagogical.

A PDF of the presentation is here. I'm not sure how well it works when read on paper. It was composed to be read aloud, and I think that my voice, my presence, and my audience all combined to create the rewarding event that we all experienced. My family being there didn't hurt either. :)


danimal said...

Hi Jason,

I enjoyed your presentation on "The Gulf Between Love and Hate". I appreciated the characterization of Borges' stories as having powerful emotional content while apparently treating abstract, metaphysical ideas. Because of this characterization, I realized that for me there is a connection between Borges' stories and music by Bach, which has a more rigid (though almost never predicable) architecture, but which still manages to engage and have strong emotional content, e.g. the Goldberg variations which each have a distinctive tone and character.

I'd like to hear more about the types of topic and discussions going on in your "What Math? Why Math?" course. I agree that the two Things get at the abilities we'd like students to gain in becoming "literate" (and comfortable) with math and science. Practice in applying our best theories, i.e. having an "evolution hat" or a "classical physics hat" to put on and use, to generate explanations (and questions) about real-life situations is another that comes to mind. Also, experiencing that process as engaging and even enjoyable (as most scientists find it) in such a course would be valuable.

I read the text of the Bennington president's address (sorry, her name escapes me now). Part of the goal of a college education is to produce students who continue to be engaged in society. I find that people I know from college are reasonably engaged, but I guess it is true that colleges have shifted
more to being about career preparation. Centering the curriculum around the civic laboratories could help get the "eyes on the prize" again.

JasonZimba said...

A friend wrote in an email:

I enjoyed your talk that you posted on your blog. here are a couple of thoughts

one "hint" (it does not rise to the level of argument) in favor of a fully connected graph -- I might think that we can only learn language by a process of "analytic continuation" -- overlapping the meaning of words with others, if just a little bit....

one "hint" against this argument -- while I suspect you probably CAN find a chain for "true" and false" (perhaps using the notion of true as straight...), will you be able to find one for "yes" and "no"? I think this will be rather hard,

counter-counter argument -- perhaps even yes and no have some sense of overlap--recall the famous "yah-yah" example of a double-positive actually meaning a negative.... Or, the way both yes and no are sometimes used to express some notion of uncertainty, or hesitancy, or an appeal for confirmation?

"You passed the test, yes?"
"You passed the test, no?"