Excellent inaugural lecture by my mentor, Pierre Degond. It is interesting and entertaining! This is precisely the framework in which my research takes place:
How many traps we put on our own way towards learning! (and how many we put to other people too).
Learning is a process, it is a struggle. It is not a result. Results may fix our path towards learning, may guide us in the correct direction, but they are not part of the process of learning. However, we are constantly focused on results.
As Aristotle said, there are habilities that are by nature and habilities that are not by nature. In the things that are by nature first we exhibit the capacity and afterwards the activity (think for example on the eyes; first they are formed with the capacity of sight and only afterwards, when the baby is born, they are actually used). On the contrary, things that are not by nature, it happens the other way round; first we need to actively practice a quality or skill, to develop it through a process of learning until, finally, we are capacitated with that quality or skill (Aristotle call this `virtue’).
Basically, Aristotle is saying that if you want to learn something, it does not make any sense to start by the final result you are aiming to. For example, say that you are a great singer but have panic to sing in public. Aritotle is saying that to overcome your fear what you need to do… is to sing in public; you need to practice. You cannot just say, “wait, I have not overcome my fears yet, I must wait until I have actually managed to do so before going on stage”, or in other words “I want to wait to have the capacity of singing in public before doing so”. Singing in public is not an ability that comes by nature, it needs to be learned by doing, there needs to be a struggle.
Aritotle says that the capacity is acquired through habit (practice) and that good qualities come from good habits. Aristotle is telling us a good habit towards learning: we need to understand that we need to practise, that we need to struggle. No complains like “I should know this”, “I do not know how to do that”. Better say “I do not know this yet“, “I do not know how to do that yet” (see the Ted talk below by Carol Dweck on this topic). Remember that (good) struggle means that we are getting better. No need to avoid it, useless to try to go directly to results. Enjoy the process.
In conclusion, if we want to improve our lifes, we have to put an effort in our work, in our relationship with others, in our relationship with ourselves. If you are shy and want to stop being so, you have to practice and accept the struggle. It is not going to work the first times, because you are learning, but if you practice, you will keep improving. Stop saying to yourself “I should not be shy”. Denying yourself will not only make you unhappy, it will decrease the love you feel for yourself. Accept the fact that you are shy, understand its implications and go with it (cf. Krishnamurti).
If you want to learn mathematics, do not start with “I am supposed to be intelligent, why I cannot do this?”, because you need to practice; because you need to struggle first. Through struggle (the right struggle, though) you will bet better, you will get more intelligent. Never mind the people that try to impress, after all, we are in a very competitive culture focused on results, so people have to show results. That may be the right focus to get a scholarship or position, but not to acquire the skills.
If you want to learn a new language, do not wait to know everything until you start talking it, it is not going to happen because you will never feel that you are ready! You need to practise, you need to make mistakes, you need to talk. If you want to write a novel, start writing.
And so on.
I recently produced a small video (10 minutes) for broad audience about my research with the filmmaker Sameer Patel.
This is part of ‘Cambridge Shorts‘; a programme run by the Public Engagement Office of the University of Cambridge that gives to young researchers funding to work with filmmakers and artists.
It is a kid’s dream to discover the world, to unravel its mysteries, to understand its secrets laws. The good news is that we humans are inherently equipped with the tools and mechanisms to do so; Mathematics. Be amazed at how good Mathematics are to describe the patterns in our world.
The premiere took place on the 20th of October in the Arts PictureHouse of Cambridge, where other 5 more videos were shown.
WORKING WITH A FILMMAKER: SAMEER PATEL
The good thing of working with someone who does not belong to the Math Department (yes, this does not happen often for me) is that he or she can tell you when non-mathematical people are not going to understand what you are saying. Sameer did not shy away when he had to tell me: ‘People are not going to understand that.’, it did not matter how many times my answer would be ‘Really?’.
Our goal was to communicate an idea and we did it as a team. Sameer’s job was to first understand what I wanted to say and then we had to find together a way of saying it… that it was not boring. Not only it had to be engaging, but also artistic!
The bigger the challenge the more you learn from it. I had no idea at the beginning of how the final product would be, but I trusted in Sameer. I learned that you cannot put a hundred ideas in a video,… actually very few. That it is important to tell a story, to make people related to it. (That is a hard one: try to answer ‘How does fractional diffusion equations relate to people?’; fractional diffusion equations are the central topic of my dissertation). I also learned that for 6 seconds of video you need to shoot for 3 hours!
Giving voice and face to the video was not easy. I felt exposed to the world and evaluating the first cut objectively was an impossible task at the beginning. Sameer guide me through that.
I am very happy with the journey of producing the video and its final product. I am specially happy to have worked with Sameer, who has such a different background and perspective from me. It was a true collaboration between us; nobody imposed on the other. I hope you will enjoy it.
THANK YOU SAMEER
A big thanks goes for Sameer Patel, he has been extraordinary throughout the process of filmmaking. From the very beginning, Sameer made a great effort to understand what I wanted to communicate (which was not easy!). He is a perfectionist, always looking for the best shots and edition. He went with me through the process of writing 6 versions of the script and always encouraged me to be myself, to speak from the heart. Sameer has been very supportive; difficult moments happen when producing a video for the first time, especially if it is a video in which you are featuring, it can make you feel exposed. Sameer is a great professional and I look forward to keep seeing his videos. It was a pleasure to work with him.
Finally, I want to thank all the workers at the Public Engagement Office of the University of Cambridge, specially Dr. Lucinda Spokes, and the people who helped me to produce this video in one way or other.
WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT WHAT I DO?
Read this blog entry.
Great speech by Brian Greene about giving the big ideas: