Humanizing math

We didn’t bother to dig deep enough to figure out how the “Park City Mathematics Institute” (PCMI) is connected to the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), but the IAS website hosts PCMI and advertises PCMI’s workshops. Among the offerings is “Rehumanizing Mathematics“, led by the notorious Rochelle Gutiérrez, of the “Algebra, geometry perpetuate white privilege” fame.

We are going to steal a post on Richard Feynman from the futilitycloset blog. From the post:

In 1966 a Swedish encyclopedia publisher requested a photograph of Richard Feynman “beating a drum” to give “a human approach to a presentation of the difficult matter that theoretical physics represents.”

And Feynman’s response:

Dear Sir,

The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings, and the perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other human beings do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me.

I am human enough to tell you to go to hell.

Yours,

RPF

We should all be taking cue from this brilliant man and telling the “humanizers” to go to hell. But Feynman lived in happier times.

Civilizational gallows humor

Here is an example of vintage gallows humor. It happens to be Jewish humor, because, well, history. Anyway, two Jews are being dragged away by the thug regime du jour, with the obvious endgame in sight. One is resisting and demanding his rights. The other one whispers to him, “Shh Chaim — you’ll get us in trouble”.

It would behoove those who avoid speaking out for fear of “getting in trouble” to consider that they might already be in a world of trouble. (No, nobody is getting literally dragged away. Yet.)

And here is some recent gallows humor, on a societal scale: “Instead Of Traditional Warfare, Chinese Military Will Now Be Trained To Shout Wrong Pronouns At American Troops”. On a recent comment thread, commenter “Bourbaki is alive” found our concerns about societal collapse “so overblown that it’s almost cute”. Well, when on the very day China successfully tests a hypersonic missile, the State Department finds nothing more urgent to tweet about than “pronoun day” — yeah, I’d say the humor cuts pretty damn close to home. The Bee had anticipated the event by about half a year, btw, once again illustrating reality’s uncanny tendency to outpace satire. Oh, and physical bridges are literally collapsing. Still overblown for you?

There are stories, some surely apocryphal, some perhaps not, about particularly witty jokesters being spared execution due the exceptional quality of their gallows humor. I wouldn’t count on ChiComs to have mercy, or a sense of humor. How about putting some dudes to work on a missile?

Judea Pearl discovers PTT’s A/B Jews

Judea Pearl is a very famous computer scientist, also known for a horrific family tragedy. In a recent piece in moment magazine, he channels an old insight of PTT:

Sadly, half of American Jewry seems to have given up on [Israel] and is starting to see Israel as a liability as opposed to an inspiration.

I predict American Jewry will soon undergo a profound, painful and irreparable split. I cannot think of another period in Jewish history where the schism was so deep, and growing deeper so rapidly. I see the split in every aspect of life and on many levels. Zionist families who have lost a member to Jewish Voices for Peace cease to function as a family. The split is even deeper in academia. The animosity between Jewish professors who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and those who fight for the good name of Israel has reached frightful intensity. On the surface, most of our faculty and students are still sitting on the fence, true, but the polarization is growing; the Zionist group is becoming more assertive and is closing ranks rapidly, while the Zionophobic group is becoming louder, more organized and more aggressive.

Pearl deservedly commands a much wider audience than yours truly, and we very much hope his message gets heard.

Monkeys and typewriters

Our Suvorov posts are getting a fair bit of exposure, and even some critique. Choice quotes include “rancid cesspit” and “the method of that blog definitely remind [sic] me of the worst methods of mankind, public denounciation [sic], hateful speech disguised as “humor””; also, “The whole blog is hateful ranting against whoever has stood up for emancipation principles for math academia. The title of the blog and its subtitle are already disgusting.” This one was quaint:

If that post gave you dyspepsia, then don’t read on, ‘cuz we’ve got stuff that’ll give you a ruptured aneurysm.

Anyway, we hope our readers will forgive us the above juvenile diversion. We did sincerely seek out substantive criticism of the ideas put forth here, to no avail. Pointing, sputtering, and coprabole is all they got.

The real raison d’être of the post is this nugget*, justifying da functor’s rabid lunges at famous mathematicians (aside from attacking living ones, she’s got a weird thing for Euler too — short twitter bio includes “Make Euler Weep Again” — although she might be confusing him with Euclid):

Which brings us to the serious message of this post. A thousand mediocrities toiling for a million years “in aggregate” will never amount to one achievement of a Peter Scholze or a Martin Hairer. So actually, no, you will not be fine without the math geniuses. Which is why the idea of a bunch of them going off to form their own society is driving you apoplectic.

* Authorship intentionally omitted, as it’s solidly in the internet rando category.

Suvorov understood totalitarianism

Of course he did: he was an officer in the Soviet GRU. His thesis in The Last Republic is that despite the resounding victory of Russia over Germany in WWII, Stalin considered it a strategic loss. He had envisioned a world in which every last square inch of the Earth would be under Soviet control. (From the book, free translation: “Nobody was making predictions as to whether the last Soviet Socialist Republic would be Argentina or Uruguay, but they knew with certainty: one day, we shall accept her into our loving family”). Stalin understood that the post-war alignment of forces had put a hamper on his world-domination ambitions — and hence, according to Suvorov, did not consider the victory complete (so much so that he let Zhukov be the star of the Victory Parade).

We commonly think of totalitarianism as controlling every aspect of people’s lives because Big Brother takes sadistic, power-hungry pleasure in stomping his boot on your face. While that is certainly true, Suvorov meticulously hashes out another, non-trivial aspect of totalitarianism: It’s an all-or-nothing system. Any pocket of resistance, any oasis of independence is not merely a bruise to the tyrant’s ego, but rather, a real and direct threat to the regime’s survival. As long as a Soviet citizen can dream of escaping to some place on Earth where he’ll be free from the boot, the regime is in existential danger. It is only when there’s nowhere to escape to that it can breathe a sigh of relief.

We have been documenting the American Mathematical Society’s shameful capitulation to wokeness (save for a few brave pockets of resistance), as well as the general downfall of the US academia (again, give the brave their due). It thus gives us much hope to see a new university (UATX) and a new mathematical organization (AMR) spring up — explicitly devoted to the idea free inquiry and discourse. In other words, yes — a safe space, where one can, say, study transfinite homology without being barked* at about trans- and homophobia.

The amount of vitriol being spewed at UATX and AMR is both copious and predictable. Chad Topaz (yes, that one) was seen on twitter directing his minions to compile personal data on AMR founders (out of a purely intellectual “data science” interest, we guess). We actually saw a few voices on “the woke side” meekly ask: Why do we need to viciously attack them, can’t we just ignore them? The komissars were quick to explain that the very existence of alternative organizations endangers the whole totalitarian woke project. UATX is reportedly receiving dozens (maybe even hundreds) of desperate faculty applications from people willing to take a serious pay cut, so long as they won’t be subjected to this. Indeed, what makes cancellation so powerful a threat is its totality: nobody will hire you, financial services may cut you off, your friends will be pressured to denounce you, etc. The mere existence of professional organizations and universities that will judge your intellectual contribution (and not your social credits) undermines the threat of cancellation and hence the entire woke enterprise.

* actual tweet:

This person is an assistant professor of mathematics with 0 publications (at least according to her CV). The mathematical community owes @blkmathmagic, @pwr2dppl (it’s da functor!) and others like them a heartfelt apology. Admitting talentless mediocrities (or worse) to a competitive, rarefied field will only generate resentment and anger: you are reaping exactly what you have sown. Actual tweet:

This is a classic thuggish call of the bully to beat up the nerds. Rather than leaving the bullies behind in high school, the US math community has been importing and elevating them within its ranks, with predictable results. They’ll make you proclaim that 2+2=5, and maybe believe it, too.

Update. Instalanche!!

Confusion about the word “axiom”

The ancient Greek mathematicians used the word “axiom” to mean a self-evident assertion, a claim that is so obvious as to not require a proof. Modern mathematics uses the term in a decidedly different fashion: a set of basic objects and properties they satisfy, on which a logical theory can be built. It is therefore disheartening and downright infuriating to see people who ought to know better intentionally misuse the word “axiom” for political and status gain.

The chief perpetrator here is Federico Ardila-Mantilla, a math professor at the San Francisco State University. As an accomplished mathematician with international recognition, one might naively expect him to exhibit more maturity and responsibility. Instead, Ardila is abusing the platform granted to him to promote his “axioms”:

Axiom 1. Mathematical potential is distributed equally among different groups, irrespective of geographic, demographic, and economic boundaries.

Axiom 2. Everyone can have joyful, meaningful, and empowering mathematical experiences.

Axiom 3. Mathematics is a powerful, malleable tool that can be shaped and used differently by various communities to serve their needs.

Axiom 4. Every student deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

(with others following suit). None of the above is an axiom in a mathematical sense. Let’s be generous and file 2-4 under “normative value judgments” (although surely #2 doesn’t literally apply to everyone). As such, these are not falsifiable empirical claims, and hence — again, being kind — can be treated as values or social rules. They’re mostly harmless, but try applying #4 to mean, bored, disruptive students. (Personally, I’m calling campus security to throw his ass out of my class, but you’re free to keep trying the “dignity and respect” nonsense, all the way to an ulcer or a heart attack.) Oh, you only meant respectful students? Well, this is why we reserve the term “axiom” for clean, crisp, mechanical assertions without endless qualifications and exception clauses — of the kind social interactions inevitably engender…

But it’s #1 that our main beef is with; it’s what moved us to write this post. In what sense is “everybody has the same mathematical ability” an “axiom”? The most plausible sense, which I think Ardila and his followers are intending, is of the “we hold these truths to be self-evident” type. If this is the case, then Ardila is committing two sins against mathematics. First, he uses the word “axiom” in its pre-modern sense, which is already quite unpardonable for a professional mathematician. But worse yet, he is conflating a self-evident assertion with an empirically testable claim! The claim is falsifiable, and is, in fact, quite false.

Is it possible that Ardila is asserting #1 in the more modern axiomatic sense of “Nevermind whether this is empirically true, let’s just base all of our social and professional interactions on that foundational assumption”? Now basing social policy on profound falsehoods is a recipe for disaster of far greater proportions than the proverbial spherical cow. But even to concede the empirical component requires a great deal more self-awareness than someone in Ardila’s position of smugly dictating power to truth is constitutionally capable of.

I see your abortion ban

and raise you a book-burning! The Indigenous “flame purification” ceremony was a nice touch, well played.

PTT has made its stance on abortion abundantly clear (for those too lazy to click: we’re libertarian on this, despite having largely recovered from that misguided persuasion). So where do we stand on book-burning? Well, as long as no property rights are being violated, we’re perfectly ok with people destroying their lawfully acquired books. We wouldn’t want to live around such people — or, Heaven forbid, send our kids to a school they run — just as they’re free not to live in a municipality that severely curtails access to abortion. As long as people are free to exit a jurisdiction whose laws they find unpalatable, no cosmic injustice has been done by our reckoning.

We italicized the word exit there to point out a fundamental asymmetry between rights of ingress and egress: While everyone should be free to leave a house/city/state/country, there is no corresponding right of entry. Which brings me to Scott Aaronson’s calm, measured, and not-at-all over-the-top post comparing Texas to Kabul. How oh how will we attract quality students and faculty to this medieval hell-hole, laments Scott. Actually, PTT would strongly encourage red jurisdictions to restrict entry from the blue areas on the map, lest these wokism refugees reach critical mass and turn their red heavens into the blue hell-holes they’re escaping. And if an abortion ban is what it takes — well, eggs, omelette.