Still Processing Singularities

by Alice Gao, COS '17

Math is not my forte, but I had taken Calculus III with Professor Massey freshman year so I figured it would be okay to see if my ability to understand complicated math had grown. After an engaging lecture in the depths of West Village, I found my answer – nope, definitely not. Although I enjoyed the interesting figures and concepts, I’m pretty sure my mouth was open like a fish at one point during the talk while my brain tried to puzzle through the intangible realities that the professor was presenting. I started having flashbacks of my younger self trying desperately to understand the contents of my calculus textbook (which was only $9.95!).

I did quite like the part of his lecture on his free Journal of Singularities, as well as his concept of cheaper, more accessible textbooks. I really do respect his desire to make learning material more affordable, and hope that the trend will catch on someday. It would definitely be an important building block towards erasing the boundaries that stop poorer students from being just as successful as their wealthy peers. Plus, an online textbook and a ridiculous amount of allotted printing dollars is a match made in heaven. I didn’t get a chance to ask him during the lecture or the dinner, but I wonder how Professor Massey prevents files of his online books from being passed around like infinitely self-copying library books. That would be one roadblock for the online/cheaper textbook movement, as copyright technology will continue to spar with the creations of computer geniuses who are into the five-finger discount.

Dinner was of course, delicious, and Professor Massey and Dr. Cram were lovely company for us scholars to spend time with. Near the end the professor concluded that we were too well-adjusted to be proper dorks, although there was some talk about coding and computer things that went way over my head. I’m a biochemistry major, and I mainly have experience smooshing, moving, or growing bacteria in various ways. But, the artist in me does understand Professor Massey’s ‘art for art’s sake’ explanation for his field. The study of any field is never a waste, regardless of how applicable it may seem at the time. Who are we to predict what is useful and what is not? And even if it never becomes ‘useful’, we as humans have the luxury to do more than just survive. Some people poke around for the secrets of the universe. Others craft masterpieces to convey a vision of life. I… pipet things. Not as grandiose, but it’s still fun! Overall, I enjoyed this opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and (try to) learn a few things about a field I am not so familiar with.