Saturday, September 4

Math is life (part 2)

This is, in part a sequel to the original Math is life post from February.

"I did find that I liked Geometry. As a sophomore in high school I took an advanced geometry class and I loved it, even though it was really hard for me and I still didn't get everything. I liked how ordered it was and how spatial. I could picture the problems in my head and usually I could get myself from point A to plane X, though often, I couldn't explain how." 

That quote is form the original post on Math... And much like the original post, this one is also inspired by NPR.  

I was listening to This American Life today and their theme was Family Physics.  I absolutely suggest that you follow through the link and listen to the show (sorry, it won't be available until tomorrow).  It's about the way that theories of physics can be applied to life- to relationships and humanity, not just math and science.  According to the show, mathematicians and scientists hate it when people do that kind of thing.  I think they should just be glad that people are interested in what they have to say, but hey, that's just me.      

They use the theories of Ocam's Razar, The Trajectory and Force of Bodies in Orbit, The Mediocrity Principal, and the Casmir effect.  You can look all of these up in google... I'll wait.  

Now that you know what they are you can see how they all seem to have very relevant connections to general principals about life.  For instance, according to Ocam's Razar, the simplest explanation is usually the easiest.  It may not be the truth, but it can certainly be the easiest answer.  So, yeah, life needs math- even higher level math theory... but understanding that theory, and being able to apply it?  That's a whole other matter.  


Recently I've been looking very closely at a lot of stories about women and the transitions that they are required to make, so that I can (maybe) make sense of some of the transitions that I am making.  I've found it (at the very least) frustrating.  They all seem very descriptive of the problems women face in trying to transition smoothly, but less descriptive of how that complete metamorphosis is made without destroying the woman, or her marriage.  

I was/am still struggling with how to make the transitions in life.  How do you become a mother? It's not like you can simply spin a cocoon and come out with all of the changes complete.  My hope was that some theory might come out of the fairy tales that I've found so many other answers in.  Instead I can only find the ultimate destruction of the woman in the story, or the dissolution of her marriage.  It seems like all of the mature women in Fairy Tales are wicked witches, evil stepmothers, hags, cild abandoners... All except Mother Holle.  I'm still looking at her story.  But there is no answer coming out of my reading.  No simple answer anyway.  Maybe I'm not entirely sure of the question I am asking.  


So what do you do when you don't understand a math problem?  You ask your teacher to help you understand.  When it comes to stories I've learned more from David Novak than any other storyteller.  Listening to him tell a story is a magical experience, and from classes with him I can say with all sincerity that it is mostly because he spends a great deal of time trying to understand the story himself, and very carefully combines the stories that he tells.  So who else did I have to ask?

In an emailed response, David reminded me that "Campbell suggests that the male need for myth and ritual is largely motivated by a deep sense of alienation from the divine. Whereas women appear to have a direct connection to the divine via the moon and birth, men feel the need to manufacture that connection via rites of passage. For example, women have an inherent rite of passage with the onset of menses and so on."

This is certainly something that I knew... have known since graduate school, but had perhaps dismissed out of hand because of the seemingly ludicrous identification of women as innately divine.  It sounded like some Freudian, misogynist idea that made women the "angel of the house."  And yet, somehow, being told this again struck an entirely different chord for me.     

How do we successfully make the transitions that life will inevitably require of us?  We accept the fact that we are being divinely led to change, and trust that we will be/are given the faculties we need to make those transitions.  

In math I frequently heard that "The whole is equal to the sum of it's parts."  And while you will see many people question this in non-scientific applications, it is a generally held principal.  So can't we also theorize that when a thing goes through a metamorphosis it already has the necessary components to change, has acquired the components in order to make those changes, or is able to produce them as a bi-product of that change?  

Not being particularly scientifically minded I can only think about this in a very abstract kind of way, but it seems to me that when a butterfly changes into a caterpillar it is not a coincidence that it is attracted to a specific kind of leaf to be eaten.  Nor is is coincidental that birth involves a very physical, emotional period of time that we refer to as labor.  What are we working toward as women who are laboring?  We are working to extricate the child from our body, in both a literal and figurative way.  Youth leaves us and we become mother.  

A period of adjustment always comes after the transition, but the thing we must realize is that we are already provided with what we need to make the adjustment.  It is only when we are unable to trust that what we need is already made available to us that we become the hag, the jealous queen, the wicked step-mother.  If we cannot accept the transition we will doom ourselves.  To accept it, we have only to realize that we have in us the needed components to be the thing that we are trying to be.  


Is it always easy to change who we are?  Of course not.  If you look back at Ocam's Razar again- the simplest answer is the easiest- you will see why so many stories have women who refuse to transform.  It's not easy to transition from maiden to wife, from wife to mother, from mother to matron.  Each of these transformations leaves us grief stricken over a loss.  Can we mourn the loss and move forward? Perhaps that's part of the question.


What is the whole, and what are the parts?  Does metamorphosis mean that the original product and the end product are always completely equivalent?  Math is life.  Math is problem solving.  Life is a problem because it is mysterious to those who are moving through it.  

So what do we do with a problem?
You identify what you know and what you do not know.  You identify the problem.  You try to figure out the rules.  You simplify.  You always look at things and try to decide if they make practical sense.  You cast off the fear of making mistakes.  Embrace the mistakes.   


Anonymous said...

Wow, that was very good & very deep. As I experience the matron part of my life, I find I resist it & I want to say not yet! I saw a quote I saved & recently read: transitions become bridges. I have had many changes in my life the last 5 years with no job, a move, selling a house we lived in over 20 years, entering retirement. It has taken a great deal of prayer & making myself put one foot in front of the other moving forward.
Every woman has her own struggles & she solves these problems with the wisdom & education she keeps with her. For me it was not easy to look inward & outward. No one was talking about the empty nest or the lack of what seemed to me was a life of purpose or value. I had to reinvent myself & it was not easy and is still not easy. I hated Math, embracing it has been an item low on my list of things to do at any time in my life.
Thank you for sharing. I needed it.
Nana Carole

Rose Arrowsmith DeCoux said...

This is good. I think where I'm at is something my mom told me about taking tests: if you don't know the answer to one problem, don't obsess about it--leave it and go on to answer the ones you do know, then come back to it later and you will often have it figured out (or at least you will not have gotten stuck there and missed all the other "easier" problems).
I'd like to comment on basically each part of your post, and all the thoughts are trying to come out the door at once, and none of them are articulating themselves. So, I'm going to follow my mom's advice and maybe I'll comment again later, or I'll write a whole post in response on my blog.
May you give yourself the recognition that you are insightful and that all self-deprecation provides a mirror for me, and surely for others, too. The blessing of a thorn in your side kind of thing?

Chara said...

I just reread this and realized that it isn't particularly well written, or comprehensible. nice.