Given my title, you might imagine I’ll cite The Math Myth by Andrew Hacker, and indeed I just have. What I want to comment on, however, may seem unusual: why didn’t people pick up on his use of PATH next to STEM?
Now what do I mean by that? There’s some jargon to unpack.
If you live in the USA bubble, then a World Series may mean college baseball and everyone knows what we mean by STEM. For those many who do not: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
What I find telling is this so-called numerate side of the C.P. Snow chasm was able to agree on an acronym, plus a clever STEAM, the added A a bridge to the rest of the Liberal Arts.
But what about those Liberal Arts of Trivium / Quadrivium fame. One would think a return acronym would be the response, with a signalling A in common, saying: “yes, lets bridge it” (the C.P. Snow chasm).
To make a long story short: C.P. Snow, a thought leader in his day, with a most excellent Youtube channel (warning: creative anachronism), posited a growing gulf between the STEM-literate, who read linear algebra for breakfast, and the rest of us, the 99% who haven’t “learned to code” or whatever buzzwords.
Many voices were calling out about the need to not subdivide into two species, the Eloi and the Morlocks as H.G. Wells called them, in The Time Machine. That’s the context. Then in the foreground is Andrew Hacker using PATH (there’s that A), to intersect with STEAM.
I’m doing a closed book test though, deliberately appropriating PATH because why not? Philosophy, Anthropology, Theater, History. I think my T might be controversial as many remember Theology at the apex of the Liberal Arts.
However I’m letting Philosophy get as theological as it likes and circling Theater for its kinetic components, including Yoga, Ballet, Fencing and Dance in general (also the gym workout, sports).
Management needs to straddle Theater and programming, which believe me was a strong contender for the P (subsuming Philosophy).
Yes, I could see Programming on the Humanities side of the fence, where “to program” includes filling TV Guide with content, day after day, year after year, with more and more channels. “Content provider” is a related term in this semantic network, which I bet you’re starting to tune in.
OK, lets talk about another Math Myth. There’s this theory that math can’t get very deep on the PATH side. Anthropology means primitive tribes and their arithmetic, perhaps forgetting their medical knowledge.
However Wittgenstein’s further turning in the “linguistic turn” movement (Rorty) was to bring philosophy to bear upon language, and to make his philosophy in particular very anthropology flavored.
When you turn your powers to think critically on yourself, you become an anthropologist, a kind of Castaneda figure in that you have to exit Consensus Reality (A. Mindell). You need to observe yourself from a more alien or remote point of view (gain some distance, some perspective), in order to “know thyself” in a more Platonic sense.
As an aside, let me mention that I have personal resonance with PATH in that after Princeton, some from our campus group home relocated to Jersey City. I’m not saying we took the name 2 Dickinson Street, just that some of the same cast, already friends, took to living together. Right next to the PATH tracks, which is short for Port Authority Trans Hudson, a successful and ambitious subway system connecting Manhattan with bedroom communities such as ours.
However that’s an association worth sharing, as that’s a well-traveled geography on a lot of radars.
We lived just off Journal Square, behind the Loew’s Theater, if you know the one I mean, near The Stanley (another stately theater from a previous age).
The landmark is worth sharing because of “trains” and “engineers”; we jump back to the STEM side, where Engineering and Science stay apart somehow, yet together. STEM starts to seem like a single gluon, and the harder one tries to pry apart these components, the more exponential their all sticking together. Talk about entangled! Plus the word “stem” is biological, helping the subject matter stay Nature.
But then PATH resonates with Journey and Pilgrimage. We’re engaged in some series of encounters, with various goals along the way, a progression, some say rat race, some say ladder. First things first. The thing about Theater is it contains military choreography, especially marching. Remember this T includes sports, athletic skills, such as piloting. The great scientists were often great adventurers as well as performers. The so-called “well rounded” or “cultured” individual is maybe reading linear algebra for breakfast, but then she’s working out or practicing driving an electric ATV (all terrain vehicle).
I’m starting to circle another Math Myth: that math has to be mostly about sitting still and staring pensively at doodles and scribbles. This stereotype sometimes goes too far and leaves out the geocaching aspect, and the job of surveyor, navigator, hiker, astronomer. People who lug equipment may be likewise practicing, even developing, new forms of mathematics.
For example, my duties as a Martian Math recruiter this summer involved lugging boxes of C6XTY up and down stairs. I believe there was an elevator at my disposal however I was choosing to work out, as in my book doing math may involve studying First Person Physics, wherein we focus on personal workflows, in terms of calories, in terms of scheduling (programming). I was studying how to organize a three day workshop, returning various props to inventory even as I brought more. I had a kind of rolling Show & Tell going, with a progression of conversation pieces going across their radars.
C6XTY is a design and an actual plastic injection molded set of four components. Six of the base units make a soccer ball looking thing, and need disk-shaped disks, eight of them, to screw them into a stable assembly. Then come the struts (connectors) and another shape of screw lock. Four unique parts in all. I lugged disassembled parts to the venue and challenged my summer campers to engage in a workflow, somewhat spontaneously developed, that would result in completed works of art. The experiment was successful. You can read all about it, and see pictures, in a related Medium story More Martian Math.
“Math is an Outdoor Sport” is another poster or billboard you may have seen, right up there with “Just Use It” which I developed for Python, the computer language. The resonance with Nike is deliberate, given Greek Myths. Athena fits in here.
To round this out: I’m not sure if Andrew Hacker invented PATH, as a comeback to STEM, with the A in STEAM now connecting them, however regardless of the source, I’m surprised commentators on culture haven’t picked it up, whether or not they agree with The Math Myth’s core thesis, that we don’t know what we’re doing in making mathematics the kind of boot camp we take for granted. Even without fighting the “boot camp” characterization, there are so many things a “boot camp” might be, such a spectrum. Lets use some imagination here.
Changing subjects a little, with a segue on Boot Camp in the sense of Code School (back to Engineering?), there’s maybe this stereotype that when staring at computer code, such as Python, you’re expected to be imagining the guts of a computer somehow. And well you might be.
However “expected” might be going too far. A very high level language is more about freeing you to notate about any affairs of the world. Write about politics and architecture, just have recourse to a language that a machine might actually run. Don’t just share the source code however. Keep the whole program flowing with sufficient pictures and jokes. Do more of a slide show. Such is a Jupyter Notebook.
I was just at an OSCON (Open Source Convention) here in Portland, and saw Jupyter Notebooks used precisely in this way: to present thinking on the fly, including big, colorful pictures, during a keynote address if I remember correctly.
As the workshop leader pointed out: the code might only be twelve or so lines, after which you’re back into explaining and illustrating, holding your reader by the hand. You may not be executing this workflow live, but you’re still reading it as a kind of “walk through”, more like a “play”. We’re back to Theater, and strategic maneuvers.
Putting the matter another way, when you’re learning programming, you will want to cultivate your imagination, feeding it with images and analogies. This idea the programming means “right brain off” is a complete miss-characterization. Think of how we learn to read, human language. Near the start, it’s almost all pictures, just a few words. The ratio gradually reverses, to where the pictures may be few and far between, but they’re not asking you to turn off the imagination. Fewer and fewer are supplied on the understanding that you get it now, how to conjure your own imagery. We take for granted that those reading novels or plays are making mental movies, complete with soundtrack. We don’t realize that software engineers may have just as vivid dreamworlds, which they inhabit professionally.
However, when we stop to think about it, clearly there’s a bridge from sculpture to CAD (computer aided design) and programs such as Maya. My friend Kenneth Snelson, the famous tensegrity artist, was also deeply into photography and computer graphics, both stills and animations. You should be able to search up some of his works on Youtube. He had a mental picture of what atoms could look like, as primitive cartoons. His electrons did repel and complete one another’s orbital shells. My role was that of webmaster, getting his text and graphics out there, in the early days of Mosaic and later Netscape. Later, he would get a New York professional to produce a state of the art website in his own domain. He let me keep the old site, a museum piece in its own right.
I’ll be teaching Python tomorrow in fact, and will be making this same point: you’ll have a much smoother ride if you permit yourself to visualize, employ analogies, stay receptive to my talk of types as types of animals, with “bags of tricks”.
With each type comes a set of behaviors, along with dominion over data. Take your list type: elements in a row, from left to right. But also list behaviors: append to me, slice me, insert and pop. Coerce me to another type. Pass me into functions. Objects definitely eat other objects. In Python, just about everything is some type of object. A program is a story, a chronology, involving said objects. They collaborate to get work done. We raise our living standards this way.
In sum, an exciting sign that the C. P. Snow gap is closing, is the emergence of Anthropology as a bridge discipline, connecting STEAM with PATH. That’s if you’re willing to have the in-common A be other than Art. We need not quibble. The either/or-ness of such arguments is what’s bogus.
For Wittgenstein, the “cannot be said” is everything important, as the core island of empirical facts is also without any ethical dimension. He modified his views later, seeing “aspect shifts” as likewise ineffable, in the sense that no amount of talking makes up for the shift in one’s senses.