Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Questions of Life

As a religiously agnostic person, on ultimate questions of life, I have couple of rules,
  1. Be true to myself and I expect others to do the same.
  2. I have my own solution and others could have theirs. Since I never force other people to use my solution so I don't expect they do that to me.
  3. No one actually has the final solution. I don't expect I will find one. Nor I expect anyone actually has one, had one or will have one. Granted, some solutions can be more interesting than the others. But really, that does not mean they are perfect.
  4. Respect others' solutions and I expect others to do the same.
  5. I should think seriously when I claim "Life is X". If there is a source of the statement, I should go to trace the source. If there is a theory for why I claim that, I need to know the underlying assumptions of the theory.
  6. Some answers could not be verbalized or visualized. They are literally more like a mathematical functions than "things".
  7. The processes of searching for the solutions are as least as important as the solutions themselves. When you open your eyes, then you realize that there are so many solutions and processes. The feeling is just similar to you see 10000 stars in the sky. If you think the later is poetic, the former is quite dancable too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


When I was in College back in Hong Kong, I love to stare at the blue sky and just watching pieces of cloud floating from my left to right. There was much open space in the University. My favorite thing to do is to skip classes and watch some clouds.

To many of my friends, that is a ridiculous habit. Though most of them see that as just part of my little eccentricities in my little unsung college career. In another words, I have done worse. :) So they are not truly surprised and I am not that disappointed by their misunderstanding of clouds.

My true disappointment comes when I tried to share this interesting hobby with a mathematically-oriented friend. This guy is genuinely smart. In terms of Math, I think he is about 5 years ahead of me. So I thought he would understand.

So I told him my true intention of watching cloud - I would like to predict weather based on observing the cloud. That, to me, is a totally reasonable application of Mathematics. This is his response,

"You read "Wind and Cloud" too much.".

("Wind and Cloud" is a popular martial art comic book in Hong Kong. It's about two martial experts, "Wind" and "Cloud" and their adventure in China.)

Many people asked me why I chose to live in US instead of Hong Kong, or even Bigger China. This story is probably an example of why.

In Hong Kong (or probably the bigger China), it is a difficult thing for students to imagine that advanced mathematics could have anything to do with complex subjects such as metereology at all. Also, there is a big gap between the expert knowledge of a certain field and the general public. So even if you have a technical background and you are smart enough to learn, you could still be ignorant on branches of other fields.

Of course, an even deeper problem is that imagination and creativity is not an emphasis in technical subjects such as Science and Mathematics. In the secondary school curriculum, they were usually not taught to inspire students to discover Mathematics themeslves. This explains the behavior of my smart friend. (I am grateful to the team of smart Math teachers back in St. Stephen's College, Stanley. All of them truly know how to inspire. )

There are social consequences of this, students grow up like this will probably unable to appreciate interesting thought from the youngs. That is to say scientific and technical workers are not truly appreciated. This compounds with the general money-loving attitude in Hong Kong. You will not surprised that Science and Technology is tough to develop there.

We cannot say the States' education is perfect, there are tons of holes and problems in it as well. But perhaps because Americans are always more adventurous in nature. They always see possibilities. That's why if you asked a smart student in U.S. the same question, you would probably got an account of General Circulation Model, how the basic equations is written. How Stoke-Navier equation can be used in this problem. (If we digress, then we would chat about how Stoke-Navier equation could be one of the 7 Millenium problems.)

I don't resent my friend's comment. What I see was that a smart person like him was wasted in the system. How many more of these situations happened in the past? I have no idea. What I know is that this is the true impedance of generating good scientific and technical workers.