[EAS] "Space Travel"

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu May 13 23:44:31 EDT 2004

Subject:   "Space Travel"

(from NewsScan Daily, 13 May 2004)

     A recent gathering of techno-enthusiasts explored ways to
overcome information overload and the stress associated with living
with 24/7 access to work, friends and sometimes strangers. The
meeting's organizer, David Levy, noted he'd imposed a
"technology-free" Sabbath, carving out 24 hours in the week when he
doesn't log on or answer his cell phone. "It's not about saying 'no'
to all these important inventions," says Levy. "Nobody says we
shouldn't have e-mail. But how do we come to a kind of balance and 
accommodation?" Levy, a professor in the information school at the 
University of Washington and author of "Scrolling Forward: Making
Sense of Documents in a Digital Age," says the idea for the
conference germinated when graduate students complained repeatedly
that they felt like technology  was taking over their lives. "What I
heard from my students was that they didn't feel like they could dig
into any subject." However, Levy  acknowledges his own struggle with
technology: "There is this addictive  quality I recognize in myself.
As soon as Shabbat is over, I run to check my e-mail." John de
Graaf, editor of "Take Back Your Time: Fighting Overwork and Time
Poverty in America," says that Levy's concerns are right  on target.
"I think this is a huge issue. This is one of the major crises  of
our society," says de Graaf. (Wired.com 13 May 2004)

      In his book, "The Music of the Primes," Marcus du Sautoy
reminds us  of the question posed by the great mathematician David
Hilbert at the time  of his death:
      "One hot and humid morning in August 1900, David Hilbert of
the University of Göttingen addressed the International Congress of
Mathematicians in a packed lecture hall at the Sorbonne, Paris.
Already  recognised as one of the greatest mathematicians of the
age, Hilbert had  prepared a daring lecture. He was going to talk
about what was unknown  rather than what had already been proved.
This went against all the  accepted conventions, and the audience
could hear the nervousness in Hilbert's voice as he began to lay
out his vision for the future of  mathematics. 'Who of us would not
be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden; to
cast a glance at the next advances of our science and at the
secrets of its development during future centuries?' To herald the
new century, Hilbert challenged the audience with a list of 
twenty-three problems that he believed should set the course for the
mathematical explorers of the twentieth century.
      "The ensuing decades saw many of the problems answered, and
those who  discovered the solutions make up an illustrious band of
mathematicians  known as 'the honours class'. It includes the likes
of Kurt Gödel and Henri Poincaré, along with many other pioneers
whose ideas have transformed the  mathematical landscape. But there
was one problem, the eighth on Hilbert's list, which looked as if
it would survive the century without a champion: the Riemann
      "Of all the challenges that Hilbert had set, the eighth had a
special place in his heart. There is a German myth about Frederick
Barbarossa, a much-loved German emperor who died during the Third
Crusade. A legend grew  that he was still alive, asleep in a cavern
in the Kyffhäuser Mountains. He  would awake only when Germany
needed him. Somebody allegedly asked Hilbert, 'If you were to be
revived like Barbarossa, after five hundred years, what  would you
do?' His reply: 'I would ask, 'Has someone proved the Riemann 

for Marcus du Sautoy's "The Music of the Primes: Searching to Solve
the  Greatest Mystery in Mathematics" -- or look for it in your
favorite  library. (We donate all revenue from book recommendations
to adult literacy  programs.)

Dear Colleagues -

The juxtaposition of these two items set me musing. 24/7 information
overload isn't just a source of injurious stress, but it results in
the progressive loss of the habit of reflection. What sort of
insight and progress is a bright but frazzled mind capable of?
Apparently much of what surrounds us in the name of technological
progress, but certainly not a breakthrough in mathematics.

The latter is to me most emblematic of those silent and solitary
journeys into the remote spaces of the mind, that we have all but
erased as a value of our culture. Even when such "space travel" is
not done by a Riemann or Hilbert, but by mere mortals, it is an
essential part of being productively alive in any human endeavor.
For me reflection is nurtured by quiet walks, canoeing on remote
lakes, classical music, contemplative photography. The technologies
that have enhanced those journeys for me (Kevlar composites, the
digital reproduction of sound, and the wonders of digital
photography) I hold in particular esteem because they enhance rather
than usurp my peace of mind.

By the way, for an explanation of the Riemann Hypothesis see e.g.


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