A few days ago, I came across this interview with Freeman Dyson, a man who I truly admire for a long time, since I started to learn about his contribution to QFT more than 10 years ago. In particular, I came to learn more about him through one of my most beloved book entitled: “QED and the men who made it” by S. Schweber. This is a wonderful book written by a spectacular author. Schweber is not merely a historian, but a true theoretical physicist, with a strong interest in the history of modern science. In fact, he has a well-written book on QFT dated back to 1961.
Dyson is one of few influential people who I scientifically looked into his contribution every now and then. Penrose is the other. Similar to Penrose, he started to spell his belief in other subjects such as life and religion in his writings. It is always eye-opening to hear how these brilliant minds look at life. In particular, it is very comforting when you find your thoughts and ideas are close to theirs. Although I strongly suggest reading the whole article (which is not very long), I just highlight a few points of this interview that I have been also discussing in this blog occasionally:
“what’s the biggest misconception about mathematics? ”
Dyson: I think the biggest misconception is that everybody has to learn it.
It is truly amazing to see that Dyson, a true mathematical physicist, suggests to tune down teaching math in schools, at least the way it is taught. Later in this interview, he compares math to music, like Violin, and he insists, it is not necessary or even possible for everyone to learn it.
Are you not into the Ph.D. system?
Dyson: Oh, very much against it. I’ve been fighting it unsuccessfully all my life.
The second stunning response is the fact that as someone teaching in one of the most prestigious schools (i.e., Princeton) in the world, is against PhD. The main reason is that PhD system has been deflected from its main path. There are many disadvantageous to the current PhD system, where I only summarize two of them, below. First, it is not tailored for every person, so it does not flourish the true abilities of the students. Second, it takes the most significant few years of the students’ youth. Not to mention, many things are wrong with supervisors, admission, and so on.
What’s the most astounding thing about the universe to you?
Dyson: I think that’s what I would say: It’s us that’s really amazing. As far as I can see, our concentration of different abilities in one species — there’s nothing I can see that in this Darwinian evolution that could’ve done that. So it seems to be a miracle of some sort.
Last but not least, it is so fascinating to hear that one of the most significant mathematical minds, who is very familiar with many subjects including life sciences, also believes that Darwinian evolution theory is not enough to take into account the details of life as it is. This is a brave statement from an intellectual person in academia, in particular in this era, when many people arrogantly allow themselves to dismiss the whole idea of any other possibilities just by trusting the evolution, while many scientists themselves are not that sure yet!
Last year, after many years of p-value abuses, the american society of statistics in a revolutionary move published an instruction on how to use p-value. YOU HAVE TO read this before hand, if you ever gonna use p-value. But, here I want to pay attention to a more general mentality, which I believe is the caused of this misuse of p-value.
Since you may not have enough time to glance over the paper, let me just briefly summarize my understanding in few words, although this does not replace the whole manual. It basically says that the value of p-value for large p, does not have any significance by itself. Whenever, p is less than a particular threshold (say <0.05) then we can say that it is less likely your data with a true null hypothesis. Or more scientifically, you can strongly reject the null hypothesis, that is, there is an effect (null hypothesis is assuming that there is no effect). However, the size of effect is not determined by p-value. Additionally, you should always consider that the unusualness of your data.
In modern science, especially, during last 50 years numerical value became more important than ever. Previously, we had qualitative and quantitative understanding, now the former is losing the race to the quantitative universe. Crudely speaking, for me quality is not necessarily non-mathematical or numerical, but something that you can not specify it with a finite set of numbers. IQ, SAT score, GPA are just a few examples of many, which is a single number to specify Intelligence, or Academic preparedness, or academic valuation of someone (which of course, is a sham). In this particular universe, only (finite) number matters, and it usually take while to come up with a good MEASURE which turns multi-variate systems into a single (or a few) number. In particular, dealing with large set of events and data, is one of those areas that turning knowledge into number is usually hard. So the measure, such as p-value come to rescue!!
Now, all scientist in life sciences, environmental sciences, and psychology who does not want to spend enough time to study to understand statistics with underlying assumptions, just take the equation and leave the rest (it is always said: the devil is in the detail). Few years ago, there was a research paper titled: “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” which was really disappointing, later on there was very depressing while courageous statement in Nature article in 2014, by Steven Goodman (statistician@Stanford) stating that: “The wake-up call is that so many of our published findings are not true.”. In the light of these findings, most likely we should rethink and reevaluate all those suggestions by FDA and other agencies, which are heavily based on those studies! The depth of disaster is so deep that nobody wants to even scratch the surface.
Anyway, I do suggest not only restricting the daily usage of p-value, but also leave the whole mentality that everything can be turned into a single number! Sometimes, it is just more than that. I don’t say we should not try to understand things quantitatively, in contrast, what I am saying is that sometimes quantifying with a single number is over simplification and underestimate the reality.
با سلام خدمت دوستانم،
مدتی بود که از فضای بلاگ نویسی فاصله گرفته بودم و با اینکه دلم میخواست که گزارش کوتاهی از هر روزم ارائه کنم، تا به امروز این گزارش لحظه-به-لحظه امکان پذیر نشده. همونطور که برخی از دوستان میدونن، من مدتی است که به قصد رصد کردن اوضاع به تهران برگشتم. شاید خوب باشه که یک پست مفصلی راجع به دلایل این تصمیم بنویسم، ولی به صورت خلاصه هدف اصلی این هست که اگه فضای کسب و کار و زندگی طوری باشه که بتونم تجربیاتی که کسب کردم رو درشهر خودم به انجام برسونم، چرا نکنم؟ البته شاید من تجربه خاصی داشتم، مثلا استاد من آلمانی بود وبا اینکه موقعیت خیلی خوبی تو کانادا داشت برگشت به آلمان، و در یکی از شهر های نه چندان معروف شروع به کار کرد، البته پیشنهادات خوبی به ایشون ارائه کرده بودند. همینطور، استاد پسا دکتری من هم که یک کانادائی فرانسوی زبان بود، با اچ ایندکس ۴۴ و بالای ۱۲ هزار ارجاع، با اینکه میتونه در هر دانشگاه تراز اولی داخل آمریکا شغل بگیره، تصمیم گرفته بود که به شهر کوچیک خودش تو کانادا برگرده و تا به امروز تاثیرات بسزایی در رشد دانشگاه خودش داشته؛ برای مثال، فقط پارسال، ۳۳ میلیون دلار فاند وارد دانشگاه کرد. سوالی که از خودم پرسیدم این بود که من که با اینها قابل قیاس نیستم، اما چرا اینکار رو امتحان نکنم! البته میشه خیلی جوابها داد، ولی قصد این پست توضیح یا توجیح نیست و فقط بازنگری ۳ ماه گذشته است.
هر چند که شاید ۳-۴ ماه مدت کافی برای جمع بندی دقیق نباشه، ولی میشه احساس نسبی رو منتقل کرد. اول باید بگم که این متن من رو با این پیش فرض بخوانید که من مشکل مسکن که از مهترین خرجهاست و شاید دقدقه خیلیهاست ندارم. این گزارش به چند بخش دانشگاه، ادارات، وجامعه تقسیم میکنم:
در بدو ورود، با توجه به هماهنگیهایی که از قبل انجام داده بودم، در یکی از بهترین دانشگاه های ایران با سمت استادیار مهمان مشغول به کار شدم. راستش چون از ۶-۷ ماه قبل، تمام مراحل درخواست و پروپوزال و غیره رو طی کرده بودم، و با همکاری شبانه روزی بنیاد نخبگان، این قسمت خیلی سریع پیش رفت. حقوق ما از طریق بنیاد تامین میشه که چیزی حدود ۳.۵ میلیون در ماه است. بقیه قسمت های دانشگاه از بخش امور اداری گرفته تا هر بخش دیگه ای کارها به کندی تمام صورت گرفته و خوشبختانه هیچ تفاوتی بین ما و بقیه قائل نشده و کارهای ما هم مثل بقیه به راحتی عقب میندازند! اگه حمایتهای رییس پژوهشکده نبود تازه از این هم بیشتر طول و عرض داشت. کلا من به عنوان استاد، این بار، محیط دانشگاه رو بیشتر از پیش خمود و بی تحرک دیدم. البته چیزی که این وسط نوید بخش بود حضور دوستان دیگه و همچنین فعالیت های نسل جوانتر بود که شاید قبلا دیده نمیشد. البته این هم باید اضافه کرد که، از اونجائی که من در زمینه علوم و مهندسی کامپیوتر کار میکنم، شاید این امر طبیعی باشه، و شاید در رشته های دیگه همین تحرک هم کمتر دیده بشه؛ باید از دوستان دیگه در این زمینه نظر خواست.
ادارات هم مثل قدیم فرسوده و نا کار آمد هستند، یعنی هرجا که گذرت بیوفته، احساس میکنی که پشت سر کارکنان اون اداره اسلحه گذاشتند و به ضرب و زور آوردنشون سر کار. تو اتاقشون نیستند، جواب نمیدند و تکریم ارباب رجوع نمیکنند. شاید یکی از بدترین تجربه های من تا به امروز از وزارت علوم بوده. البته برای من سخته که نسبت به قبل مقایسه کنم، چون خیلی یادم نیست که قدیم چه جوری بوده(فقط یادمه که هر کاری ۲-۳ روز اضافه تر طول میکشید). به هر حال، از سیستم اداری در کل جهان نمیشه خیلی انتظار داشت، ایران که جای خود داره. بزرگترین مشکل از گذشته تا به امروز شاید این باشه که تو ادارات سر در گمی زیاده. کسی نمیدونه کجا باید بره و یا چه کاری رو باید الان انجام بده، و برای کارهاش باید چی به همراه داشته باشه. در واقع فرایند کار باید به صورت دهان-به-دهان منتقل بشه و ادامه پیدا کنه، والّا اگر تصور بر این هست که دفترو یا وبسایتی هست که بشه استفاده کرد، نیست.
در مورد جامعه ایران صحبت کردن خیلی سخته، حتی جامعه شناسها هم در توضیح رفتار این قوم خیلی با قطعیت نمیتونند صحبت کنند، چه برسه به من که سر رشته ای هم ندارم. ولی در حد یک ناظر چند ماهه، بزرگترین مشکل مردم ایران خودشونند. این موضوع من رو همیشه یاد دعایی میندازه که میگه، خدایا! من رو از دست خودم نجات بده. تقریبا کسی رو ندیدم که به هیچ نوع قانونی احترام بذاره و رعایت کنه، از قوانین راهنمایی رانندگی گرفته تا قوانین کار، تا دستور پزشک! یعنی تقریبا رابطه بین قوه مقننه و مردم قطعه، انگار اونها دارند واسه یک کشور دیگه قانون گذاری میکنند. منصفانه بنگریم، قانونها خیلی هم محدود کننده تر از جاهای دیگر نیستد، ولی مردم تمایل به عمل به هیچ قانونی ندارند. اگه از من بپرسی مردم یکجور هرج و مرج طلب هستند ولی در حرف همشون عاشق نظمند! این تضاد چیزیه که مردم ما رو از بقیه جدا میکنه!
الان که از بالا به پایین پست خودم رو خوندم به نظرم اومد که هرچی بدی بود گفتم، حالا وقتشه که راجع به خوبیها هم بگم. چیزی که آدم رو امیدوار میکنه اینه که در همینجا کسانی هم هستند که دارند خوب کار میکنند و نیات خوبی دارند. چیزی که آدم رو به جلو میبره وجود افرادی است که هنوز به پول به عنوان مقصد نهایی نگاه نمیکنند، بلکه اون رو فقط یک ابزار میدونند. هنوز کسانی هستند که به آموزه های چند هزار ساله مشرق زمین اعتقاد دارند و اونها رو در پیش می گیرند. چیزی که شاید کمتر جاهای دیگه دیده بشه. در ضمن، از لحاظ کاری، فضایی باز شده که شرکتهای خصوصی درحال پیشرفت هستند، البته دوباره تاکید کنم که این بیشتر در زمینه علوم کامپیوتر و پزشکی دیده میشه. به هرحال، از فضای قدیمی، جوانه های تغییر به سمت جلورو میشه دید. این تغییر فقط در فضای خصوصی نیست، و حتی تو فضای دولتی هم نگرانیها به روز شده، برای مثال، چند وقت پیش طرحی تصویب شد که تولید، واردات، و عرضه محصولات ترا-ریخته ممنوع شد! چیزی که شاید هیچ وقت در آمریکا امکان پذیر نباشه. وقتی اینها رو کنار موضوعات شخصی، مثل خانواده و چیزهای دیگه قرار می گیره، می ارزه که در همچین فضایی تحرکی انجام بشه. به هر حال، به عقیده من، هر کسی به دنبال تغییر و بهبود هست، باید سهم خودش رو بپردازه و درحال حاضر، با حمایت بنیاد ملی نخبگان و آدمهای مثبتی که در دانشگاهها و فضای کار ایران هستند، این امکان فراهم شده، فرصتی که شاید قبلا نبود
من اعتقاد دارم که به جای اینکه صحنه رو خالی کنیم و جامون رو به آدمهای خشک و قانون شکن بدیم باید در صحنه بمونیم و اونها رو یا تغییر بدیم یا از صحنه بیرون کنیم. در واقع اگر برای نسل من، همون دهه شصتیها، فرصتی باشه اون فرصت همین الانه! و یادمون باشه که بچه های نسلهای بعدی هم دارند تو همین فضا بزرگ میشند و نباید از اونها انتظار اعجاز داشت. واسه همین، هر کار مثبت یا منفی تا چند نسل پس لرزه هاش تدام خواهد داشت.من هم مثل خیلیهای دیگه اعتقاد دارم که خوبی و بدی مسری است، و اگر تعداد خوبها به یک تعداد بحرانی برسه، گذاری صورت میگیره که به نفع همه مردم ایران و جهان خواهد بود.
Just recently, I became aware of this campaign: http://philosophy.fas.harvard.edu/files/phildept/files/harvard_teaching_campaign_statement.pdf?m=1393650319
A few weeks ago, I met a guy who was a friend of a friend of mine who has finished his undergrad in Mechanical Engineering, one of the most sought after field of studies in Iran. He then continued his studies in Canada in the same field. After finishing his masters, he has decided to go back to Iran to start following his dream of studying Physics academically, the very field of my interest. Of course, everybody in his family was trying to convince him that he is making (at least) three BIG mistakes. First, returning back to Iran, second, starting from zero again, and third (and probably the worst of all), studying physics! I should say that physics is one of those fields that everybody seems to like but not many people want to do!
Anyways, long story short, he told us that he always wanted to do physics but everybody convinced him not to do that, and after these many years he could no longer suppress his inner interest in physics, and have finally decided to do what he should have done a long time ago. After he learned that I am a physicist, he got all excited and started to share his views and his reasons why he wanted to be a physicist. Oh boy, it was such an amusing night. He kept saying that they [his friends and family] can not understand. Well, sure enough, I knew what he was talking about. It was really great to see someone who has this courage to sit back and rethink his interests and do what he thinks is right, despite all the cost! I felt so honored to meet a few of those people in my life.
He showed me his little book on the history of quantum mechanics by F. Hund. This reminded me of a quote by Steven Weinberg: “After you learn quantum mechanics you’re never really the same again”. Actually, looking at him, I started to remember my old days way before my first encounter with quantum mechanics. When I was 3-4 years old, I used to take my little bag and go to school with my elder brothers, as my mother describes. of course, I was not allowed to enter but anyway I liked to go to school doorstep. My mother and brothers taught me numbers, alphabets, and writing before I go to school. Even now, sometimes I remember some scenes that I was forcing my parents to teach something before I go to bed. I don’t know why, but I was so passionate about learning and this passion was with me throughout my whole studies. Frankly, the subject did not matter to me that much, I was just happy to learn. Of course, there were courses I liked more, but I liked them all, from Persian literature to mathematics and physics.
The passion of mathematical science and learning, in general, was with me in high school, undergrad and grad schools. However, unfortunately, during the course of my life, I gradually became more disappointed to see how following one’s passion is dead in academia, and almost anywhere! One should have expected this, as it is an unfortunate plague of modern time that something that is not measurable is considered as a nonexistent. Unfortunately, passion is no exception.
I remember, despite all my interest in doing experimentation, I decided to become a theorist, since I could not imagine seeing myself doing a single experiment over and over in a lab which possibly located down the stairs somewhere. I should say that I appreciate all people who are involved in experiments, as they are responsible for most of things around us. However, I could not consider myself to be a sole experimentalist. I wanted to learn and practice different subjects. I always admired people like John von Neumann who was a quantum physicist, game theorist, abstract mathematician, economist, computer scientist, and almost anything interesting. Not only, he mastered those fields, he actually made a great contribution and basically defined some of those fields. Sure, one can say that not everyone is like him intellectually, but the point is more devastating, as nobody seems to want people like him around. I always looked at knowledge as the greatest intellectual heritage of the human being, during the course of history, and I could not isolate a single subject out of many to focus on.
The bottom line is that I became a physicist for the pleasure of finding things out and I advise everyone to become one. However, there is a big danger here. After a few years, you can no longer satisfy your hunger for the joy of this pleasure. Your brain will not be satisfied by money, or a mundane and repetitive jobs and life. Basically, you could loose the capability of enjoying anything less intellectually challenging. The addiction to this pleasure of understanding and new findings is no less than the strongest drugs. There are other dangers as well, such as starting to understand the illogical behavior of people around you, which turns you down, from time to time. So be a physicist, but be careful what you are wishing for!
I really like this quote by Gandhi. However, it is hard to really grasp what it means, practically. Well, to be honest, it is hard to find people who are the examples for this statement. I think that Stephen Wolfram (SW) could be one good example. I have met him in person only once, but during these years, I have come across his name many times. In particular, because he is a particle physicist, also as I was exposed to Mathematica software, for scientific computations since my undergrad.
What is really interesting, regarding SW, is the fact that, he loudly speaks up his beliefs, he writes about them, and even further he invites other people to test his theories. He has spent almost 12 years to write his idea about Cellular Automata in his book entitled New Kind of Science (NKS). Despite many positive criticisms from the general audience, this book received lots of negative criticism by physicists such as Steven Weinberg, Freeman Dyson, etc. However, this did not stop him from organizing summer schools every year, and inviting people to learn more about NKS and do some projects over there.
I have heard rumors about his arrogance, however, what is important for me here is that he really stands by his ideas and he tries to bring them to reality. This, not only has made him a fortune, but also provided a framework for himself to interact with many brilliant people around the world. I believe that we need more intellects like him. Someone who generates ideas, revises his ideas and advertises them. I should emphasize, there are many ideas out there without any references or any notable points for humanity. We need ideas which are attached to some basic principles, and let others falsify it.
The reason that I started this post was to aspire to reach our deep interests. However, we should keep in mind, choosing a path toward achieving our goal is as important as the goal itself. We should ensure that we enjoy the path, otherwise, we may be bored, tired, or disappointed before achieving to our goals. To enjoy the path, I believe, we should stay tangent to public interest. Of course, there is always a gap between our dreams and public interest (otherwise change would be unnecessary). In short, our dreams should give us the sense of direction, and manifold of public interest determines the actual path. For example, In the above mentioned example, to make fundamental changes in mathematics (or physics), one can detour by starting off a company in computation which is the focus of public interest during last three decades.
Before getting into details of what is Mathematica, and why I am writing this post, I should remind about the very interesting lecture by Richard Feynman one of my older posts (here). One of the important message of that lecture was the fact that, naming the so called computer is misleading, as actually no computation is done. Today computers are basically a Fast Filing System. Every software is composed of few definitions for data (string, integer, double, etc) and a set of rules on how to do certain operation. However, nothing internally is making a meaning of those data or the rules. The task of computer is to break down every other programs to the set of those internal rules and data, and finally outputs the result.
Internally all the signs (such as summation, multiplication, devision, etc) has no meaning, and they are just a symbol which imply a rule for data which might come before and after this symbol. This fact is greatly appreciated in one of the earliest programming language, LISP, basically the second oldest language after FORTRAN.
At this point, I should also mention a few words about functional vs imperative programming. Basically, many current programming are imperative programming in a sense that the state of variables changes during the evaluation. However in a pure functional program, nothing is changed and everything is calculated as set of function acting on each other. It is long discussion on what is what, and how is done, and you can see more details here. The bottom line is a more natural (i.e., closest to the real mathematical world) way of programming is the functional way, again such as LISP. Of course, there is always a discussion on being *natural* matters or being *effective*, and so on!
It is so unfortunate that most of current programming languages such as (Java, C/C++, Python, etc) are imperative rather than functional, and most of us are not used to the idea of writing nested functions rather than defining ever-changing intermediate states.
Putting everything together, the best approach which utilize the main capability of “computers” is the language where everything is just a symbol (there is no difference between data and code) and every program is set of nested functions acting on these symbols and finally DISPLAYing the output in a one way or the other. To make this last point more clear, consider an image, for example, image of a flower. In practice it is wide spectrum of colors DISPLAYED at the pixel of our monitors. These colors are basically numbers which determines the combinations of different primitive colors. So, an image of a flower is no different than expanding a function in terms of some basis.
So the ultimate software which is inline with the internal design of computers is a symbolic functional programming. Mathematica if it is not the only, is the best programming language which is based on those first principles. I should make myself clear, I never claim that Mathematica is implemented the best way possible. What I am trying to achieve here is the fact that Symbolic Functional programming is the best possible way, and Mathematica is in that direction.
One last thing is interesting about Mathematica is the fact that is kind of “Evolutionary programming”. Basically, everyday new functions are added to the main body of the program, and the best one, in terms of speed and quality survives, where the rest of them just fade away. Mathematica is not only a mathematical software, rather and old (and the best) programming paradigm which is rare to find these days.
After 9 months of silence, I am back again to my weblog. It is hard to explain why I was not around in one post, since past few months were full of ups and downs at least for me. To be short, after many years being in academia, either as a student or researcher, I started a position as a R&D in one of my favorite topics on the intersection of mathematics and computation while working with real world examples, i.e., as a machine learning data scientist. That by itself is a good reason to be away for a few months. However, in my case this was not the only thing.
The other thing that I have realized is the fact that, after being away for a few months, it is hard to come back, as there are many things to say and you basically don’t know where to start. To choose one particular out of many, I just quickly write about why I partially left academia, at least for the moment.
First of all, it is almost clear to everyone who is already engaged in academic activities that the whole subject of “academic interest” does no longer exist. By academic interest, I do not mean a useless scenario that people came up these days to publish a few more papers. No, I really mean to spend time and energy on something for the sake of curiosity. I can’t say that there is no one doing that, but I can certainly say that the new generation of scientists, are either businessmen or engineers. (Nothing wrong is with being businessman/engineer, just they should practically be different from scientists, and now they merged somehow. )
Second, again those who have been involved in academic setting are realizing that, for many reasons, creativity is kind of discouraged. Most of the times finding a more creative solution is not desired. During these many years, I came across many important subjects worth studying, which were dismissed because they considered HARD to do in a few months or seemed irrelevant.
Thirdly, computer science in north america has cast a shadow on many professions, and academia is not excluded. Hence, everybody tries to codify some mathematical problems and in the best case scenario bring it close to experiments. I should say that, I do not discourage this activity, the point is theoretical studies should be different from computational studies, but theory almost cease to exist these days. Finally, not to mention the fact that, academic fields are tightly narrowed these days that even in one particular fields, it is very hard to move around. Part of it is due to the fast growth of science, but it is mostly due to the crowdedness of the environment! Indeed, this list goes on, but I guess these are the main reasons.
Putting altogether, I realized for people like me who are interested in wide breadth of research on different aspects of life, data science seems a way to go. I reserve the right for me to change the above statement as time goes on!