Requiem for a Mathematician, and for an Education System

Oded Schramm was an awe-inspiring mathematician. His death at the age of 46, in a climbing accident in Washington State, is sad in all the ways a normal life cut short is sad. The discoveries he would have made and never got to are only a small piece of the sadness. The mathematician, after all, was also a person, a husband and a father. As a small comfort, the last 26 years of his life were apparently a miracle: According to the Ha’aretz obit, in 1982, during the war in Lebanon, his tank took a direct hit. Somehow he survived.

Reading Schramm’s foreshortened biography made me think about Israeli education. He was born in Jerusalem, went to school here, got his BA and MA from Hebrew U. Given the condition of Israeli schools today, will they produce more Schramms?

As reported last week, Israel’s underfunded school system gets terrible marks from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development:

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The Out There In Here–Rebecca Goldstein’s “Incompleteness” and John Searle’s “Mind, Language and Society”

Haim Watzman

A blog post about whether a world exists outside one’s mind, and if so, how and to what extent we can know about it? That’s a subject you can cover in a few hundred words!

But what’s a writer to do—this blog is the only semantic space in which I can discuss these issues, and I’ve been stimulated by two books I’ve just read—Rebecca Goldstein’s Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel (Great Discoveries) and John Searle’s Mind, Language, and Society : Philosophy in the Real World. Both authors are philosophers who write for a larger public; Goldstein is also a novelist—evident in her vivid portrayal of Gödel as a person, and of his intellectual milieu.

Goldstein’s book stands out among treatments of Gödel’s ideas meant for broad audiences for two reasons. First, it doesn’t talk down to the intelligent layman and follows, step by step, the proofs of his theorems. The logical notation and equations she uses may look scary, but persist—it’s all explained very well. If you ever had a course in basic logic (which you probably had in high school math), you’ll be able to follow it.

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