Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Looking Forward to Retirement – Think Math!

The Physics Groupie is always on the look-out for enthusiasm for mathematics and science during daily travels about town. My eagle eye for science and my sixth sense for math when it’s happening took a step forward the other day at one of my favorite Starbucks near the Caltech campus. I was sitting at one of those new communal tables enjoying my favorite drink, an iced Americano with an extra shot. I noticed a gentleman sitting across the table from me who had a stack of math books piled up. I’m a real bloodhound when it comes to math books.

The book on top looked very familiar – Road to Reality by Roger Penrose. That book is one of my all-time favorites because it touches on just about every important area of mathematics that physicists need for work in a wide field of disciplines. The book is a good launch pad for drilling down into so many areas. He also had an old Schaum’s Outline book on tensor calculus (a requirement for general relativity).

My interest was piqued so I had to talk to this fellow and find out more. His name was “Jim” and he was a retired engineer who had the time now to “find out how things work” so he was exercising his brain by learning a variety of areas of mathematics and physics. This pursuit sounded all too familiar, and it was music to the Physics Groupie’s ears to find another kindred soul.

We chatted for a short while and compared notes about math, physics, astronomy, and the pursuit of science. He said that some people mistake him for a Caltech professor, but no, he’s just a math enthusiast that sits at a Starbucks near one of the biggest bastions of science in the world – Caltech. I can empathize with wanting to be near greatness when trying to figure out how the universe works.

I’ve always thought that using mathematics as a vehicle for keeping the mind young as we age is a sensible life plan. Jim seemed to understand this simple axiom very well. As I had to run off to an evening lecture sponsored by The Carnegie Observatories on dwarf galaxies, I bade Jim a farewell as he continued to pour over his math books, writing notes in the margins. It was a sight to behold.

1 comment:

  1. I am a retired chem teacher (hi school) and now I'm doing the same as Jim, trying to figure things out that I never had the time to do when I was working. Didn't know others did same.

    Tim Slater III


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