Some New Year’s Resolutions

“Stopping smoking is easy, I’ve done it hundreds of times” — Mark Twain.  Similarly, new year’s resolutions are easy to make.  The usual “I’m going to get those pounds off” resolution  has (for me) the advantage of being immediately destroyed at my cousin’s New Year’s Day open house, where the neighbors bring in their most tempting homemade goodies.  Nice to get that one out of the way early.

On a more serious note, in addition to reading the new stuff as it comes out, I’m going to focus on two things in the coming year — computational chemistry (including protein folding, which is essentially computational) and relativity.  I think I’ve finally acquired the necessary background for the first (after Clayden et. al. and Anslyn and Dougherty), and plan to spend the year picking up what I need to know for the second.  Fortunately, an alum of recent vintage is a math prof at one of the local schools and has agreed to answer my questions as they arise in two excellent books I plan to go through — “Introduction to Topological Manifolds”, and “Smooth Manifolds”  both by John M. Lee.  I’ve looked at them and like their writing style, particularly the motivation and the  clarity.   Why Manifolds before studying relativity proper?  Because the spacetime of relativity is a manifold.

Why relativity?  It’s something I’ve always wanted to understand at a deeper level than the popularizations of it (reading the sacred texts in the original so to speak).  I may have enough background in math, to understand how to study it.  Topology is something I started looking at years ago as a chief neurology resident, to get my mind off the ghastly cases I was seeing.

I’d forgotten about it, but a fellow ancient alum, mentioned our college president’s speech to us on opening day some 55 years ago.  All the high school guys were nervously looking at our neighbors and wondering if we really belonged there.  The prez told us that if they accepted us that they were sure we could do the work, and that although there were a few geniuses in the entering class, there were many more people in the class who thought they were.

Which brings me to our class relativist.  I knew a lot of the physics majors as an undergrad, but not this guy.  The index of the new book on Hawking by Ferguson has multiple entries about his work with Hawking (which is ongoing).  Another physicist (now a semi-famous historian) felt validated when the guy asked him for help with a problem.  He never tooted his own horn, and seemed quite modest at the 50th reunion.  As far as I know, one physics self-proclaimed genius (and class valedictorian) has done little work of any significance.  Maybe at the end of the year I’ll be able to read the relativist’s textbook on the subject.  Who knows?  It’s certainly a personal reason for studying relativity.  Maybe at the end of the year I’ll be able to ask him a sensible question.

We’ll see if my brain holds out, something not a given at 73+.  I’ve seen all too many cognitively impaired people far, far younger.  Hopefully I chose my parents carefully, as my 100 year old father would say when asked for the secret of his longevity.

Happy New Year to all !

Wish me luck

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  • James  On January 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Happy New Year! Inspiring to see your dedication to learning new topics. There are 25 year olds who could learn from your example

  • luysii  On January 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Yes, but at 25, I was concerned with finding a mate, memorizing thousands of (then) unrelated medical facts, worrying about a future career, the Cuban missile crisis, etc. etc. Also, after seeing some 30,000 patients, I no longer have to wonder what life is really like, being in an environment where everyone is pretty much between 22 and 30. So I don’t read novels much (except Neal Stephenson), and don’t play golf and don’t have expensive hobbies (such as acquiring and discarding wives).

    Why try to do it? It’s sort of an Everest syndrome. Also, math, like music, is highly esthetic. I’m not sure biochemistry is, but a look at the cover of the 16 December Science, with the full Monty of the 80S eukaryotic ribosome, is certainly awe inspiring, if not beautiful.

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