Saturday, May 21, 2005

Unamusing Musing About The Muse

I haven't had much time to look into material on Bose-Einstein Condensation or to compose posts about this topic in preparation for the upcoming Korea University Nobel Laureate Lecture by Wieman. For anyone who's planning to attend, however, the links that I've provided in previous posts will fill in the many gaps. Here's a previously linked webpage that explains BEC in basic, fairly non-technical terms and uses nice graphics for illustrations.

One of the topics that has long interested me is creativity. I remember wondering about it when I was an undergraduate student at Baylor Univerity. Until my penultimate semester there, I was a double major -- (1) English Language and Literature and (2) Psychology. Courses in literature often exalt creativity, and some of my courses in psychology discussed topics such as intelligence and creativity, so my personal interest in it was doubly reinforced.

I don't have any great insights into the sources of creative thinking. I used to associate it with unstructured, holistic approaches (whatever those are), but as I grow older, I connect it more closely to structured, analytical ways of thinking about things combined with a deep grounding in the materials that one is working with and a broad familiarity with related areas.

But it also requires a certain independence of mind. That's why I focused on the rural childhoods of Wieman and McFadden, as you'll perhaps recall, for I wondered if their somewhat unusual childhoods contributed to their creativity.

I was curious enough about this to send Wieman an email noting his and McFadden's rural pasts and asking him if he thought that this "may have led them to be more independent in their thinking." Wieman was kind enough to respond, but he was 178 emails behind on his correspondence, so he hadn't time to say much. He did, however, make this unexpected observation:

"I am not sure that McFadden and I are all that unique in our backgrounds. It is easy to forget, but there are an awful lot of people who live in rural US, and some significant fraction of their families take education pretty seriously."

This calls into question my view that a rural childhood is especially unusual. I suppose that in a large, populous country like the United States, many people do have country roots, so in absolute terms, there will be several million of them. I seem to recall that only 3 percent of the American population lives on farms, but if our population is about 300 million, then their absolute number approaches 10 million.

Be that as it may, I can attest that Wieman is correct that many rural "families take education pretty seriously." Despite growing up poor in the Arkansas Ozarks, I never doubted that I'd get a higher degree.

And I'm just one of many.


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