Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How to Do Mathematics?

Dr Peter Woit is a permanent Senior Lecturer at the Mathematics Department of Columbia University, New York. He has a blog, a powerful one-getting more than five hundred thousand hits per month, called NEW, that is, Not Even Wrong. Here is a comment from that blog from a recent post,
In an odd way, mathematics has often been somewhat of an oral tradition, since the impenetrability of much of the literature often meant that the only way to learn about something was to find an expert and get them to explain it to you. 
This quotation is relevant for us. A pitfall of modern education is to do the things in a self-help, do-it-yourself method. The Sufi way, the Path, the Method, the Journey is opposite of this fad. It consists of handing over yourself to your spiritual guide. Now this concept is the basis and the root of the mystic way. And this is difficult to accept for those who have got the modern education. They would like to reduce their dependence on others completely. That is understandable. Dependability is debilitating. Hence we do not like. We did not like dependability on parents, it was constraining and hence we were desperate to grow up. This was the route to escape dependability. So this is all true and part of our experience.

And it is incomplete. Like after raising one of your legs you can not lift the other one also above the ground there are somethings that can not be done alone. You are bound to take help. It is unpleasant but a fact of life.
But this is also not the right way to think about mysticism, the Method, the Path, the Journey. The Companion (RA) completely handed over themselves to the Holy Prophet (PBUH). To do the same, to perfect your Islam, in modern times will be an act of Sunnah. Do-it-yourself route does not seem to be effective. There is a self-taught theoretical physicist who writes papers but the matter of fact is that there are very scathing assessments of his efforts. What is the use of reaching there when people only make fun of you. There is another incident that is relevant for the present point that is being made. Among the popular book publications, and there are loads of them, there is a fad to publish books for Learning English by self-help. The names are like XYZ English Speaking Course. For each publisher their version of this book is a best seller. But how many people have you seen who claim that they learned their English from such a book? there is no dearth of English speakers but one still has to meet a person who is product of one such book.

To conclude above comment from a current working  Mathematician would give us a clear idea about the process to learn research level Mathematics. We suppose similar things can be said about other modern disciplines. Do we get an idea about the most efficient way to learn anything? Should we not follow that about spirituality? Yes? Good, go find a Shaikh. That is the first step.