Studying Math Is More Important Than Ever

We are in big trouble if we don’t develop the next generation of Mathematicians

Keith McNulty

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In Richard McElreath’s excellent book on Bayesian methods, Statistical Rethinking, he opens with a little story about the Golem of Prague. The Golem was a mythical, supernatural figure that once stalked the alleyways of Prague’s Jewish ghetto in the 16th century. Legend has it that the renowned Rabbi Löw, also known as the Maharal of Prague, was seeking a way to protect the local Jewish people from pogroms and the whim of unpredictable rulers. Endowed with the power to transform the four elements into living things, he moulded a superhuman from the mud of the Vltava. To bring the Golem to life, Rabbi Löw had to insert a shem (a clay tablet bearing the name of God) into its mouth.

The Golem would do whatever it was instructed to do. It was intelligent, but it was not wise. It could not make its own independent decisions and would just keep doing what it was told. Rabbi Löw would deactivate his creation for the Sabbath, to allow the creature to rest according to the Jewish custom. However, one day he forgot, and the Golem went raging through the ghetto, destroying everything in its path. Rabbi Löw was reciting Psalm 92 in the synagogue when he was interrupted and told of the chaos the Golem was causing. He eventually confronted the monster outside the synagogue, where he managed to remove the shem. The Golem was never revived and allegedly was later stored in the synagogue’s attic, which remained locked for centuries. To this day, Psalm 92 is recited twice during services in Prague’s most famous synagogue.

In Yiddish, the word Golem means ‘stupid’ or ‘lazy’ — an interesting description despite its amazing superhuman powers. But an appropriate one. Executing intelligence is easy — executing it with wisdom is hard. Recent developments in technology has made the execution of intelligence easier, but have made no progress on the execution of wisdom.

If we don’t develop a future generation of Mathematicians, I believe that we may be unleashing bigger and bigger Golems on the world without sufficient means to control them and ensure they act with wisdom. I’d like to lay out some particular concerns I have in this regard.

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Keith McNulty

Pure and Applied Mathematician. LinkedIn Top Voice in Tech. Expert and Author in Data Science and Statistics. Find me on LinkedIn, Twitter or keithmcnulty.org