Sunday, November 27, 2016

The "Real" Mexico

This Thanksgiving my family traveled to Mexico. In the weeks leading up to the trip, anticipation and Kerouac gave me unbearable wanderlust. I wanted to travel anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to hop in my jeep and hit the road for a few months. I read excerpts from Mexico City Blues and Lonesome Traveler and On the Road and my need for an authentic experience became insatiable. Soon I was on a plane and then another plane and then eventually an airport surrounded by mountains in Cabos San Lucas.

As we were picking up our luggage we noticed an airport employee passing out local foods and drinks for the tourists. Pate being Pate, decided to pick up one in an attempt to seem cultured and quickly had it snatched from him by mom because it was actually Patron tequila.  We hopped in a van and drove for about 45 minutes through arid stretches of desert with mountains looming proudly in the horizon. Occasionally we'd reach a slum town with crowds of tired looking Hispanic men walking past tiny shops with Frida Kahlo emblazoned on the front. There were abuelos sitting outside on benches or tables laughing or playing cards. "This is the REAL Mexico" I remember thinking. Until we got to the resort.

We walked into the lobby and looked over the balcony to see a gorgeous beach, multiple pools, snack bars, and tons upon tons of friendly Mexican workers to cater to our every American need. And needless to say, I loved my trip. It was gorgeous, it was all inclusive, the service was impeccable and everything was fantastic quality. But part of me also felt limited, I had a great vacation but was it an actual Mexican experience? Probably not. Even going into town seemed to be Mexico for the American palate. It was full of shops and souvenirs, bars and timeshares. It felt lively and local enough to give me a bit of an experience, but not enough for me to feel like I actually got to experience Mexico.

What is the root cause of this situation and my feelings on it? Why do I feel the need to have an authentic experience like a stereotypical hipster? Is it over-stimulation of experiences in media? Postmodernism? Neo-liberalism? Cultural hegemony? The need to get out of my little ivory tower? Whatever the causes of the problem were, I started to think a lot about perception and experience. I had read and read about the experiences of Kerouac in Mexico. Him getting to connect with humanity at a deep level and finding empathy despite nationalities and race made me want to do the same. When I was in Mexico however I didn't find that. The only experiences I had with the Mexican people were in a service capacity, like they were genuinely afraid of displeasing me or my family.

What worries me the most is that I am not sure there is a way for me to find authenticity in an experience because everything is tailored to give me a premade experience. The resort gives me the nice elegance I desired of a tropical paradise while the town gives me the folksy rough and tumble that I desired after Kerouac. But both are commoditized and sold to me. And I realize that my reality is limited by my own perception and experience and I feel like I have a duty to expand that and to try and understand other cultures and nationalities but when I try to do that I am sold an illusion by neo-liberalism to appeal to my wanderlust which was given to me by Kerouac and postmodernism. Its all very confusing and I don't know what to do about it.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"The possession of knowledge carries an ethical responsibility"

This quote is fine and dandy when referring to scientific knowledge, or knowledge on the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. But it becomes more difficult of a question when you think about it in relationship to math. What ethical responsibility does knowing the quadratic formula carry? Or the pythagorean theorem? Or any mathematical operation for that matter? Numbers are just agreed upon values that exist platonically at best and at worst are a useful fiction. 

To make sense of this it all depends on the definitions you use.  Knowledge is defined by Merriam Webster as information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education. Ethics is defined as involving questions of right and wrong behavior : relating to ethics. With this established how does mathematical knowledge carry an ethical responsibility?

Given that mathematics is defined as the science of numbers, quantities, and shapes and the relations between them, and these numbers themselves have no inherent value besides what is assigned to them, mathematical knowledge demands implementation or it is useless.

The questions of knowledge and implementation as well as ethics in math are very common in the classroom. Every student has said or heard another student say "When will I use this in real life?" and this question is a valid one. Too often we hear the cop out answer "It teaches you to think" but this is simply an excuse for the fact that mathematical knowledge without implementation is useless. Because the math questions we deal with are useless and hypothetical for the most part. What use is it to ANYONE to find out how how much Mrs. Johnson spent on apples and bananas if apples are 7.50 and and bananas are 9.00?????? There is no ethical responsibility in that kind of math because math is not being implemented properly. It lies in a hypothetical world, the banana is a lie, and why can't the worker at the counter tell Mrs. Robinson how much the cost of her fruit was? 

When mathematical knowledge enters the real world however is when the ethical responsibility occurs. When it's not hypothetical apples anymore. When the math is imperative to finding out laws of the natural world, or building something important to your community, or learning more about nature through math. the essential thing with math and ethics is that math must be first applied to a field for it to be anything more than useless hypothetics.

Applying mathematical knowledge has led to numerous advancements in science, technology, chemistry, economics, and so much more. This trend applies to more than just math however. Just like math, IB students have an ethical responsibility with the knowledge we learn. Otherwise, like math, it is useless. Just as faith without works is dead, knowledge of any sort without implementation for the betterment of your local and global community is useless.