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Measuring value of university contingency - Western Alumni
Spring 2013
Measuring value of university contingency

by Paul Wells, BA'89

Tutoring my favourite nine-year-old, I was surprised at how much trouble he was having with fractions. This is a smart kid with a good number sense, but he was flummoxed as he tried to grasp the applications of halves, quarters and eighths. I went through the stages of tutor grief — denial, anger, bargaining — before I began to realize what the problem was. Fractions represent a huge advance over everything a child has learned up to then, because they represent a relation, not an absolute. No wonder it’s a big moment

[JCK: Dec. 21 2010 | Forbes | Rich Karlgaard. Success is often a
matter of getting the ratios right. Business and investing success is
hardly possible without understanding ratios. Knowing the numbers is
important. But knowing the numbers in relation to other numbers will
make you a millionaire. You will see anomalies that others miss.]

...... the notion of fraction's adaptability is what makes it so powerful. Fractions lead you by a short road to algebra and to a Pandora’s box of tools for finding the value of unknown quantities....A few years ago I spent a month at Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, trying to understand the work of the physicists there. Most of it went right over my head, but once in a while I’d see some genius write symbols above and below a division line, cross it with symbols in a neighbouring fraction, simplify and solve, and I would realize that I was watching another application of tools that became available to that genius,.....At some point in almost every field you move, not without struggle, from the absolute to the contingent. In the first books you read — I’m talking little kids here — a bird is just a bird. Eventually you graduate to metaphor, and now a bird can be a stand-in for hope or freedom or death. In law you move past different readings of a statute to competing notions of the good or just. In music, harmonies become richer, relations among notes more open to interpretation, until the very notion of harmony becomes something a composer can retain or reject according to taste and need. And then you listen to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion and you wonder whether any of this change can be said to represent progress.

If there’s a place in modern society where the notions of relation, proportion and contingency are most frequently encountered and applied, it’s the university.....

Few places are easier to mock for their pretentiousness. (Why are campus politics so vicious? Because, Henry Kissinger said, the stakes are so low.) But at universities people are at least a little likelier, on average, to question their assumptions, to be prepared to defend or discard them, than in the rest of the world. That’s the hope, anyway.

So it’s disappointing, while unsurprising, that these bastions of relativism..have spent so much time marketing themselves as purveyors of sure value.
campus_politics  Colleges_&_Universities  contingency  mathematics  messiness  Paul_Wells  Perimeter_Institute  proportionality  ratios  relationships  tools 
april 2017 by jerryking
Perimeter Institute's formula for a calculated physics reboot - The Globe and Mail
IVAN SEMENIUK
WATERLOO, ONT. — The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2015

“We want to reboot physics – globally,” says Neil Turok, Perimeter’s director and the driving force behind Convergence, a four-day physics summit that kicked off here on Sunday. Turok wants to channel the daring originality of the likes of: (a) Albert Einstein’s radical rethinking of gravity that gave us warped space and black holes; and (b), Emmy Noether’s first theorem, a tour de force of abstract reasoning that demonstrates the relationship between forms of symmetry in mathematics and the physical laws that govern the way the universe operates-- to help spark a another revolution.

The meeting’s premise is that theoretical physics has worked itself into the tall weeds, getting more complex and less connected to experiment than it ought to be. To get back out, Dr. Turok says, the field needs ideas as rich and startling as those that came from Einstein, Noether and their peers....The challenge in working with such individuals, says James Forrest, who runs the institute’s academic programs, is “how do you teach physics to the people who are already good at it?” It’s a dilemma universities seldom worry about – but for Perimeter, which aims to optimize the randomness of human brilliance, the question is crucial.

Another way in which the institute has tried to leverage the global talent pool is to bring in more female researchers. Women are conspicuously underrepresented in physics but through a funding stream called the Emmy Noether Circle the institute has significantly boosted its share of young women theorists.
Albert_Einstein  Perimeter_Institute  physics  Colleges_&_Universities  rebuilding  revitalization  reboot  physicists  women  Kitchener-Waterloo  randomness  talent_pools 
june 2015 by jerryking
It's good to be smart
Nov 30, 2010 |The Globe and Mail. pg. A.24 | editorial.

It may be 20 years, or 50, before there is a direct payoff from the BMO Sir Isaac Newton Chair in Theoretical Physics at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ont. Or from similar chairs to be named after Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Paul Dirac and James Clerk Maxwell. But the chairs are a wise investment that deserve emulating in other institutions in Canada.

It is not easy to be forward-looking in difficult times, but now is actually an excellent time to be investing in long-range projects that expand our intellectual capital. Why now? Because while other countries are hamstrung by economic problems, Canada is in decent enough shape to get a jump on attracting talent and stimulating innovation. In a borderless world economy, the value in becoming a magnet for scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs is immeasurable.

Abstract (Summary) Theoretical physics (the description of natural
phenomena in mathematical form) may seem like knowledge for knowledge's
sake. It is anything but, as Mike Lazaridis, the founder and co-chief
executive officer of the BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion Ltd., tells
it. The "next generation of value" will be intellectual capital, rather
than natural resources, he says.
Blackberry  BMO  borderless  broad-based_scientific_enquiry  editorials  endowments  forward_looking  hard_times  intellectual_capital  knowledge  Mike_Lazaridis  natural_resources  Perimeter_Institute  physics  physicists  RIM 
april 2011 by jerryking
Foreign scholarships and the risky business of innovating - The Globe and Mail
Nov. 16, 2010 / Globe and Mail / Editorial. Neil Turok,
director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo,
Ont., which sets out to attract some of the world’s top scientific
minds, told The Globe and Mail’s editorial board yesterday, “Because the
rest of the world is in relative difficulty financially, now is the
time to attract global talent. Canada has an amazing opportunity.” A
good case, a difficult sell. Innovation means trying something that
can’t be proven in advance, as Roger Martin, dean of the University of
Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, says. The foreign scholarships
are a investment with a strong upside, and a high risk that is mostly
political.
Colleges_&_Universities  innovation  Ontario  scholarships  risks  talent_management  Rotman  editorials  Perimeter_Institute  political_risk  poaching  Kitchener-Waterloo  upside  high-risk  Roger_Martin  foreign_scholarships  war_for_talent 
november 2010 by jerryking
Address by Mike Lazaridis, PI Board Chair, to the Public Policy Forum - Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics
April 2, 2009 | Address by Mike Lazaridis, PI Board Chair, to the Public Policy Forum

First Principles: The Crazy Business of Doing Serious Science (Paperback)
by Howard Burton (Author) . It's an account of how the Perimeter Institute was built from scratch.

This year’s testimonial dinner was held on April 2, 2009, and honoured several Canadian leaders, including Mike Lazaridis, Founder and Board Chair of Perimeter Institute, who conveyed the importance of long-term thinking by those involved with shaping policy relating to science and technology. The following text, building on those remarks as reported by the national media, shares the messages provided to the PPF.
+++++++++++++++

So imagine this story. A granting council has been tasked with driving the economy, really building commerce and commercializing technology and doing important things for the country. And so, of course, what are they thinking? They’re thinking we need more horses, we need better ways to clean up the streets, and we need to figure out ways to build better stagecoaches and carriages. Now this physicist comes into the room and he sits down. And they ask him, "Dr. Einstein, why are you here?" He says, "Oh, I’d like to have an office and a stipend." "For what?" they want to know. So he explains, "Well, I need a desk and blackboard and maybe a shelf for my books and my papers. And I need a small stipend, so I can go to a few scientific conferences around the world and have a few postdoctoral researchers." They ask, "Why?" And he says: "Well, I have these ideas about light and it’s very complicated, but light can …" And the council members start wondering, "What’s that got to do with horses?"

So, that gentleman actually had to go and get a day job. He went to work at a patent office, where he came up with, a few years later, the four most important papers of all time. Ideas that transformed everything we knew and put mankind in a new direction. He came up with one of the basic ideas leading to quantum technology, when he predicted the quantum properties of light, explaining an observation called the photo-electric effect. He came up with special relativity, a new understanding of space and time. He also discovered that mass and energy are the same thing at a fundamental level. By thinking and calculating the way he did, he came up with E=mc2, the most famous equation of all time. These discoveries, over time, led to nuclear energy, semiconductors, computers, lasers, medical imaging, DVDs and much more. The powerful ideas happened from pure thought and research by someone who basically would have had to give up a comfortable salary at the patent office to take a research or teaching position at a university.

Now let’s fast-forward to today. We have all these issues. We’re running out of energy any way you slice it. And the energy sources that we have today are changing our climate and the environment catastrophically and irreparably. At the same time, we have this enormous need for value creation because our financial system basically ran onto a coral reef. We’re taking on debt to try to get ourselves off the reef, and there’s all this need for value creation and innovation. It’s kind of staring us in the face.

We only have to flashback to that gentleman thinking about light to realize that we need to fund our scientists and our researchers and our students. We not only need to fund them imaginatively, we need to have faith that what they are doing is going to be important in 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now, and that we haven’t got a chance of understanding its relevance today.

And so we need to be very careful with policy, not to try to put everything in short-term context – not to try to figure out how something is only relevant today – because, if we do, we will make a mistake. We will go the wrong way. We will be investing in horses, carriages, and cleaning manure in the streets instead of fostering the research that can give rise to an idea or super technology that’s going to change the world.

Right now, there is some pandemonium in physics because we are running up against some paradoxes and some data that don’t make any sense. For example, Moore’s Law, which describes the miniaturization of computer chips, will reach its limit in 10 years. Everything we built our telecommunications industry and information age on is going to hit this limit, if we don’t find a new base. We need a new discovery. It’s going to happen, and we need to put major investments in these esoteric studies like quantum computing, quantum information science, quantum gravity, string theory and other areas, because I can guarantee you that one of the discoveries that will emerge is going to solve one of those scientific paradoxes and make sense of that weird data. And when that happens, 20 or 30 years from now, you won’t recognize things.
Albert_Einstein  Blackberry  books  broad-based_scientific_enquiry  first_principle  fundamental_discoveries  Mike_Lazaridis  miniaturization  Moore's_Law  paradoxes  Perimeter_Institute  physicists  public_policy  quantum_computing  RIM  semiconductors 
april 2009 by jerryking

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