Why Waste Their Time

“It is a serious thing to interfere with another man’s life” – Gilbert Highet

“Building large-scale quantum computers will undoubtedly cause large and unpredictable changes in how we think about science.” – Aram W. Harrow http://arxiv.org/pdf/1501.00011v1.pdf

If Aram W. Harrow is right, my students will be living their later years under a new scientific paradigm, a quantum model for thinking that will spread to all aspects of society.  The quantum model will eclipse the present day computational/algorithmic paradigm, the one I grew up with.  So, given that the future will be so strange, why should my students listen to me or for that matter why should I have listened to my elders.

I could argue for the eternal verities, that is, it is always virtuous to tell the truth, treat people with respect, etc.  I believe this but my argument today is an argument from practicality and consequence.  My generation – really the generation that trained me – had certain expectations for demeanor, presence, and integrity. The organizing intellectual models were state spaces and computational sequence and the  time horizons were in the tens of years.  These people were doing the hiring and the promoting.  They were passing the laws and enforcing them.  They were designing my cars and building my houses.  I needed to understand their thinking and know who to talk to them.

So I am not wasting my students’ time.  The demands of their future lives will be different than the demands life made on me. Until they are the bosses and intellectual leaders, they will need to be able to work with my generation and meet the standards that we have found useful and which I maintain.  They also need to progress through a computational/algorithmic stage to be able to fully comprehend their quantum future.

As teachers, we need to be able to say to Gilbert Highet – “I know.  What I teach matters.  I take it serious.”


About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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