Oberlin Blogs

Sick, Groggy, & Still Thinking About Math

March 14, 2014

Andrea Allen ’17

When I was little, I would, on average, get about one head cold per year. I've never had strep throat. I've never had the stomach flu, mono, tonsillitis, chicken pox, etc. This February and first week of March unfortunately marked my first-ever marathon--of bodily dysfunctions. I know this is going to sound like a sob story, so I promise I'll keep it short. There are about seventeen different versions of the plague going around this time of year, and I got (I think) three strains of it on three different occasions.

Taking into account that each bout of sickness lasted 5-10 days, that's 7.5 days on average times 3 bouts which totals to roughly 23 days of being sick, which is 66% of the days in the past 5 weeks. To top it all off, I bonked my head fairly hard during my first healthy week. I'm better now, and here to offer all my sympathy and empathy to those feeling equally lousy. If you find yourself stuffed up or miserable, especially given midterms coming up next week, just know that one day the breath will once again be flowing through your nostrils. Keep your head up and take in that Vitamin D that's been trying to make its way out today.

Despite being under the weather (in literally all of the ways possible), I still was able to keep up (mostly) with my classes, and I attribute that to the fact that I like all of them this semester. On top of that, they are all connecting in really mind-boggling and nifty ways. They're ways that are more than just things I notice once and nod at. They're things that actually push me to approach both subjects from different angles, and have really made an impact on where I put my focus.

Example (a): Environment & Society + Permaculture (an Exco at George Jones Farm).

This is the obvious one, but it's still cool. It's not so much surprising that the content overlaps, but what's awesome is that both classes have been going at the same pace. Readings for my ENVS class have allowed me to delve more into Permaculture and understand the concepts a lot more in-depth. I'm getting a double scoop of environmental principles and it tastes oh-so-sweet.

Example (b): Environment & Society + Buddhism

A lot of material covered in Environment & Society focuses on the issues we face in a world of finite resources. Matter is neither created nor destroyed, and our world is messing with the renewable nature of the way ecosystems cycle through. In my Buddhism class (RELG 118 with James Dobbins, for reference), a lot of the texts we have read focus on the notion that all matter is finite, and every person or thing is just a temporary manifestation of the stuff that makes up the world.* Sounds a whole lot like atomic theory, huh?

*Note: This is a very crude summarization--if you want a better explanation in more detail, I'd be happy to chat or lend you my copy of the texts.

Example (c): Buddhism and Discrete Math.

As you can see, I love my Buddhism class. If anyone out there is considering taking a class with James Dobbins, I say go for it. The class is a good balance between lecture and discussions of readings, and Professor Dobbins always makes sure the discussion stays on track. I've felt like I've come away with something from every session, and while the papers have been challenging, what fun would they be if they were easy? Especially because this class isn't particular to my intended majors, it is always exciting when it connects to them in some way. The other day, Prof. Dobbins was lecturing about hypotheses and the valid conclusions they lead to, and was writing things on the board that looked suspiciously like my homework for Discrete Math. Discussions of whether things exist, or don't exist, or just exist as a concept is certainly philosophical, but it's mathematical, too!

I can hear you thinking, Ew, math...why is she relating Buddhist existentialism to math? Why won't she stop?

I wish I had a camera ready every time I told someone I'm majoring in math. Truly, there are some great facial expressions I get, akin to the reactions of people discovering what's under their bed, or finding moldy cheese in the refrigerator, or smelling rotten eggs...that's the kind of thing I get. Then, I get exclamations of "But why?" and the funny thing is that nobody actually means "Why," because when I start explaining the "Why" they go, "No, no, stop, I just can't." Honestly, at this point, there isn't much I could even tell you that you wouldn't understand anyway. I'm still taking baby math, but hopefully, soon I'll have some pretty cool things to say. Too bad nobody wants to listen.

Here's something Math-y that has to do with food, so I know that will get at least most people's attention: Today is Pi day, March fourteenth, 3-14. Pi, usually abbreviated to 3.14, is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter. It's very useful.

Turns out, circles can be used for a whole host of things. Here's another connection I stumbled across this semester: Permaculture and Math!

Circular patterns are found all over nature, and as I've been learning in my Permaculture class, circular patterns can be the most effective in systems that mimic nature (Math is in nature, sorry guys. It's important, and it's cool, so you should love it. Or at least appreciate the people that love it. Work with me here).

Spirals are cool--take an herb spiral, for example. Instead of planting all your herbs in rows, which is not actually that practical despite making things easy to reach, planting in a spiral shape allows for more effective and sustainable management of space. It also utilizes gravity and water flow for best drainage. The spiral creates its own small ecosystem, with tons of diverse plants nestled in each microclimate of the spiral structure. It's one of the most sustainable designs for a small garden, and it's aesthetically pleasing, too.

In sum: The year is making its way back around to warmer seasons, the cycle of fevers and colds will hopefully retreat for a while, plants and math and religion are connected, math is cool, circles are cool, and pie is round. So happy Pi day, everyone.

(Next year is going to be particularly exciting because the date will be written numerically as 3-14-15, and, as everybody should know, 1 and 5 are the next two digits that come after 1 and 4 in Pi. So get excited. And look out for extra pie).

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