What does linear algebra teach me about Slow Green?
Slow by Slow Green is a collection of our thoughts behind the trees.
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After more than 60 years, Gilbert Strang gave his last lecture of linear algebra in early May 2023 at MIT
In 2020, I felt pretty lost after leaving my previous career, and I was seriously considering taking up a PhD in math for the next step of my life, and I would hole up in my room reading and trying to brush up on my numerical acumens after so many years out of university, and as a part of it, I would watch Gilbert Strang's Linear Algebra course videos for hours on end.
I first took linear algebra back in college. Honestly speaking, for a long time, I thought linear algebra was pointless. I'd pick up any textbook on the subject, it would be pages after pages of rectangular boxes of number arranged, and rearranged into another rectangular boxes of number, and the game of rearrangement goes on forever. I thought all that stuff was pretty arbitrary and was not sure what the purpose of anything is. Frankly, Gilbert Strang's textbook & videos did not help me an inch to feel better about it. Pound for pound, YouTube channel 3Blue1Brown's video taught me much more about linear algebra than Gilbert Strang's lectures. At least from my own point of view, Strang's way of teaching linear algebra is not much different than the majority of the other books I have read, that did not inspire me about linear algebra itself.
But the thing is, more than all other instructors combined, Strang inspired me as a person, if not the subject itself. The inspiration comes from the connection with a person who stuck to it thick and thin for 60 years, and who maintained his love and clarity for a single subject of career for his life.
I cannot convince myself the longevity of value of any handicraft product, especially the craftsman repeats his design again & again just making the same piece for many years of his life. This is true of many traditional Japanese handicraftsman who stick to their crafts. While technology zips past us in such speed bringing us the benefits of comfort, convenience and entertainment, the age-old handicraft pale in comparison. The same goes for Slow Green. So I wonder if my work would hold the same value to people years down the road. What relevance would I have in this world in the future?
In the world of linear algebra, this same question may exist as well - at the end of the day, many people can teach the subject and the subject itself is ages old. Why would a renowned professor such as Strang would spend a good part of his past 60 years to take the time to teach students? Well, apart from the necessity of fulfilling the university's administrative requirement. To me, there is not much value in learning the subject itself from Strang.
But the learning from a person's tenacity is invaluable.