Friday, 27 June 2014

Mathematics Literacy in Kashmir

Have we ever wondered that God chose to imprint knowledge of basic mathematical truths in our heart and we know them without even learning?
There are so few a people in Kashmir whom one could discuss philosophy with, and fewer with whom one could learn on philosophy of science, especially philosophy of mathematics. There are intellectuals who are informed on many things but hardly any who have such an insight into the spirit of the times that requires taking deep cognizance of  assumptions informing the World of Science. There are a lot of political analysts and columnists in Kashmir but only very rarely can we spot one who is gifted with objectivity of a scientist – not just a social scientist – in his brilliant analyses. Kashmir has many good doctors, engineers, other professionals but very few good mathematicians and even fewer mathematicians who can explain to a lay audience art and science of it and introduce its wonder and beauty in such a scintillating fashion.  We don’t have many examples  in our locality whom we can present to elite intellectual international audience to present our case in eloquent terms, to engage in a fruitful dialogue  with say a community of Nobel laureates who may visit us for promoting knowledge economy. We have very few clear and focused minds who can help us maneuver the challenge of knowledge economy today and unleash our he potential for research. Today we discuss  this personality who qualifies as the one on all accounts mentioned above and with whom we should be privileged to learn regarding the world of mathematics and how integral it  is to understanding our own place in the world and larger question of culture. I mean Prof. Muhammad Amin Sofi. I begin with a note on his key passion, Mathematics
Have we ever wondered that God chose to imprint knowledge of basic mathematical truths in our heart and we know them without even learning? One proof of intellects’ priority and universality and divinity is its mathematical intuitions.
How mathematics qualifies as a sacred science and why its knowledge may well be required for proper pursuit of philosophy or wisdom is understood by taking a look at it in the Greek world? Simeone Weil and others have argued it.
If contemplation is our greatest work or joy and God’s only work today as Aristotle argued and mathematics is best understood in terms of this contemplative activity we can appreciate how this science is the gift of God. Some of the most difficult theological and metaphysical conceptions are best approached in mathematical analogies shows a deeper connection between science and other divine sciences.
Isn’t the text or code of our universe written in the language of mathematics? Is not God a kind of mathematician? Doesn’t God ever geometrize as Plato put it? Isn’t mathematics exemplary instance of universal eternal truths to which physics has to conform and biological systems necessarily appropriate? Mathematics as an art form, as a symbolic science, as an expression of harmony of soul and universe is part of the Book of Self that all must read in certain sense. We must be Mathematics Literates or we miss another aspect of beauty of life.
Given all this and many more points that Prof. Sofi has been often highlighting in his columns in this newspaper, I wonder how come we, as a community choose to ignore Mathematics and Mathematicians  and thus the strange and terrible beauty of the adventure of Ideas. What discipline mathematics brings into personality and approach may be illustrated by looking at Prof Muhammad Amin Sofi’s life and career. How nicely crafted are his columns and unimpeachable is the logical thread that connects his arguments. Not only analysis but also vision and power of synthesis we find in him. As evidence one can cite his  pieces on crisis of intellectual culture, question of excellence and on visionary vice chancellor.
Credentials of a researcher can be got from looking at what he or she chooses to be his or her key area of work. So few choose pharmacology, for instance in medicine and so few choose mathematics in humanities. So few are equally gripped by the love of physics and mathematics. Prof. Sofi chose both physics and mathematics during a brief period in his Masters programme but then the charms of Mathematics made him a  lifelong devotee of it. We have so few aashiqan-i- riyazi in Kashmir. No wonder we don’t have good culture for science. We, as a community lack scientific methodology and respect for objectivity. Our alienation from Mathematics is one of the culprits for this.
Mathematics is central to history of human knowledge and in fact the best proof that we have implanted intuition of mathematical truths is the proof that  we are born to engage with mathematics in certain way. It is perhaps the spirit of no nonsense approach to academics that we have not heard Prof. Sofi parrot ghost speeches in seminars he was required to preside in different administrative capacities. I have generally found inaugurals boring but when the likes of Prof. Sofi speak, we are presented with intellectual feast. His recent address on Iqbal day shows how he chooses to think differently and argue his case very well. There must be clarity of vision and consistent methodological commitment that should dictate one’s  every action. I found Prof. Sofi generally illustrating this.
Having had the good fortune to work the best authorities internationally available on his chosen research area thanks to premier institutions in India and Germany, working for some time in what was more prestigious those days – AMU  – and becoming the youngest professor at 36 in the whole region, Prof. Sofi has lived upto to his reputation as a tough guy who maintained certain high standards. How painful it is to note that we are losing Prof. Amin on 31st May as he retires. I hope he chooses to serve Kashmir and go for brief visits only to outside. Today he feels he couldn’t be so productive as he could have been in Germany or elsewhere where he had the opportunity to be but I still think that serving one’s own community may be better choice nevertheless.
He inherited Qazi Ghulam Muhammad’s passion for mathematics and discipline of mind and soul. He devoted himself to mathematics and could not afford the wine and ecstasy of poetry that his illustrious predecessor could.   I have enjoyed rigourous discussion on a range of issues from contemporary politics, malaise of the Muslim world, mediocrity in academic institutions, possibility of excellence for Kashmiri students, clash of fundamentalism, occultists and other mystifying ideologies.
Today it is international exposure that is required to sharpen one’s vision and refine one’ approach in a fast changing world. Prof. Sofi had this in ample measure.
Retirement of some professors really hurts; I will miss him in the intellectual culture of KU.

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