Saw Jeff Weeks in a Public Lecture!
Okay, so reading half of The Shape of Space to prepare was overkill, but it did get me to actually read the book I’ve been recommending to smart high-schoolers for years. Yes, years–even when I was in high school.
I didn’t learn much math, but I did learn a lot that I can’t yet put in words about how to give a good lecture. Here’s one thing: how much the people, who ranged from the public to mathematicians, enjoyed being given a 15 minute break to play torus and Klein-bottle tic-tac-toe, how much they enjoyed being taken through the landscape slowly, slowly, slowly. And the thing is–I didn’t find myself clamoring for a faster treatment or more depth, either. Sure, I didn’t learn much math, but I stopped and thought about some things I did know–the Schwartzschild metric, old arguments for the infinitude of the universe, the CMBR density map from the WMAP satellite–and I had several “aha!” moments, related to things I’d seen in a math lecture before or wondered while reading the Big Orange Astrophysics Book, but wandering from the lecture topic.
The pace of the lecture gave me mental space to revisit some old things I thought I understood and ask myself dumb questions about them, and I learned a lot from that. Meanwhile, he had the kids–literally, kids–in the audience chomping at the bit to play more games and learn more about space. They asked damned good questions–and to a person, the volunteers for Weeks were kid (“I looked! I didn’t see any adults with hands up!” he protested.)
There’s a hell of a lot for me to learn from a lecture that accomplished all that.