Learning is not luxury, it is a necessity (LEONARD MLODINOW)

Learning is not luxury, it is a necessity (LEONARD MLODINOW)

My father once told me of an emaciated fellow inmate in the Buchenwald concentration camp who had been educated in mathematics. You can tell something about people from what comes to mind when they hear the term “pi.” To the “mathematician” it was the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Had I asked my father, who had but a seventh-grade education, he would have said it was a circle of crust filled with apples. One day, despite that gulf between them, the mathematician inmate gave my father a math puzzle to solve. My father thought about it for a few days but could not master it. When he saw the inmate again, he asked him for the solution. The man wouldn’t say, telling my father he must discover it for himself. Sometime later, my father again spoke to the man, but the man held on to his secret as if it were a hunk of gold. My father tried to ignore his curiosity, but he couldn’t. Amid the stench and death around him, he became obsessed with knowing the answer. Eventually the other inmate offered my father a deal—he would reveal the puzzle’s solution if my father would hand over his crust of bread. I don’t know what my father weighed at the time, but when the American forces liberated him, he weighed eighty-five pounds. Still, my father’s need to know was so powerful that he parted with his bread in exchange for the answer. I was in my late teens when my father recounted that episode, and it made a huge impact on me. My father’s family was gone, his possessions confiscated, his body starved, withered, and beaten. He was imprisoned, but his mind was free to roam, and it did.

 

 

 

The Upright Thinkers

Leonard Mlodinow

 

 



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