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Emmy Noether And Progress Versus Atavism


‘How progress is made: the slow and hard and painful way, because genius is scarce and insecurity aplenty.’ ~ John Douglas

Emmy Noether. A mathematician with steel in her fiber and fuel in her engine, speaking of the conservation of energy in ways that helped the world advance on solid ground.

Despite her brilliance, Noether was persecuted in Nazi Germany because of her Jewish descent. She had to flee to the USA, where she was able to continue her groundbreaking work at Bryn Mawr, a celebrated college in Pennsylvania.

The years before her persecution weren’t rosy either, with her being a woman and all. The Kaiser’s Reich as well as post-Versailles Germany didn’t have space for a female genius in their institutions’ professorships. It was an uphill struggle. The more she excelled, the more her ‘peers’ made sure she had a rough ride ahead.

Hardly surprising, in fact expected. The usual spiel. Since the dawn of history, if not before that, insecure peers have targeted and persecuted their pioneers.

It’s what one calls atavism.

Maybe someday someone will decide to explore the notion of atavism in mathematical terms, showing how it, too, like symmetry, underpins the universe in ways that illuminate a number of issues across a number of scientific, artistic and sociopolitical fields.

Until then this writer will keep telling tales that identify atavism vs progress, sustaining the narrative long enough for someone to pick up the baton.

Thankfully Emmy Noether didn’t go completely unnoticed and unappreciated. Albert Einstein stepped in after her death, somewhat righting the injustice done to her by deeming her the most important mathematician of modern times.

It was an important first step. People may still not know who Noether is, but one of their leading geniuses has formally endorsed her. It’s only a matter of time for her story to rise up the ranks, overcoming the atavism that sunk it, reminding everyone how progress is made: the slow and hard and painful way, because genius is scarce and insecurity aplenty.

What did Noether do that was so important? She revealed how symmetry underpins certain laws of conservation, which explain the universe as is. These laws, under new light, were used to extrapolate and deduce — or induce — information about the universe in ways that underpin our entire way of life.

Simple, poetic, deft, elegant thinking, rooted in solid ground. Progressive, uplifting, luminary and conducive to a fitter and informed world.

The true kind of conservatism.

From the bays of Pearl Coast,

Fish a ton of oysters, strike a shiny pearl.