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Power of Mathematics

Da-Un Chung (2013 Graduate; Seoul National University)

My interest in mathematics grew as I began to understand how deeply it was structuring the human society from the fundamental level. Mathematics has never been my strongest subject. Actually I even used to reject the idea that strict sets of logic could capture the essence of the world. But soon I came to realize that the focus should be on what we can express with the logic, not on what we can't. The power of mathematics lies in its capacity to explain complex problems in simpler forms. This compelling idea is dominant in science, even finance, and its importance is becoming stronger each moment as the technology of such fields advances. Many even foresee the humanities to be divided into two groups in the close future; those who understand mathematics underlying technology and those who don't. Although this gap has existed ever since, it will become a problem if it grows to be one of the main sources of power concentration and social inequality. But how does mathematics affect us in reality anyway? Why is it important that we understand it? There are historical events that show us such reasons.

 

In 1905, the world's most famous equation was introduced. Einstein's E=mc2, known as mass-energy equivalence, was to revolutionize the way we depict the universe. What did the equation imply? First, it meant that we could turn energy into matter. This idea promoted the development of particle colliders for probing subatomic particles. Particle colliders are devices that accelerate particles to extreme speeds, close to the speed of light, letting them crash into one another. At the moment of impact, massive energy is discharged and then transformed into new matter; new subatomic particles. Such experiments were crucial in discovering the fundamental building blocks of the universe upon which new theories were able to make sense. Secondly, the equation implied that reversely we could convert matter into energy. This idea gave insight into understanding and manipulating nuclear energy. Using the formula, estimating how much mass needed to create a certain amount of energy became possible. In the process of a nuclear fusion, particles at the beginning of the event weigh slightly more than the combined body at the end of the process. The reduced mass is converted into energy. Nuclear reactors use such principles to produce energy efficiently. Not only did the formula enable the development of nuclear physics, but it gave vast amounts of hints about the universe itself; the big bang theory, dark matter and energy, black holes etc.

 

These are the two general perspectives of the equation E=mc2. It is surprising to find out how one equation could be powerful enough to dramatically change the human society. Now let's look into a more controversial event that occurred recently.

 

On May 6, 2010, an unprecedented stock market crash took place in the United States, known as the Flash Crash. The Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced huge sudden drops within minutes without an explanation for the cause. Why did such an inexplicable event happen in the financial system? Research shows that the cause lies at the heart of the trading system itself; Algorithmic Trading.

 

Algorithmic Trading, the dominant trading system in the financial market of Wall Street, uses automated computer systems in which algorithms pre-programmed with instructions are initiated to execute the trading. The role of algorithms is to scan huge amounts of data for signs of potential profit. With the inception of such system, the market has now come to be operated by computers armed with complex mathematics, leaving no space for the human subjectivity and misjudgment to intervene. This has enabled the scale and speed of trading to be expanded and increased far beyond which would have been possible with only the capacity of the human intellect. At the same time, however, to regulate and control the interactions of algorithms, which endlessly do business according to continuously fluctuating market conditions, has become almost impossible. This is why chaotic events, such as the Flash Crash, can enter the market. Paul Wilmott, a researcher in quantitative finance, put this irony as "a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Sublime because it uses elegant mathematics, but ridiculous because you've got to use the thing."

 

It now seems true that mathematics is deeply affecting our lives from various aspects. However, whether it be science or finance, the issues boil down to one problem. It is not about mathematics itself but how we use it that is important. As seen above, mathematics is the foundation of technology. Technology is shaping the human society more than ever and will intensify its influence. Therefore the control of technology will become the essential source of power in the close future. However, unlike mathematics, technology is not always able to solve complicated problems with sets of simple assumptions. The invention of an atomic bomb did not bring peace but a new kind of anxiety and horror to the world. The abuse of automated decision making systems to loan as many mortgages as possible without managing risk by managers resulted in the Subprime Mortgage Crisis. Reality is about people, who do not work the way mathematics does. More is needed to comprehend the human society.

 

I believe that the assumptions we make about the role of technologies require just as much consideration as the mathematics used in developing technologies. Assumptions that sacrifice the unpredictable reality in preference of unrealistic but rational judgments are often the factors of the false usage of technology. Assumptions that insist that endless technological prosperity will naturally solve the problems of the humanities are often the causes of wasteful investments. Once new technology enters the society, things never become the same. It is our job to be awaken to the technologies changing our lives and make sure they don't get out of control. It is no question that understanding both assumptions and mathematics is a difficult task. But surely a minority of people at the center of technology are doing it and changing the world of the majority. I felt the need to understand how they were trying to control things. This is how I got interested in a subject that used to frustrate me the most. It seems to be worth a shot, though.

 

 

Da-Un Chung
(2013 Graduate; Seoul National University)

dongtan globe

Strong Stride toward Excellence

The pleasant scent of autumn has spread and the campus of Dongtan Global High School is enveloped in cool wisps of the fragrant harvest breezes of fall. Just as the nearby rice fields have grown into sturdy, golden stalks so too has our school matured and taken firm root in the city of Hwaseong.

 

  With the school’s first commencement ceremony last winter, sending the graduates far and wide to make their mark in the world, already another group of seniors are about to take one of the biggest exams of their lives. My fellow students are eager to honor the name of the school, and the new recruits are more competent than ever. The campus has been blooming with special events, academic challenges, and new clubs and activities where students have been showing their persistence, creativity, and expertise. It seems DGHS is ever more fruitful with every year that passes.

 

  In the third publication of the Dongtan Globe, we have taken strides to meet the rising standard of the school. The reporters and editors have tried to deliver the best of their work, striving to meet the high expectations. In consequence, we were able to present more extended and finer edition to you. And I, the third chief editor, will return the honor to the hard-working members of the the Dongtan Globe and contributors who willingly participated in the publication.

 

  Previously, feature stories focused on topics associated with the annual Joint Academic Conference of Global High Schools. This year, however, we’ve taken a different approach and will be discussing the controversy regarding integration of the liberal arts and natural sciences tracks in South Korean high schools.

 

  The topic is fairly recent as the Ministry of Education is starting to implement education of no border between natural sciences and liberal arts. There are many controversies whether the integration is necessary or not. In our feature, we cover various arguments and facts about the issue. Specifically, the feature discusses the issue first in the historical context and then through its progression of current decision to integrate the tracks. Within this discussion, the feature spotlights the concept of consilience of Edward O.Wilson which will help readers to understand the ideology behind the track integration argument.

 

  In addition, we’ve included a wide range of articles covering other domestic and international issues such as Crimean crisis, school life including articles about an invited professor and a reporter, and even reviews of some recent music, book, and movie.

 

As usual, we thank you for your continued support and readership and hope that you enjoy this year’s edition of the Dongtan Globe.

 

By Jong-Seo Park
DG editor-in-chief

 

The Humanities Matter

 Korean high school education has been offering distinct curriculum tracks for the last several decades: liberal arts and natural sciences. As of 2018, however, those two separate tracks are supposed to be integrated into one comprehensive track. Debates are raging surrounding this issue. While advocates argue that the integrated curriculum be implemented in order to produce creative talents fitting the consilience spirit of the 21st century, opponents argue that it is premature to decide that now. Rather, they insist, all we need to do is strengthen basic skills under the current split curriculum.

 

  I believe an integrated curriculum is eventually the right choice to make. This academic approach is already a mainstay of many developed countries such as the United States and most western European countries. The underlying philosophy behind their policy is that both quality of living and competitiveness can be enhanced only when scientists are armed with humanities refinements and entrepreneurs possess good knowledge of natural science.

 

  I support this approach, and believe additionally that humanistic values are closely associated with cultural industries, and developing them in each individual will be beneficial to society. The general idea behind cultural industries is that popular culture produces cultural goods such as printed media, music, television, film, as well as crafts and design. They are knowledge-based and labor-intensive, and not only create employment and wealth, but also drive the norms of a particular society. Thus, in nurturing creativity, analysis and reflection, and fostering innovation, societies will maintain cultural diversity, enhance economic performance, and advance the sciences while also promoting sustainable, peaceful societal standards.

 

  The essential point is that technology alone cannot lead itself to beneficial cultural industries. That is, we cannot produce a movie only with quality cameras, audio, and special effects. The storytelling is indeed crucial to the development of an entertaining and profitable film. In addition, a film that is only entertaining and profitable is also not necessarily a promotion of wholesome societal norms. The story must also celebrate, at least subtly, positive cultural goods to build enthusiasm for positive cultural attitudes such as cooperation and sustainability. Steve Jobs might be a genius, but he is not supposed to create iPhone all by himself. In the modern world, cooperation of the humanities and the sciences is integral to success. And being successful is not just about profitability, but about creating sustainable societies.

 

  Thus, an individual who has built an upright character is one who is not only a master of formulas and rules, but also an engine of creativity and innovation, based on cultural norms which promote peace, cooperation, and sustainability. This is the reason why we study the humanities.

 

By SangYol Cheong
Principal, DGHS