Tag Archives: Ed Seidel

The Scenic Route

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

The Scenic Route (lemoyne.edu)

Would you believe it? After ten years teaching at Georgetown University, I got lost, yesterday, on my way to graduation. For some, being lost is not a major issue. Not so for me! Suffering from a mild form of dyslexia, getting lost instills in me a momentary sense of panic, as well as embarrassment, even at my stage in life. It is only recently, and with hindsight, that I have come to view the architecture of my brain in a new, and more positive, light. Now I realize that, while others, with more disciplined brains, may go straight to the quick, I meander along the scenic route, gaining serendipitous insights and experiences along the way. Graduation day was a reminder for me.

Let me say first that it is very easy to get lost on the Georgetown campus, especially if one veers off the beaten path. For, as the photograph below shows, the university buildings are nested on a hill, so that each appears to sit atop the others, as in a honey comb. In between, there are many nooks and crannies, connected by long staircases, which appear seemingly out of nowhere. When joined, they form a very elaborate maze. In such a 3-D environment, negotiating the landscape requires spacial skills as well as a good topographical map. Neither were at my disposal on graduation day.

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Georgetown University (courtesy planetware.com)

Graduation has always been a rather straightforward, well scripted event. Absent rain, it has traditionally taken place right in the middle of the campus, in front of the main hall. This year, however, it took a different form; instead of one ceremony, in which both Masters and Doctors walked across the stage to the accolades of all, there were now two. The first, which celebrated the PhDs, took place as usual on the main campus, while the second set of ceremonies, featuring the Masters candidates, was distributed, according to degree, in different locations throughout the campus.

It was on the way to the ceremony for the Communication, Culture and Technology Program that I lost my way. The event took place in a large tent, situated on one of the terraced areas at the bottom of a long staircase. Locating it was problematic–at least for me. According to our instructions, we were to find the spot by following the faculty procession as it exited the main campus. However, even though the faculty members were clad in an array of brightly colored robes, within moments their two continuous lines dissipated, and blended into the crowd. Not knowing where to go, or how to get there, I meandered around asking directions, but to no avail. At last, I found a sign pointing to the disabled route, which–under the circumstances–seemed quite appropriate for me. Following the sign, I entered a main building where some very helpful people, although unfamiliar with the site, were able to trace out my destination on a map, and set me on the right course.

So it was that I arrived at the second graduation ceremony, and in time. The effort was well worth it. Not only was I delighted to see all of my students pass in front of me across the stage; I also relished the comments of the speaker, Ed Seidel, Assistant Director at the National Science Foundation, who talked about complexity, and the future challenge that it presents for our brains! According to Seidel, in the future scholars will be overwhelmed by so much data that they can only make sense of it with the help of computational tools, and–as importantly–the collaborations of multiple scholars from widely diverse disciplines. As he said, solving the problems of tomorrow will require a community.

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

(courtesy of causesdyslexia.net)

At this point a light went off in my head. In such an environment, people who are somewhat dyslexic may be at a considerable advantage in addressing future issues. For, their brains do not simplify. To the contrary, the pathways that a dyslexic brain follows are highly complex. Moreover, the dyslexic brain actually resembles a collaborative community, such as that described by Seidel. Working up to four times as hard as normal brains, its neurons interact and share information across a myriad of sources, creating in the process a holistic and, therefore, more realistic picture of the world. For those of us who follow circuitous routes such as these, the key is not to get too caught up in the scenery.