The simplistic beauty of a quaternion fractal...

Friday, May 17, 2013

Final Reflection

      I have to say that the process of writing this paper was one of the most amazing academic experiences I've ever had. It feels great to finally be able to present this finished paper in the context of this blog. On the first day of class, when I learned that we would be discussing the projects in class in the context of "the ghost", I must say, I was a bit disappointed at first. I've never been a big fan of traditional ghost stories nor ever found them to be that scary. When the the professor asked us to write about a ghost story that we knew, the only thing that came to me mind was the 1995 Japanese anime film, "Ghost in the Shell". I remember chuckling to myself as I turned it in, wondering about the relevance that film might have to a class like this. I was pretty skeptical about how much I would get out of this class. That was until we watched a YouTube clip for homework of the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, talk about the ghost in a metaphorical sense. After watching that clip a couple times, something clicked inside my head and I became very excited to explore the limits of this metaphor.
      When it came time to pick a topic for the research paper that was to become the final project for this class, I all of the sudden remembered the word quaternion. The idea of a somewhat forgotten form of math all of the sudden seemed to fit into this idea of the ghost as a metaphor. However, I quickly lost sight of that thought as a began to drown in my research, struggling to narrow down an area of focus as the complexity of the situation hit me. What were quaternions any way? Who still used them? Why were they so forgotten? Did they have any physical significance? I began to question my ability to follow through with the scope of this project and considered turning my focus to research modern shamanism instead.
      When I caught wind of the Nature letters, I finally felt like I could see where I might go with this project. I became intrigued at the historical aspect to the unfolding story infront of me. I was ammused by the debate that was going on in the pages i was reading, and even more intrigued when I discovered instances of the debate still carrying on today.I began to see I broader context of the scientific process at work and understand how I might use this debate to discuss the process of how we know what we think we know.
      My biggest challange was figuring out a way to deal with the mathematical jargon surrounding this topic in a way that wouldn't lose the average reader. I found that just saying the word "quaternion" freaked some people out. Then the situation would get worse when I tried to explain what little I knew about them. I my first draft I used all sorts of technical terms with out giving a thought at trying to define them. When we had a group conference to peer review or drafts, the feed back I recieved confirmed my fears about this "jargon" trap. This debate I was reading about in the Nature letters gave me a way out of this trap.
      All in all, when it really came down to pulling it all together, I was really surprised at how the whole thing just flowed out of me and fit together so nicely. I really feel like a learned a lot about what the scientific process is really like out there in the "real world" and am finding myself anxious to get my PhD. in physics and get out ther and do some research of my own!

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...Here there be Quaternions...

...Here there be Quaternions...
The plaque from the bridge where Sir William Rowan Hamilton first discovered Quaternions.