Mathematician Discovers He Is Valid, Too

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by Diana Senechal
Freelance Writer

Blume hopes math prodigies like 12-year-old Gordon Girbe will find solace in Franks' affirmations.

New Haven, Connecticut: The acclaimed mathematician Gerald Brume declared tearfully to reporters that he felt validated for the first time after reading Math People Are Real People, a revelatory new book by Josie Franks. “I have received over a hundred awards and honorary degrees,” said Brume. “I am routinely invited to speak all over the world. But no one has ever told me”—here he stopped to wipe his eyes—“that it was OK to be who I was.”

In her book, Franks argues that “math types” have been ostracized and dismissed as brainy, abstract, up in the clouds. Whoever mentions math is likely to get the response, “Oh, that’s all Greek to me,” as though math were somehow foreign and unintelligible. Franks claims this attitude damages society, which needs its math types as well as its film-noir and business types. “Many professions and activities require math,” she writes. “Instead of scorning math types, we should embrace them for who they are.”

Brume, a leader in the field of stochastic processes, takes pride in his validated state. “Everyone else gets to feel valid,” he said. “Why did it never occur to me that I deserved the same?” He cited his wife, Jane, who had recently felt validated as a gardener after attending a tulip bulb pep rally; his colleague Cortland Nail, who discovered his validity through a Christian carpentry talk show; and his student Tunisia Paris, who experienced a new kind of validation every day and made a point of bringing it up in class. “I used to scoff at Tunisia’s never-ending validation,” said Brume, “but all the while, something in me ached. I wanted what she had.”

Watson Brillig, a professor of sociological philosophy, posits that Americans have a particular need for validation, as the American Dream leaves most of them in the lurches. “We are tormented by thoughts about who we should or could have been,” he said in an interview. “This leaves us vulnerable to any quack who tells us we’re OK.” His tenth book, The Bad Business of Reassurance, has made few sales. “Of course it hasn’t made sales,” he bristled. Who wants to consider stuff like this?” He read aloud from his introduction: “The OK Industry is bent on making people feel good for a little while; after the initial euphoria, the feeling fades. One day we will run out of things to feel OK about. What will we live for then?”

An acquisitions editor who requested anonymity concurred with Brillig. “Indeed, we are running out of validations,” she said, “but there are still a few more to be pumped out. The leading publishers are racing for it.” She hinted that a forthcoming book would tell vegetarians and meat-eaters alike that they were OK. “You can tell we’re scraping the pot,” she said, “but I expect a few more winning spoonfuls. Sooner or later, though, we’ll have to get new stoves.”

Brume’s students report that his lecture classes have taken on a warmer, more personal character ever since his validation experience.

“He used to snap at us when we made mistakes in our proofs,” said senior Kaemon Lupo. “Now, he says something like ‘Good, kind, worthy Kaemon, don’t think for an instant that there is something wrong with you. Only the equation is at fault, and then only slightly, at one frail moment.’ I really appreciate that.”

“I liked it better when he got right down to the math,” countered Lupo’s classmate Vicky Oshibka. “But maybe that’s just me and my enjoyment of truth. I have to recognize that those who can’t bear very much reality are valid, too.” She plans to attend the university-wide People Appreciation Conference later this spring. “I’m not looking forward to it,” she said, “but the organizers tell me that my reaction is perfectly valid. There’s no arguing with that, I guess.”