Group, In the Media, Milestones, Murderous Maths, Notes on everyday life, Set the beautiful mind free

The Netherlands Chase Away Extreme Talent

This summer, aged 9, Simon @simontigerh was named a World Science Scholar and joined a two-year program for the world’s most exceptional young math talents, as the youngest among the 75 students selected in 2018 and 2019. See the official press release for more info:

Simon’s passion for science and his unique way to see the world have blossomed again once we have pulled him out of school, where he was becoming increasingly unhappy and was considered a problem student. The only way to set his mind free and allow him to follow the path that suits him best, the path of self-directed learning, was to leave Simon’s native Amsterdam and The Netherlands, where school attendance is compulsory.

I am sharing this at the time when educational freedom and parental rights in The Netherlands are in serious danger to become limited even further. It is bittersweet to celebrate Simon’s beautiful journey and at the same time see how The Netherlands are chasing away extreme talent as we are aware of more stories similar to that of Simon’s.

Coding, In the Media, Machine Learning, Milestones, Murderous Maths, neural networks, Notes on everyday life, Set the beautiful mind free, Simon's Own Code

Interview with Simon on has published a cool interview with Simon! It was interesting how Simon struggling to answer some of the more general questions gave me another glimpse into his beautiful mind that doesn’t tolerate crude dimensionality reductions. The first question, “If you could sum yourself up in one sentence, how would you do it?” really upset him, because he said he just couldn’t figure out a way to sum himself up in one sentence. This is precisely the same reason why Simon has had trouble performing trivial oral English exam tasks, like picking some items from the list and saying why he liked or disliked them. The way he sees the world, some things are simply unfathomable, or in any case, extremely complex, too complex to imagine one can sum them up in one sentence or come up with the chain of causes and consequences of liking something on the spot. He often tells me he sees the patterns, the details. Seeing objects or events in such complexity may mean it feels inappropriate, irresponsible, plain wrong to Simon to reduce those objects and events to a short string of characters.

This made me reflect upon how Simon keeps shaking me awake. I used to find nothing wrong with playing the reductionist game and frankly, had I been asked to sum myself up in one sentence, I would have readily come up with something like “a Russian journalist and a home educator”. It’s thanks to Simon that I am waking up to see how inaccurate that is. I begin to see how many games that we play in our society are forcing us to zoom out too far, to generalize too much. How often don’t we just plug something in, pretending we can answer impossible questions about the hugely complicated world around us and inside us! Well, Simon often honestly tells me that he just doesn’t have the answer.

For that first question in the interview, I suggested Simon answer something like “it’s more difficult to sum myself up in one sentence than to prove that e is irrational”, to which he replied: “But Mom, to prove that e is irrational is easy! It’s hard to prove that Pi is irrational!”

I must add that at the same time, Simon has really enjoyed the fact that has written a developer spotlight about him as well as the social interaction on Twitter that the piece has initiated. It gave him a tangible sensation of belonging to the programming community, of being accepted and appreciated, and inspired him to work on his new projects in