Monday, June 27, 2011

What I’m Reading

By Dr. Lewis Sage

Question - How are the following connected: Paul Erdös, C. elegans, Königsberg, Kevin Bacon, and the IRS?

Answer – They are networked together by the notion of networks. The furiously prolific Erdös invented and investigated the properties of random networks in the 1950s; the neural network of the paradigmatic nematode, C. elegans rated a page-one lead in Science Times (NYT 6/20/11); the ur-Mathematician, Leonard Euler proved that the network of bridges in Königsberg could not all be traversed without repetition; Kevin Bacon is the eponymous reference point in measuring degrees of separation in the network of movie actors; the fragility of the IRS hub-and-spoke IT structure of the 1980s appears in a footnote on page 413 of the late David Foster Wallace’s last book, The Pale King (2011).

Plainly, this a trivially connected group, but I’ve been bouncing around among Wallace, Sanjeev Goyal, Nassim Taleb and Francis Fukuyama over the past few months and I hope I’ll be able to explain what I think are some non-trivial links to a coherent picture of America today.

Dr. Lewis C. Sage likes intersections. Since 1991, he has taught Law and Economics, Mathematical Economics, and the Economics of Healthcare. A former Fulbright Fellow (Bulgaria 1995-6), he teaches an interdisciplinary Honors seminar, Enduring Questions, and is studying strategy in the NFL draft with faculty and students in Sports Management and Psychology. E-mail:

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This blog lives under the auspices of the Department of Economics whose mission has been to hold high the lantern beaming an "economic way of thinking" onto the world. Selfishness, rationality and equilibrium have been central to the teaching of an economic way of thinking rooted in the Renaissance. And, in this regard, the department has faithfully stayed the course. The intent of this blog, thinking out loud..., however, is to entertain exchanges which may challenge the centrality of economics as we teach it.