It’s not easy to wrap one’s mind around the concept of infinity. It’s even harder — and riskier — to make it the subject of one’s senior thesis. But Logan Garrity, a double major in English and mathematics, is fearlessly engaged in the process of sorting through this complicated notion for his Independent Study project.
The son of two mathematicians, Garrity initially declared English as his primary area of study, but after taking John Ramsay’s calculus class as a sophomore, he decided to major in both disciplines. “I had kind of gotten away from math in high school,” says Garrity, “but I rediscovered my interest with Professor Ramsay. I really liked the logical reasoning that calculus requires.”
Garrity approached Ramsay about the advisability of carrying two majors, and he enthusiastically endorsed the proposal. Garrity’s parents were a bit surprised but equally. His father, Tom, is a professor of mathematics at Williams College. His mother, Lori (Pedersen), is a part-time instructor of mathematics at Williams and MCLA (a local state college) as well as tutor for high school students. She also is a 1982 College of Wooster graduate and it was her influence, as well as that of other relatives, that affected Garrity’s decision to attend Wooster.
“My mother, cousin, aunt, and uncle all went here, so I thought it would be a good choice,” he says. “I was looking for a small liberal arts college, and when I first visited, I knew it was the right place for me.”
Fast forward to the second semester of his senior year, where Garrity is immersed in the limitless possibilities of infinity, which first caught his attention in a Real Analysis math class, taught by Pam Pierce, who is now serving as his I.S. advisor. “I started with the concept of Zeno’s Paradoxes, which state that in order to get to a destination, you have to go halfway to that point, and to get to that point, you have to get to its halfway point,” he says. “Before long, you realize that you’re not getting anywhere.”
As Pierce explains it, there are an infinite number of tasks required to get to your destination, and an infinite number of tasks would require an infinite amount of time. “To complete any journey, there has to be a first step,” she says. “However, this first step could be divided in half, and hence it wouldn't be first after all, so what happens is that the journey can’t even get started.”
Thus the dilemma of infinity: “You’d think it would be liberating, but it’s actually very restrictive,” says Garrity, who also serves as a tutor in Wooster’s math center. “It’s impossible to make progress. You just get stuck.”
Fortunately, Garrity has a release mechanism. When he can’t solve the problem mathematically, he writes about it. So far, he has worked the concept of infinity into several of his stories, which will fulfill the English component of his I.S., advised by Debra Shostak.
“For me, math and English complement one another,” says Garrity, who confesses that he hasn’t quite figured out how he will weave the two together after graduation. “I.S. is an interesting process. I like the fact that I was able to choose a topic on my own.”
The work continues in earnest because Garrity is well aware that he doesn’t have an infinite amount of time to finish the project. The deadline for all seniors to turn in their I.S. is Monday, March 28.
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