I have a natural tendency towards political incorrectness. So I bristle a bit at turning victims into heroes, as we have on this day, one year after the cruel bombing of the Boston Marathon. The truth is that people die tragically every day and I just can’t bear the burden of caring more than I do in a general sense about all the victims of injustice who suffer constantly, often needlessly. But there was one victim of the bombing last year that I feel a special connection to.
Lu Lingzi was a 23-year-old mathematics graduate student at Boston University. She was focusing on statistics, which only makes her that much cooler. Apparently, she was halfway through her qualifying exams when she was killed. According to one of her teachers, Associate Professor Daniel Weiner, she was in the top quarter of her class. He said her work had improved a great deal in the last year, most likely because her better grasp of English was allowing her to demonstrate her actual knowledge.
Even more than most areas of math, I think that people don’t understand what statistics is all about. It requires a very unusual way of looking at individual events. It is a way of understanding how a system works without knowing how the system works. Indeed, that is what quantum mechanics is all about. We don’t know—and probably never will—what causes reality to work the way it does. But we understand the statistics and that tells us an enormous amount about reality.
Lu Lingzi was from Shenyang in the northeast of China. Her parents still live there. They flew into Boston to attend a memorial service for her last night. They have started an organization, The Lingzi Foundation. Part of this involves a group of people running in the Boston Marathon to raise money. Sadly (from my perspective), the foundation doesn’t even make mention of her interest in mathematics.
Of course, I don’t want to wedge Lu Lingzi into a box. She does seem to have been as complicated as anyone. But there is shockingly little information about her. I do know that she played the piano—but not much more. And I think that’s part of the problem with these remembrances. The press isn’t much interested in the people other than as symbols of a tragedy. But I consider her a fellow traveler. The world was deeply harmed by the loss of a young person who loved music and math.