Letter to Tufts

Sara Smollett
January 2001

Growing up in the Virgin Islands and being intellectually curious, I felt as though I couldn't find enough opportunities in school. To supplement my education, I attended several summer programs, including a six week math program at Hampshire College. I wrote several lengthy math research papers in high school. While doing research for a paper on mathematics and music, I came across Douglas Hofstadter's book Godel, Escher, Bach, one of my first introductions to philosophy. Reading this book, I came across many fascinating ideas that had never occurred to me. My favorite class in high school was a humanities/philosophy course, which I found more intriguing and challenging than other classes because it encouraged me to think. In tenth grade when I received information in the mail about Simon's Rock College, I wrote for an application for a full tuition scholarship. When I saw that one of their application essays required a response to Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", which was at the time one of my favorite passages of literature, I knew I had to apply.

Leaving high school early and going to Simon's Rock was a wonderful choice for me. There I spent four years (or rather three, as one semester was spent attending Amherst College and another interning at Stanford University) taking a wide variety of courses. My focuses were literature, creative writing, mathematics, and computer science. Although I only took a few philosophy courses, the required general education courses, one course in logic, and one introductory philosophy course at Amherst, they were among my favorite classes.

The thesis I wrote my senior year was heavily influenced by both Hofstadter and Lewis Carroll. Combining mathematics with creative writing, another one of my interests, I wrote a mathematically instructive story of an adventure in mathland. It was my intention that my fictional journey help make mathematics more interesting and accessible to non-mathematical readers, something which I think is a necessary academic reform. I have included several sections of my thesis with my application.

For the past few years I have gained work experience at Stanford and at Simon's Rock dealing with computers and computer networks. In addition to being one of the people to plan and physically install the campus-wide ethernet for the college, I am now the systems and network administrator, in charge of running the computer network and network services. My job also includes some user support and a lot of long-range planning, including helping to enrich the academic program by further integrating computing and the web in the classrooms. This semester I am also teaching an undergraduate course on the Linux operating system.

So why philosophy? My undergraduate major was not in philosophy, but rather in mathematics and computer science. I looked into many different graduate programs at several schools, and the philosophy courses seemed the most exciting. I have a very strong mathematics background and have taken numerous courses in computing and literature, but few in the social sciences. Philosophy remains for me a relatively unexplored interest and one that I look forward to studying.

And yet I think that philosophy is not so far away from mathematics at all. Math is about thinking and constructing rigorous arguments or proofs. Logic is at the core of both mathematics and computer science. It is arguably the intersection of these two fields which I have studied. I wish to take a variety of philosophy courses, but it is primarily from this mathematical angle that I would like to approach philosophy. I am most interested in logic, formal systems, artificial intelligence, and the philosophy of science. I hope that I will be able to pursue these interests at Tufts University.