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Suraj Som Aspiring Educators Scholarship

1 winner$1,000
Application Deadline
Mar 30, 2022
Winners Announced
Apr 30, 2022
Education Level
Undergraduate, Graduate
Recent scholarship winners
Eligibility Requirements
Educational Level:
Current undergraduate or graduate school student.

Suraj Som was a brilliant, compassionate, generous soul, who believed in the importance of education and delving deeply into the unknown, with curiosity, not caution.

An ambitious and intelligent physics & math major at Harvard, Suraj developed an acute interest in the intersection of spirituality, science, and math.

He saw that these disciplines were not as separate as they're often positioned, and he spent his final years pondering the connection between them in the pursuit of living a life fulfilled.

The Suraj Som Aspiring Educators scholarship will award $1,000 to one undergraduate or graduate student who is interested in the intersection of spirituality, science, and math. Any student studying at any traditional or non-traditional institution is welcome to apply.

To apply, you must be a physics, math, philosophy, or related major and share an essay telling us your thoughts on the intersectionality of spirituality, science, and math.

Selection Criteria:
Published January 23, 2022
Essay Topic

What is your philosophy about the relationship between spirituality, science, and math?

400–600 words

Winning Application

Nicole Straley
University of California-RiversideOakland, CA
You cannot enter any world for which you do not possess the language. The language of the universe and human existence is spoken in science, mathematics and spirituality. They represent two aspects of form and one aspect of the formless respectively- the inextricably linked poles of a magnet that are extrinsically different, but intrinsically the same because the existence of one implies the existence of the other. In an effort to understand this intersectionality, for the last two years I have been embarking on an exploration of science from both the third person perspective and the first person singular perspective. Science from the third person perspective allows me to explore the phenomenological world that surrounds me, which is only the world as it appears to be. How the world appears to me and to other living organisms is based broadly (for the sake of this essay's brevity) on how neural networks carry the various inputs and waves to their eventual terminus for a brain's interpretation. There is no doubt that while this vantage point is the standard bearer of modern science and possesses a methodology rooted in objectivity, it is undeniable that it cannot get close enough to reveal the noumena of reality- things as they intrinsically are and not as they appear to be. Third person science always acts at a distance, with a medium or device between the observer and the observed. Moreover, it does not acknowledge the power of the environmental context. When you extract blood from an organism to study it, you remove it from its environment. It is highly likely that the behavior will be fundamentally different than when it was in its original context. The perspective also discounts the presence of the observer altogether, as if they were something alien, separate from the environment and whose perception is not dependent on the existence of objects themselves to begin with. This is where science of the first person is perfectly matched and belies the realms of spirituality. It is only the science from the first person perspective that can access the subject from zero degrees. That is the position, the ground upon which all appearances arise from. As individuals, we can explore the nature of consciousness- the reality THAT we perceive and not WHAT we perceive. Similar themes of examining the center of awareness are widely infused in eastern spiritual practices and images similar to the mandala illustrate this nest of concentric circles about a center. The center representing the first person and the circles representing the system of its regional appearances as third person. Indian sages referred to this empty center as the void and it was shared with Islamic scholars who founded the mathematical concept of zero from it. Modern studies of monks and other contemplative practitioners conducted while they attend to this center have yielded evidence of slowed pulse rates, shallow breathing, sustained concentration, increased sensory acuteness and modified electrical impulses among other extraordinary effects. These studies highlight that clearly seeing what one is centrally makes a great difference to what one is peripherally. This speaks directly to the deep relationship between these three dialects of experience and existence. I have been so moved by these influences that I am changing my life trajectory to explore these elements of life as a career path. I have been accepted into UC Berkeley's Graduate School Division and beginning a lifelong endeavor to teach science. It is my hope to bring more awareness of these kinds of relationships to the students I encounter and help them have a deeper conversation with life and the world.
Aaron Casserly
University of OregonEugene, OR
All three of these are our attempts to find truth and to develop an understanding of a higher power. Mathematics is the most fundamental of the three. It is a universal language that reasons up from fundamental axioms in order to provide methods for finding the question matching the answer that is the universe. Notions of spirituality often come from our acknowledgment that the machinations of the universe are sublime and have a natural order and pattern to them which points to the existence of a creator. Civilizations risen and fallen have developed rituals and practices which attempt to explain and worship what is really going on in the universe. However, these only asymptotically approach the truth. In my study of the progress of Physics, I have realized that these are not actually laws of the universe, but Mathematical constructs designed to rigorously predict and parameterize the operations of the universe. After some time has passed, some aspect of a theory is proven wrong. Consider Newtonian gravity: the insight was that the reason for objects to fall to the ground is the same reason the Moon orbits the Earth. This was a leap of reasoning at the time, and it was shown to be correct. Then Maxwell comes along, and later Einstein, and they realize that this concept of gravity does not quite hold up for very large, hot, or fast-moving objects. This insight leads to the concept of warped space-time - General Relativity. Einstein was very satisfied with this theory and confident in his deterministic model of the universe - but that was before he helped develop quantum mechanics, which was so absurd that he described the phenomenon of entanglement as a "spooky action at a distance". He went to his grave irreconciled with this theory and its implication that the universe is fundamentally non-deterministic. The second law of Thermodynamics states that entropy always increases in any isolated system, and this can be extended to - the universe always increases in entropy. If this is correct, the universe reaches a point where there is no thermodynamic free energy to support processes that increase entropy such as human life. So it's lights out. However, a recent Quantum AI publication has shown that a once theoretical state of matter, the time crystal, is experimentally observable. This was realized via a quantum processor. The time crystal cycles between two high-energy states without losing energy to the external environment. It is an isolated system that does not increase in entropy. This has massive implications, the main being that the universe may be able to persist, and humans within it as well. So, mathematics is the fundamental truth, science is our application of mathematical reasoning to rigorously understand the universe, and spirituality is the resulting feeling upon realizing that the machinations of evolution are optimizing for the existence of the whole, and the planetary system hums on without trouble.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Mar 30, 2022. Winners will be announced on Apr 30, 2022.

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