ESP Biography

CATHERINE OLSSON, MIT computer + cognitive science

Major: Course 6

College/Employer: MIT

Year of Graduation: 2012

Picture of Catherine Olsson

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Hi, I'm Catherine! I love thinking and learning about all aspects of thought, from psychology and cognitive science, to computer science, AI, philosophy of mind, epistemology, self-reference, paradoxes, linguistics, and so on.

Outside of class I compete in orienteering competitions around the country (orienteering is a combination of navigation/map-reading with cross-terrain running, it's really exciting!). I'm also interested in live-action and tabletop roleplaying, singing, and doing community service.

Past Classes

  (Clicking a class title will bring you to the course's section of the corresponding course catalog)

C3249: Regular expressions in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Regular expressions are a way to systematically describe and search for pieces of text that match certain patterns. Known as "wildcards on steroids" by some random guy on the internet, regular expressions can be used to scrape a document for email addresses, to find every instance of your name at the start of a sentence, or to track down the killer and save the day ( We'll start by learning the basics, and once you've mastered that you'll get to challenge each other to a variety of regex duels! No programming experience necessary. If you have a laptop with "grep" installed, feel free to bring it. (Unix and Mac should have grep already. Windows users can install or any other similar program)

X3324: A Bit Of Everything! in Spark! 2010 (Mar. 13, 2010)
Choose up to four whirlwind discussions and question-and-answer sessions about: Facts and myths about our universe: A chat about modern physics, what we know and what we don't know. We'll answer questions about stories you've heard regarding curved space, quantum teleportation, dark energy, strings, and whatever else you want to know. International Development: 1 billion people in the world do not have access to water, 29,000 children under the age of 5 die every day, and half the world lives on less than $2.50 a day. How do we even start to solve these problems? Protein cascades: how hormones and other external signaling factors can cause drastic changes in a cell's behavior through a series of astonishingly specific protein-protein interactions. Paradoxes: The next sentence is false. The previous sentence is true. This topic will amuse only those students who are not amused by it. Geoengineering: Geoengineering is what it sounds like - world engineering. Some scientists are proposing massive changes to our planet to combat global warming, like putting giant mirrors in space to reflect sunlight, or building giant, carbon filtering trees. Group Theory: What if you could "add" things that weren't numbers? We'll explore the theory of mathematical objects that allow for combining two elements with rules that mimic addition, and explore what kinds of objects we can get. Telescopes: From Galileo to the summit of Mauna Kea, learn how these pieces of glass have let us glimpse into the heavens; how astronomy, the oldest science, is born anew.

M2397: Mind, Meaning, and Godel's Incompleteness Theorem in HSSP Summer 2009 (Jul. 12, 2009)
Godel's Incompleteness Theorem shows that no matter how rigorously you construct a formal system of number theory, there will always be true things that the system can't prove, or it will be inconsistent (ie, "broken") We'll take this delightfully rich and self-referential mathematical proof as our jumping-off point. Along the way, we’ll explore ideas of truth and provability, self-reference (such as “this statement is unprovable”, or your own idea of "self"), whether computers can think, and how "meaning" is encoded in math, language, and your mind. Come explore the fringes of truth, self-reference, the limits of knowledge, and the meaning of life. Familiarity with formal logic and/or philosophy of mind is helpful, but certainly not required to take this course. All that you need is a sense of wonder, and desire to learn an awful lot in an awfully short span of time!

M2239: Metacircular Scheming in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
An introduction to Scheme, a ridiculously flexible and powerful programming language.

M2250: Proving Godel's Incompleteness Theorem in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
Godel's First Incompleteness Theorem showed that no matter how rigorous a logic system is, there will always either be true things that the system cannot prove or the system will be inconsistent (ie, "broken"). What does that mean? Why do we care about formal systems anyway? And what's so cool about the proof itself that there's a Spark class about it? If you're curious and motivated, and ready to learn a whole lot in an awfully short span of time, this class is for you! Along the way, we'll explore ideas of truth and provability, self-referential statements (such as "this statement is unprovable"), how math and meaning go hand in hand, and perhaps (if we have time) learn what number theory has to do with whether computers can think. The more you know about formal logic to begin with, the easier this class will be for you, but anyone is welcome to attend.

X2293: Pipe cleaners in Spark! Spring 2009 (Mar. 07, 2009)
They're fuzzy, they're bendy, they're colorful, and they're back with a vengeance! Thousands of pipe cleaners are poised to take over Spark 2009, and Amanda and Catherine are armed and ready with hundreds of ideas of fun things to do with them. We'll teach you how to make all kinds of awesome pipe-cleaner creatures and creations, from dinosaurs to butterflies, from robots to penguins. Then we'll let you loose to tackle some fiendish pipe-cleaner construction challenges. We hope to see you there!

H1874: Orienteering: map and compass navigation for fun in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Imagine racing through the forest, no roads or trails in view, map in hand and constantly checking off features in the terrain around you, plowing onwards determinedly in the direction of your goal - a flag hidden in the forest at a certain location, and your task is to find it. Once you've found it, you set off again to find the next one, and the next... this is the sport of orienteering, a fast-paced navigation race through unknown terrain guided only by a map and compass. For the first hour in the classroom, you will learn the basics of map and compass orienteering, including some standard features and symbology of maps, methods for using a compass to orient yourself, strategies for choosing efficient routes, and most importantly, ways to relocate when you get lost. You don't need to have a good sense of direction or be in great shape. If you're quick-witted and can learn to use the map and compass to your advantage, then you can learn to orienteer! In the second hour, we'll go out on the MIT campus and try out our newfound orienteering skills on a real orienteering course. Bring shoes you can walk/run in comfortably, and a compass if you have one.

H1955: Pipe cleaners in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Pipe cleaners are fuzzy. And colorful. And bendy. And fuzzy. And did we mention they're colorful? Come learn how to make things out of pipe cleaners. We'll walk you through some simple examples of awesome creations (like penguins! fuzzy, bendy, colorful penguins!) and then let you figure out how to make some things on your own. At the end we'll offer prizes for the best creations in certain categories... like, cutest animal, awesomest robot, most structural house, fuzziest, bendiest, or most colorful. Think you can handle it?? Then sign up!