ESP Biography

COLIN MCSWIGGEN, PhD student working in mathematical physics

Major: Math & Physics

College/Employer: MIT

Year of Graduation: 2011

Picture of Colin McSwiggen

Brief Biographical Sketch:

Miraculously, my job right now is to think about probability, geometry and physics. I'm also always happy to talk about film, programming, writing, music, art, and politics.

Past Classes

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

X11975: Introduction to Machine Learning and the Philosophy of Wittgenstein in Splash 2017 (Nov. 18 - 19, 2017)
Machine learning technology is now ubiquitous, and its societal impact is exploding, from self-driving cars to the targeted ad campaigns that may have swung the 2016 election. The work of Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the 20th century's leading philosophers, has a lot to tell us about the nature and limits of these technologies. This course provides a concise introduction to both machine learning and Wittgenstein's thought, and investigates what these two subjects have to say about each other. The two-hour class will consist of three parts. The first part will be a brief introduction to key concepts in machine learning such as supervised and unsupervised learning, classification and regression, clustering, support vector machines, neural nets, and applications. The second part will introduce Wittgenstein's ideas about the philosophy of mind and language, with a special focus on the private language argument and the indeterminacy of meaning. In the final part of the class, we will reinvestigate notions of machine learning from the perspective of Wittgensteinian philosophy by trying to answer questions such as, "What does it really mean to 'learn' a rule?" and "How can we know when we have successfully recognized a pattern?"

M4151: Tensor Calculus Is Easy! in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
When I was in high school, I desperately wanted to learn general relativity, but I had heard that in order to do so I would have to master a terrifying form of math known as tensor calculus. Einstein himself, it was said, could barely figure out tensors. It turns out that tensors are no big deal. In fact, I can teach you the basics of working with them in just two hours. At the end, if we have time, I'll even briefly lay out the mathematics underlying general relativity, so you can see how it all works for yourself.

W4155: Laptop DJing for Novices in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
I'll bring my laptop, MP3 turntables and speakers, and set up a live DJing demo to walk novices through basic party DJ techniques. I'll cover simple manual beat-matching and mixing, and maybe touch on some slightly more advanced techniques as time allows.

H4157: Feminist Theory for Dudes (or Women!) in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
Feminist theory is a fascinating subject even if you're a dude, and your life will be better if you learn about it. Unfortunately, a lot of guys never study it, either because they don't feel comfortable in the spaces where feminism is taught, or because they think it has nothing to do with them. This course aims to fix both of those problems by teaching the basics of feminist thought in an explicitly male-friendly environment. Women are of course equally welcome. I'll talk about: - What feminism is, how it works, and why it matters. - A survey of key ideas in gender theory over the years. - The social construction of gender and how masculinity makes life suck for men. - Race, class, and intersectionality issues. - Whatever you want to know more about! I'd especially encourage you to take this class if you don't know much about feminism or are not totally comfortable with the idea. Be forewarned, however, that the class will not be an open debate (though questions are welcome), and trolling in particular will not be tolerated.

H4160: What in the world are we supposed to do with Art?: Intro to Philosophical Aesthetics in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
What is art, how do we know which art is good, and why do we like it so much? What exactly do we mean when we talk about "beauty," "good taste," or "creativity"? No one really knows any of the answers, but this course will help you to think about the questions. I'll give a brief coverage of theories of art in classical, modern, and postmodern philosophy; I'll introduce concepts for analyzing the complex relationships between artists, their audiences, and the works of art that they produce; and finally I'll open the floor for discussion. I'll try to bring some kind of pretentious cheese for us to nibble while we talk.

H4162: Show-and-Tell Poetry Workshop in Splash! 2010 (Nov. 20 - 21, 2010)
NOTE: In order to participate in this class, you must bring a poem, written by you, to share with the group. This is a course for people who have experience writing poetry and want to get feedback on their work. We will each bring one poem in any style to read, and we'll discuss each poem in turn. As we go, we'll cover some general points of style and technique for both stage poetry and page poetry, as well as tips for getting published. Don't expect the advice of a master - I am not a widely published poet, just a student writing on the side. This is mainly an opportunity for you to air out your work in front of an audience of other writers.

P1936: Dancing with Glowsticks for Novices in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
I am a mediocre glowsticker. In one hour, you can be too! This class really is for novices - if you know nothing about glowsticking, you can expect to leave knowing a couple of moves to impress the ignorant at your next dance party. If you're an expert, don't expect to get much out of it.

C1939: How to Prove P=NP in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
You know about the famous P=NP problem, and you've heard that solving any one NP-complete problem in polynomial time will let you solve all of them. "But why???" you wonder, "That all seems just too darned mysterious." Well. I will tell you how it all works. We'll do a brief overview of Turing machines, decision problems, and complexity classes, and then we'll dive right into reducibility and polynomial-time mapping reductions. At the end, we will sketch a proof of the Cook-Levin theorem, which states that everything in NP is reducible to the problem known as "SAT." If time allows, I'll discuss a method for proving that a problem is NP-complete by reducing backwards from SAT.

L2004: Learn a Little Ladakhi in Splash! 2008 (Nov. 22 - 23, 2008)
Ladakhi is a dialect of Tibetan spoken in the far northern region of India. It is extremely obscure. In fact, so few people speak it that within an hour I can make you one of the United States' leading experts on Ladakhi! This class is an opportunity to to get a glimpse of a language very different from English. Though I will teach some basic vocabulary and conversation patterns, we will primarily be focusing on interesting grammatical and structural differences rather than on actually learning to say things.

Being Rude in Japanese in SPLASH (2007)
So you know a little Japanese. If you've studied the language in any depth, you've probably noticed something annoying: all ...

Glowstick Dancing for Novices in SPLASH (2007)
When you wave glowsticks around in the dark, it looks pretty cool. That's the main idea in this class. I'll ...

Your Mind Sucks in SPLASH (2007)
Your mind is a machine that gathers data and then analyzes it. That is, you perceive the present, remember the ...