As I see it, everyone's life is interesting. Everyone has a fascinating story to tell. However, some of my students have found my life particularly interesting, and so I thought this would be a good time to chronicle my experiences and things I have done. Enjoy!
When I was much younger, I was a dancer and had superpowers. You can tell I had superpowers because I'm wearing tights! I also had scholarships with Houton Ballet, Harkness Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre School in New York City.
Sometimes you're just in the right place at the right time, and that's what happened to me in 1970 when Pamela Anne Eldred, aka Miss Michigan, stoppd by Southern Methodist University with her mentor in order to visit my mentor shortly before the Miss America pageant. In 1970, of course, I was very young and very good looking, and so immediately after class my teacher, Nikita Talin, thought that I was the perfect person to escort Miss Michigan to lunch. We went to the Hilton Inn in Dallas, me and my mentor and she and her mentor, but at the end of our meal, as I recall, Nikita had no money with him to pay for the lunch. He turned and looked at me, but I, also, had no money. Thus, Miss Michigan had to pay for the meal that we had invited her to. It was shortly after that brief encounter, though, that Pamela Anne Eldred, Miss Michigan, became Miss America of 1970, and if I had had money with me at the time to pay for the meal, then who knows? As I tell my wife, I just might have wound up marrying the second most beautiful woman in the world! (instead of the first!)
Miss America's daughter marries a Harvard professor
Back in the seventies, it was very hard to become a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union for stage actors. In order to get an Equity card, you had to do an Equity show, but if it was an Equity show, then the uniion rules were that Equity members who auditioned had to be hired before any non-Equity people would be considered. However, once again I was in the right place at the right time, and when an extra person was suddenly needed, I got a call. To make a long story short, as a result of that call, I wound up performing in the summer of 1972 in a musical production of "Unsinkable Molly Brown" starring Barbara Eden, and a musical production of "Mame" starring Ginger Rogers. I also wound up going to a surprise 61st birthday party for Ms Rogers. It was quite a thrill to work with both of these people. Anyway, below are a few pictures. By the way, don't tell Actors' Equity that I haven't paid my dues since November of 1972!
Here are some "must see" vintage Ginger Rogers and/or Fred Astaire videos.
Years ago I had an algebra student who was also a professional
wrestler with the WWF (now the WWE). He wasn't one of the big
superstars, but, nonetheless, he was quite good, and he usually
appeared in the warmup matches at the events, but not on TV. He
also worked periodically as a masked wrestler in Mexico. He wasn't
quite so naturally talented in mathematics, but he worked very
hard, came by my office every day for advice, and he wound up
making an "A" in the course. Since that time, back in
the early nineties, I've always carried a wrestler's mask with
me for two reasons. One, to remind me to appreciate people for
the talents they have, not the talents you want them to have,
and two, to remind people that hard work can take you places beyond
what your innate talent might allow. Where talent stops, hard
work can take over and allow you to succeed!
Someone once told me that being mentioned in a book is tantamount to "practical immortality." Along those lines, there are actually several books I'm mentioned in. More specifically, I appear as myself in a series of mystery novels by award winning author and member of the Texas Literary Hall of Fame, Bill Crider. In Crider's books, he takes my initials "C.P." and refers to me as math professor "Seepy Benton." He also mentions my "docbenton" web site from time to time. Additionally, several of Bill's novels can be found at your local library. I can't wait for the movie versions!
"Strangers are moving into Blacklin County, and none of them is any stranger than Seepy Benton, a math teacher whom the county judge suspects is a wild-eyed radical."
I figure that if a person is really famous, then they will
be mentioned in the Wikipedia. Using that criteria, there are
actually two places I've found where I'm mentioned. In the first
one I'm quoted as a "learned authority" in the section
titled "origins,"and in the second one there is just
a brief mention of me under "notes and references."
Both citations are the result of one of my more unusual hobbies
that I took up several years ago - i.e. the scholarly study of
ancient rabbinic literature. Back in Texas, I lived within driving
distance of one of the top Talmudic scholars in the country, and
before you know it, one thing led to another and I had found a
new intellectually rewarding endeavor for my brain. In particular,
I've become something of an expert on the Sefer Yetzirah,
the oldest extant text of Jewish mysticism. If anyone happens
to find any more references to me in the Wikipedia, let me know.
I'll take fame wherever I can get it!
When I got married, the story was so interesting that it was featured in a local newspaper back in Texas. Enjoy the Valentine's Day story!
Yes, it's true, but it wasn't just me. It was me and lots of other people and students at Alvin Community College in Alvin, TX, who set a Guinness World Record for the longest paper chain back in 1998. The endeavor was part of our celebration at turning 50 and being one of the oldest community colleges in Texas. I specifically helped with the calculations of how much paper we needed and other logistics, and I also helped staple some of the links together. When time was up, we had set a new world record at 51.8 miles. It's amazing what ordinary people can accomplish when they work together towards a common goal! Unfortunately, all records were meant to be broken, and in 2005, Paul D. Camp Community College set a new world's record of 54.33 miles. Congratulations, Paul D. Camp!
On my mother's side, my great-grandmother was Jewish and my great-grandfather was part Choctaw. Thus, I've experienced quite a bit of both Native American culture and Jewish culture as a result. When I was little, growing up in San Antonio, TX, I went to school and services at a synagogue near where we lived, but when we moved to a small town near Houston, my parents found other interests, and I didn't have the opportunity to return to Judaism until after I became an adult. What I've always found interesting, though, is the number of people I've met who, like me, possess both Native American and Jewish ancestry. In fact, there is even a book that was written that chronicles the various contacts between Jews and America's indigenous population throughout our country's history. Check it out!
Back in the eighties, I had a roommate who was a full-blood Kiowa medicine man and a Native American artist. I would often assist him in his ceremonies, and as I do with most people, I learned a lot from him. Good times!
In the nineties, I purchased my own floatation/sensory deprivation tank. The most often question I would be asked was if two people could get in there. Yeah, if you stack 'em right!
When you get your doctorate in mathematics, your advisor is considered your mathematical father or mother. This results in lineages that can be traced back for several generations. My particular mathematical family tree contains many very famous mathematicians. However, the bottom line is that most of my mathematical ancestors are dead, and my name is written in a bigger font. That's what matters!
A few years ago, I hooked my brain up to an EEG machine to see what happens when I meditate. In the video below, the usual squiggly lines have been transformed into dual bar graphs showing the activity in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Also, the bars at the top represent the faster brain waves, the bars at the bottom the slower brain waves, and the length of each bar represents the amplitude of the corresponding brain wave. Additionally, the activity has been translated into sound with higher pitches corresponding to faster brain waves, and volume corresponding to amplitude.
I begin with a few breathing exercises before doing my meditation proper. In the video below, you can hear the alpha waves kick in after 20 seconds, and then after a minute and forty seconds, the amplitudes of the brain waves suddenly go off the chart. This is what happens at those moments when I reach enlightenment and disappear into complete oneness with the rest of the universe!
Here's another EEG of my brain, this time while I'm involved in intense thought. At those moments when I get a deep insight into a problem, once again the amplitudes of the brain waves go off the chart. As I like to say, from the standpoint of the brain, the "aha" moment when we figure something out is no different from the "enlightenment" moment experienced in meditation. The brain loves to solve problems!.
Here's another snapshot of my brain. This is what my brain looks like when I am not caught up in anything. No problem solving, no being caught up in the drama of current politcs, no worries about anything. Just observing and being and experiencing a simple joy. At this point, all I'm doing is looking at the world, and brain activity is at a minimum. I sometimes call this state :neutral." It's delicious!
Years ago, I put together a simple explanation of Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity. This is the original version of Einstein's theory that doesn't take gravity into account, and as a result the mathematics involves only basic algebra. Nonetheless, by assuming that the speed of light is always the same for all observers, time and space have to bend a bit to accommodate it, and since the units of speed are distance over time, it really shouldn't surprise us that we have to do some space and time bending as an adjustment! Also, think about how strange reality would be if the speed of light weren't constant for all observers. In that case, you might be sitting in your room and suddenly see a beam of light from a distant galaxy ambling across your room at a fraction of a mile per hour. Now that would be weird!
In the years since I first made this paper available over the Internet, it has been used as reading material in classes at places such as Stanford and Penn State, and it has also been used in a variety of summer programs for talented-and-gifted junior high and high school students. Plus, given that Einstein developed his theory over a hundred years ago, isn't it high time you learned that reality isn't what you think it is? Enjoy!
P.S. If you ever at some point complete the second semester of the calculus sequence for mathematicians and engineers, then check out my one-page derivation of E=mc2!
Sometimes I amaze even myself.
One way we can honor the memory of our ancestors is by "collecting" their lives through genealogy. Recently I was doing research on my own family tree, and I discovered that about 800 years ago the name "Benton" referred to a place called "Baynton." Furthermore, all my English ancestors of that time had the title "Sir" attached to their names. Thus, there was "Sir John of Baynton" and "Sir Richard of Baynton." H'mm, I think I like the sound of "Sir Doc!" In addition to my knightly ancestry, I'm also descended from most of the kings and queens of England and Scottland, about thirty Catholic saints (on the non-Jewish side of my family tree), several Magna Charta barons, the Sheriff of Nottingham, a couple of Mayflower pilgrims, and according to Ancestry.com, the God Odin! (my Odin ancestry is also on the non-Jewish side!)
When I was much younger, I studied art and liked it quite much. However, as you get older, you have to pick and choose what you will spend your time on, and eventually the winner was math! Below are a couple of pastels I did when I was in the sixth grade.
Several years ago, I went to a psychic fair, and they had a camera there that could take pictures of your aura. For some reason, mine came out a little shinier, brighter, and more multicolored than most of the aura pictures that I happen to find online. Well, whatever the reason, it's always good to let your light shine!
Most pople take up golf or collecting as a hobby. 'Round about 2000 I took up the study of ancient rabbinic literature as my hobby. It's a good way to keep the mind active, and, fortunately, one of the country's top Talmudic scholars lived in my extended neighborhood. Since then I've published about six papers on rabbinic literature and texts of ancient Jewish mysticism. One paper, though, is on ancient educational practices, and a slideshow presentation based on the paper can be found here. As you might expect, both students and teachers have their responsibilities in the educational process.
One can never be in too many books. Look in this book on page 307, and you'll find me mentioned. Get a magnifying glass, though. The print is pretty small!
This is a book on the Jewish mystical tradition written primarily for children . The author is Rabbi Judith Abrams, PhD, one of the top scholars of rabbinical literature in the country. I'm mentioned on page 39. It's a kids book, but I'm basically still a child.
I don't do the oils or pastels that I did when I was little, but I still get artistic on the computer from time to time. Below is a picture I did in 2007 for Balanced Living magazine and a picture I did for the above Kabbalah book by Rabbi Abrams.
This is a paper whose subject matter is so subtle and complex that I am probably the only one in the world who really understands it. Except, of course, for Charlie Sheen!
About ten years ago, I took up guitar. As I like to say, I've been playing for ten, but only practiced for five. These days there are a lot of other things that need to get done. Nonetheless, I always believe that it is important to balance left brain, mathematical activities with more artistic, right brain ones. Thus, not long after I took up the guitar, I assembled a group of like minded faculy members, and since we played "string" instruments and since I initially insisted that we play everything in the key of "G," we became known as the ... , well, just click here to read the rest of the story. Below is a video of one of our better performances as well as a solo video of my created with my iPhone. In the ensemble, I'm the one in the back wearing the made-in-China Davy Crockett hat that I had just gotten at the Alamo. Enjoy!
I've mentioned before my teacher, Nikita Talin, who plucked me out of the crowd to take Miss America to lunch, but what I haven't mentioned is that, among other things, I learned to play castanets from Nikita. You might think that is a very frivolous skill to acquire, but I maintain that you should always learn what skills you can because you never know what is going to come in handy later on. Another fact about Nikita that I haven't mentioned is that he immigrated as a small child to this country from Yugoslavia with his mother. I never heard what became of his father. Nevertheless, the Talins wound up in Chicago living in the same block as the notorious gangster, Al Capone, and even though Capone was about as tough and as crooked as they come, he wound up being the father figure in young Nikita's life who encouraged him to become a better person than he, Capone, was. Below is a picture of Al Capone and a picture of Professor Nikita Talin sitting in his office at Southern Methodist University with his own personal furniture from the Regency period of France. Around his neck is a gold medallion encrusted with rubies and emeralds that was given to him by the famous patron of the arts, Rebekah Harkness. Neither Al Capone nor Nikita were perfect people, but one lesson you should learn is how to always take away with you the best from every person you meet and to leave the rest behind. Nikita Talin wasn't perfect, but he had great talent, and the talent I came away with from him still continues to teach me to this very day.
Never underestimate the power of being in just the right place at just the right time. In fact, sometimes the secret to success is simply realizing that you are in the right place at the right time. See what opportunities your current situation offers, and then take advantage of them. Along those lines, in fall of 1969 I found myself in just the right place at the right time, and as a result, I wound up with a small part in an opera production of Don Giovanni that was directed by Jose Ferrer. For those of you who may not remember your cinema history, Jose Ferrer was a great actor of the fifties and sixties who won the Best Actor Academy Award for his part in the movie Cyrano de Bergerac. He is also the father of actor Miguel Ferrer and an uncle of George Clooney. Additionally involved in directing the production were George Skibine, a former principal dancer with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, and his wife and former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, Marjorie Tallchief. An interesting footnote is that Marjorie Tallchief is a Native American (Osage Nation), and George Skibine served as an Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs. Interesting people are all around you! By the way, do I have an operatic voice? No! I was just in the right place at the right time.
And here's a picture of George and Marjorie!
In spring of 1970, American Ballet Theatre was putting on a series of performances in Houston, TX, and they needed a few extras to carry around spears in the big crowd scenes in ballets like Swan Lake. Thus, they called me, Dennis Marshall, Jimmy Amalang, and a fourth guy named Buddy Swayze. Buddy and I were basically high schools students beginning that transition to college, and over the next couple of weeks we talked a lot about our hopes and aspirations in life and the various skills we were currently trying to master. It was good getting to know Buddy over that brief period of time. Several years later in the eighties, I was walking by the magazine rack in a WalMart one day, when the cover of a magazine suddenly caught my eye. My immediate thought was, "What's Buddy Swayze's picture doing on the cover?" It was then and there that I realized that the then new acting/performing sensation, Patrick Swayze, and the Buddy Swayze I had worked with several years ago were one and the same. I was always both proud of all the things Patrick accomplished in his life from dance to music to finding and marrying his soulmate and pleased at how all his talents had matured over time. When we accomplish something in life, everyone around us is elevated a little bit by our achievement, and Patrick Swayze certainly accomplished a lot in his. But then again, you could also say that out of that whole group, I'm the only one that managed to finish a PhD in mathematics. Peace and blessings to you, Buddy, wherever you may be!
When I was a freshman in college at the University of Houston, I was in the college's musical production of the Broadway hit "Cabaret." I had just a variety of small parts, but the lead actor in the show was another student named Brent Spiner who went on to portray Commander Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. It actually took me awhile to realize that Data was the Brent Spiner I had worked with because his real voice is a deep, rich baritone that is perfect for musicals, and that is not the voice that Data typically used in the Star Trek series. There were several other people in that same musical who went on to fame and fortune, but again, I seem to be the only one of them who finished a PhD in mathematics. The rest had to settle for temporary jobs as famous actors!
Another person that I worked with in the musical production of "Cabaret" at the University of Houston in 1970 and who went on to become a well-known actor is Randy Quaid. I remember how back in the day we always said that Randy looked perfect in every role he took on, and he has done quite well in Hollywood. His first picture was "The Last Picture Show," and he got an Oscar nomination for his performance in "The Last Detail." His last words to me were in summer of 1972 when I was running in one direction and he was running in the other. We both passed each other and then both stopped and turned around, and he said, "Hey, man. How ya doing?" More recently, Randy and his wife have been in the news as a result of his belief that a mysterious group called "Star Whackers" is out to assassinate him and other celebrities. This bothers me because once they get Randy, I'm sure they'll come after me!