By Rachel Cromidas, Class of 2011
Photo by Emily Lo, Class of 2012
Noah Schweber, a rising fourth-year majoring in mathematics, is a fun guy.
It’s just that his idea of a fun week involves attending lectures on computability theory, writing minutes for the Snell House government, or unicycling inside a giant wheel fashioned by his housemates from scavenged wood and metal.
Schweber has been riding a unicycle since 11th grade—it was his vehicle of choice for getting around his Madison, Wisconsin neighborhood. So when his teammates on the Snell-Hitchcock Hall Scav Hunt team needed someone agile enough to operate an 8-foot tall mono-wheel (item number 245 on the 2008 hunt’s list), Schweber was clearly the right man for the job.
Schweber is matter-of-fact about his dedication to Scav Hunt, the biggest school event of the year for his fellow dorm-mates: “I have come very close to dying during Scav. I let them shove me down a ramp in a shopping cart while duct-taped and blindfolded.”
But like his other passions, which range from logic to poetry, Schweber is drawn to Scav by good conversation and good friends.
UChicagoans “are people with whom I can have an intense, awesome conversation on almost any topic. I remember walking into [the Snell-Hitchcock common room] as a first year and getting into an argument about which is better: dactylic hexameter or iambic pentameter,” he said. “I enjoy having conversations that I can’t have anywhere else.”
For now, Schweber focuses his eccentricity on publishing weekly minutes for the Snell House Government—a position he claims he was elected to as a joke. If so, the joke is on Snell: “Rather than record what happens at the meetings, I just write something random and crazy,” he said.
Recent minutes, which are posted to the house’s bathroom stall doors (a tradition many houses follow), have featured a narrated battle between a policeman—“played by Al Pacino,” he notes—and a mime, along with a full-color pencil drawing of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Schweber brings the same quixotic tone to his academic studies, which are focused on a subfield of mathematical logic called computability theory. “That subject is very small, so everybody knows everybody else, and it’s very idiosyncratic. It doesn’t look like any other field—there’s a sense of fun about it.”
Schweber aspires to a career as a logician, addressing the “unsolvable problems” that have drawn him into mathematics. He explained that his fascination with such logic problems comes not from trying to solve them, but from asking what else he can learn from them.
For example, “Can I say, ‘This one is more unsolvable than that other one’? It really is fun. You might see a question and at first say ‘Oh, who cares?’ But if you think about them for a while, they start to get a grip on you. The more I study them, the more I like it.”