Friday, February 08, 2008

Math Rant (Part 3)

[This is part 3. If you arrived here first, don't start here because you'll just be confused. Well, even more confused than if you had started with part one; so, start with part 1.]

Really? Part THREE? Just how long is this gonna go on? Does reading this qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions? We know it doesn't count as torture according to our President. It's like he's channeling Torquemada. "Put that (possible) terrorist to 'the question'!" It sounds so sanitary. "The question." It's like you're on a game show and could potentially win lots of great prizes. That's so much nicer than: "Fuck him up so bad that he'll prefer death to continued existence under these conditions." Or maybe he'll just die from the experience itself. Stranger things have happened.

BTW, Torquemada died from syphilis. As for G. W. Bush, well, we can only hope. Although, come to think of it, while insanity is indeed a symptom of tertiary syphilis it's also a symptom of kuru. Imagine a world in which G. W. Bush suffers from kuru. Wow! That thought warms the cockles of my heart.

Maybe that permanent smirk of his is a precursor to the full-on uncontrolled laughter of the kuru sufferer. Coming to you live on your personal mental stage for a prolonged-but-ultimately-ephemeral period, that great new black-humor comedian, Richard Prion. [N.B. This is a purposeful spelling. A play on Pryor, a fabulous comedian, and prions, the cause of kuru.]

You'll die laughing!

But we were talking about numeracy. Mostly.

Both magical thinking models put "math" into a realm of nonreality. From different directions, they arrive at a similar place, kinda like a convergent evolution of thought paradigms. This is antithetical to actuality.

"Math" was turned into an abstraction by people. Math is the realest of realities. It is rightfully called the Queen of the Sciences. Sadly, even at a simplistic level, many of the things which cause math phobia in school were originally created to make it easier to talk about math. By having and using a common lexicon and notation, discussing math *should* be easier than having to self-define or redefine terms constantly. For example, the "Fibonacci sequence" or "Fibonacci numbers" sounds like one of those mystical, difficult-to-understand mathematical abstractions. In reality, it's a description of a very real and very ordinary actuality in "objective" terms.

Ignoring math/science/logic because it's "too difficult" to comprehend pushes it into that realm of metaphysics which equates to magic which forces it into conflict with any belief system featuring an overarching supernatural entity Who sits around watching sparrows fall (at 9.8m/s^2). Me, I dunno where He/She/It gets the time. Must be nice to be omnipresent and omnipotent. Actually, wouldn't omnipotent include the capability of omnipresence? Separating those always seemed silly to me.

Math/science/logic is not magic. It is not religion. It does not require belief, or a leap of faith, or a rejection of the reality around you. Quite the opposite, it requires you to accept the reality around you in preference to an absurd teleology which asks you to choose belief over reality. To me, this meets a casual definition of "insanity."

There was no worldwide flood a few thousand years ago and no dinosaurs rode it out on some superstitious camel-fucker's raft. (Rather than "the ark" it shoulda been called Noah's Zoophilic Smorgasbord.) Native Americans are not the lost tribes of Israel. We are not the chopped up souls of aliens dropped into volcanoes seventy-five million years ago by the evil galactic overlord Xenu from his interstellar DC-8s. (C'mon! Even E. E. "Doc" Smith wrote better material than that crap!) Etc., ad nauseum.

Belief in magic, and by extension religious boojums, is what has held humanity back from achieving full potential since the first timorous troglodyte saw lightning and, because he feared it, decided to worship it. If we don't understand something, we go all mystical. Bah!

We're treading on God's territory. Some things, Man was not meant to know. It's your original sin. It's your karma. God works in mysterious ways. We don't always understand His plan. Well, that's for sure. It's tough to turn "no-plan" (the actual, stochastic universe) into "plan" and to make sense of it and make it seem like a purposeful thing. It's inevitable that you'd wind up saying things like, "We don't always understand His plan." Very mysterious, all right. Very not-understandable simply because there is no "plan."

I feel a bit like a teleological Gertrude Stein ("There is no there there.") only mine is more like, "No-plan is no plan."

If people spent as much time reading about the *interesting* things going on in the world of math/science/reality around them as they do trying to map the writings of a bunch of idiotic snake-oil salesmen and/or self-deluded psychotics to that reality, they would no longer be innumerate or foolish or afraid of the universe around them. The more we understand our reality, the less we'll be tempted to rely on pernicious paracletes.

Almost 2500 years ago, Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth as being about 25000 miles. That's close enough for a first approximation and/or even general calculations done today. Two thousand years later, the religious zealot Columbus *believed* he could sail West to China because the Bible told him that the earth was 6 parts land to 1 part water and the poor math skills of religiously-vetted mathematicians of his time calculated the circumference as much less than Eratosthenes' value.

Columbus was wrong on both counts. The earth is 3 parts water to 1 part land *and* he would never have made it to Asia using the maritime technology of his time, given that Eratosthenes' size of the earth was the correct one. *Luck* had him stumble upon a "new" continent. Serendipity brought him to the Bahamas rather than God taking him to Asia.

Call me a radical. I'm comfortable with that term. If I am a radical, I hope I live up to the standard posed by my old chemistry professor, "The only good radical is a free radical."

I leave you with John Lennon.

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...

Yours in freedom,
aka Cap'n Franko of The Zombie Princess of New Orleans
aka Chef Francois, le loup-garou de la cuisine

[End RANT] (And aren't you relieved? Now I can make progress on the happy thoughts of NCN and post about THAT!)

1 comment:

  1. "As for G. W. Bush, well, we can only hope."


    "If people spent as much time reading about the *interesting* things going on in the world of math/science/reality around them as they do trying to map the writings of a bunch of idiotic snake-oil salesmen and/or self-deluded psychotics to that reality, they would no longer be innumerate or foolish or afraid of the universe around them."


    Now, tag! You're it.