July 24, 2007


Caption: Seamus McGoogle contemplates the square root of -1.

El Cabrero has been brooding this week about the nature of science and knowledge. Must be the weather.

One aspect of human knowledge that I find fascinating is math. I like thinking about math--much more than actually doing it, anyway.

For several years I taught GED classes in Head Start centers in southern WV. Ordinarily, one might think people do a better job of teaching things they're better at (pardon the ending of a phrase with a preposition), but that wasn't the case with me.

I've done a lot of writing over the years, a good bit of it for publication, but I was a total flop at trying to teach it. It always seemed like there were an infinite number of ways to write just about anything.

Math was different. I was horrible at it but at least there were rules.

Sometimes, just to mess with (my own and) the students' minds, I'd ask them why math seemed to work--was it just the way our minds were wired or was it something "out there"? Was it discovered or made up?

As a pragmatist, I'm not sure it matters, but the question is an interesting and old one. For the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras (of eponymous theorem fame), math was the key to the secrets of the universe. He was a pioneer in geometry who claimed to be able to hear the music of the heavenly spheres. He also discovered the mathematical relationship between notes on a musical scale.

Plato was an admirer both of Pythagoras and math. He believed our mathematical ideas were an innate knowledge of the eternal forms. The following words were said to have been written above the doors to his Academy: "Let no one ignorant of geometry enter."

That would be one more club I'd never be able to join.

A DAY LATE AND... This really should have been in yesterday's post, but July 24 was the day when the federal minimum wage went up for the first time in over 10 years. That was a good fight. The next one will be to make sure we don't wait 10 more years before it happens again. Here's a good op-ed on the subject by Holly Sklar.

IS THAT A PYTHON IN YOUR EVERGLADE OR ARE YOU JUST HAPPY... From the NY Times, it looks like released Burmese pythons are having a good time in Florida these days.

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT. The title of this op-ed says it all: If This Is Such a Rich Country, Why Are We Getting Squeezed?. It's a good analysis of growing inequality and what we can do about it.


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