# Liberal Arts Blog — The Essence of It All

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day

Today’s Topic: The Essence of It All

If you had to summarize the gist of mathematics, what would you come up with? Imagine your audience is a group of Harvard freshmen none of whom has any interest in taking a math course in college. What would you say to change their minds? Or imagine your audience is group of fifth graders? or eighth graders? How would your message differ? Today, a few notes. Experts — please chime in.

THE NUMBERS THING — precision, civics, measurement

1. “Measure twice, cut once.” This is the first rule of carpentry. Precision matters in everything you do. The real world is a mathematical world.

2. It may be easy to lie with statistics. It’s a heck of a lot easier without them.

3. Civic literacy is impossible without financial literacy. Financial literacy is all about numbers.

NB: Anecdotes drive the rhetoric of politicians. Statistical facts should drive decision making. But do those statistics really mean what they appear to mean? What is the difference between the “reported debt” and the “real debt” of the United States? To answer that question you must know the difference between GAAP and non-GAAP accounting. If you don’t you are a patsy at the poker table of American politics. Are you happy being a patsy? Should this distinction be taught in 5th grade? 8th grade? 10th? 12th?

THE SHAPES THING — triangles, circles, squares

1. Did you know that the Eiffel Tower is one big network of triangles? The technical term for this is a “truss.” Do you know what is so special about a truss? Did you know that if you measure the angles of any triangle and add them up, you always get the same number? Is that cool or what? or is it just weird? Do you know who invented the truss?

2. Did you know that “pi” is a ratio? Did you know that the ratio is a constant, whatever the size of the circle? Is that magic or what? Who figured that out? who cares?

3. If a circle is 360 degrees and the sum of all angles in a square is 360 degrees, why is it impossible to “square a circle”? If the triangle is stronger than a rectangle, why are most houses square or rectangular? And why aren’t there more circular houses? more tent-like or yurt-like homes? Is the simple reason that they are “easier, faster, and more economical to build”?

THE LOGIC THING — the syllogism is triangular

1. Is the basic unit of logic the syllogism? If not, what is?

2. Is the two column proof the model for any argument about anything? If not, what is? Is it in essence a string of syllogisms?

3. Is the essence of critical thinking the stripping away of all extraneous stuff, the smoke and mirrors, to find the core syllogism and subjecting it to an arsenal of probing instruments?

NB: What is the core syllogism driving your life? What are the alternatives? Have you made the right choice?

FOOTNOTES — My favorite syllogism, Pascal, flipping the bird

1.) My major premise: gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others (aphorism generally attributed to Cicero). Minor premise: the breath is the basic unit of life. Conclusion: breathe in with thanks every breath that you take, breathe out with kindness, the world to re-make.

2.) Are you on a gurney? a respirator? an IV? if not, well three huge reasons to be grateful.

3.) Do the math. It hasn’t changed since Pascal. Flip the bird to chance (non-God), no downside. Flip the bird to non-chance (ie. God), downside infinite. As the Romans used to say “sua sponte” (i.e. your choice). And that’s before all the empirical work on the “placebo effect” and the power of keeping a “gratitude journal.”

NB: Life is math. Math is counting. Count your blessings.

Why most buildings are rectangular shape?

ATTACHMENTS BELOW:

#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20

Last four years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive

YOUR TURN

Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.