Liberal Arts Blog — The Three Giant Bell Curves in the Night Sky

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

Today’s Topic: The Three Giant Bell Curves in the Night Sky

Imagine three giant bell curves in the night sky. One for the most important sentences ever written. The second for the most important images ever imagined. And the third for the most important numbers ever calculated. Are all opinions as to which sentences, images, and numbers lie at the right tip of each curve created equal? If not, whose should prevail in the setting of global curricula at the elementary, middle, and high school levels? Who cares? Who should? Let’s begin this conversation with a little survey. Let’s see how much data we can collect. So what are your candidates for top three sentences, images, and numbers? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE MOST IMPORTANT SENTENCES EVER WRITTEN — the heart, the mind, the gut — but what about the first and second aphorisms of Hippocrates?

1. Gratitude is not only the first of the virtues but the parent of all the others.

2. Courage is the mother of all virtues as without it you will not be true to any other.

3. Prudence is the charioteer of the virtues, the first of the cardinal virtues. Values are life algorithms. As with vital organs, one is not enough. More than three of anything is too many for most people most of the time. Remember this package of three. Later we’ll get to the next four virtues: diligence, excellence, joy, and curiosity.

THE MOST IMPORTANT IMAGES EVER IMAGINED — or are they the Tao symbol, the Venn Diagram, and the Important/Urgent matrix?

1. The Seven Star Hour-Glass-Shaped Orion — because it incarnates, the Rule of One, the Rule of Three, and the Rule of Seven thereby constituting the best metaphor for the process of distillation which is the essence of critical thinking which is the trait that distinguishes us humans from other species. Think of the hour glass as the great alembic in the sky.

2. The Three By Three Matrix — any topic worth consideration has at least three dimensions and each of these is worth consideration from at least three different angles — whether visual, quantitative, or verbal or other. Have you identified the dimensions? the angles?

3. Lady Justice and the Composite Metaphor. Metaphors are bridges to understanding. Complex topics merit composite metaphors. The prime example is Lady Justice with the blindfold (equality before the law), the scales (proportionality of guilt or innocence to the evidence and of punishments to crimes), and the downward-pointing sword (justice delayed is justice denied and the more laws the less justice). For every topic worth teaching, the best metaphors must be identified and be placed at the center of instruction.

THE MOST IMPORTANT NUMBERS AND WHY — One, Three, and Seven — but what about e, pi, and i ?

  1. Seven is the outer limit of human memory.

2. Three is more realistic. (Plus pi and “e” round to three.)

3. Remembering any more than one thing is really, really tough. Let’s start there. With Orion. The central star of the central belt is Alnilam. Alnilam is gratitude. Your turn.

Pareto distribution — Wikipedia,_vita_brevis

Know thyself — Wikipedia

Pi — Wikipedia

e (mathematical constant) — Wikipedia


#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


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.



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