the borders of language and the universe

So I’ve been listening to this awesome podcast of “Proof” on The Play’s the Thing

It’s a play about, among other things, MATH.

I don’t have a firm grasp on math. It was my worst subject in school. Now that I am older, I think that they way math is expected to be learned in school was part of my problem.

I always wanted to know WHY. I didn’t understand the logic behind the math and felt very uncomfortable relying on assumptions that I knew where hidden to me. It felt like a deception, and I didn’t want to be taken in.

“Why do I have to show my work? And why do I have to keep both sides of the equation equal? Who says?”

What I didn’t understand is that math is a language. Math is an incredibly precisely defined set of symbols (like an alphabet..and often borrowed from alphabets!) to express ideas.

And the gatekeepers of math are super rigorous in enforcing that specific definition. The community of people fluent in the language of math expect precision in communication. It simply doesn’t go if it is not correct.

I remember the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”…They said that the aliens would OF COURSE try to use math to initiate the first communication.

And that would make sense, because of the precise nature of math-speak. We would know for sure what we were communicating.

Math is a wonderful tool.

The thing is, though, that a lot of stuff has excluded from math. Math shrunk the universe…or at least lopped off the parts that are not as precise as math needs them to be.

I’ve talked about this before.

It’s a beautiful, elegant tool to help us understand our universe.

I’ve always thought that the definition of luxury was to have the perfect tool at hand for anything you needed to do. Such as, the perfect chair to accomplish the task of sitting.

The perfect beautiful plate and fork so I could eat.

A good hammer, or screwdriver are wonderful things too.

I have an electric sander that is great…but I’m not so sure that it does exaclty what I want it to do. It may be that I don’t know how to use it right, though.

Tools do take that. You have to know how to use them, or they are not useful. I wish that I undestood more math, but I am impatient with math. It does not address the problems that bother me.

I WANT precise definitions…no, I actually want to explore the imprecise. To grab that barely understood idea or experience and nail it down. But they flip past really fast, and it’s hard to capture.

I am finding out too, that math is not as precise either. They are making guesses a lot too. Euclydian geometry is great! but it can’t tell you how big the earth is.

And the learning shape of the universe (which we don’t know for sure) can change everything.

It’s easy to think, “The shape of the universe? How could that possibly be important to little me?”

But it is. Knowing that answer would be a huge building block in our ability to…do so many things we haven’t even thought of yet.

Math can’t tell me the shape of the universe. It is guessing right now.

which means it is not a precise as I want.

Wasn’t I just talking about this? I was just saying that I was having trouble expressing the nature of experienced transcendence…or enlightenment..?

[both these terms irritate me with their imprecision. I can’t find the correct, elegant word to express what I mean…and then again, even if I did find the word that felt right to me, I would be completely uncertain about whether that same shape and flavor of meaning had been transmitted to the persons I am talkign to]

it’s imprecise, and we don’t know. The shape of the universe or how to express enlightenment, both these things are being reached for and guessed at.

The beauty of math is in the precision…and yet the imprecision hangs on the edges. And FRUSTRATES those of us who love precision.

And I don’t even know any math. I am attracted to learning some. But I think that the learning curve for math is a bit steeper than for my electric sander.