Math and the universe
A fish and a bicycle
Math being the language of the universe, makes me scared. We humans proclaiming it so, makes me sad. I believe math is not the language of the universe, instead, math is the attempt of our limited language to describe the unlimited universe.
In fact, I think there is no language of the universe for us to grasp, because the universe doesn’t talk to us. I mean it literally. The universe talks to itself. We’re merely eavesdropping at the thoughts and ideas of the universe tells itself. Sometimes we get alarmed when it is planning to kill us, other times we get excited when we understand one of its schemes, or we get sad when we can’t make sense of anything at all.
Language, on the other hand, is all about communication. If we acknowledge that math, or anything else, is the language of the universe, it then follows there is a receiver who gets the other end of the communication.
If we think of ourselves as that receiver of the universe’s communication, a receiver who must educate itself to understand the language, we’re all back in the center of everything, the sun is again rotating around the Earth, and we’ve barely left that place. Why would the universe talk to us, … us, a meandering event in some random corner of a not impressive galaxy?
If we think there is some other being, not us, or thing, not we, that the universe talks to, we’re doing nothing but renaming God, all over again. Why go back there, in an attempt to encourage people to learn math?
Math is a concerted effort of integrating abstraction. That is why it is hard.
The difficult approach of math is not because humans are not “logical” creatures, or “rational” enough. It actually helps a lot to emotionally grasp math concepts. The reason math is so apparently complicated is rather more social than intellectual.
Societies naturally turn abstraction into metaphor. What is a normal feature of the human self system (brain, mind, sensors, memory, personality, consciousness), abstraction, doesn’t hold on its own when it is released inside groups. Inside groups, all abstraction is better preserved as: superstition, myth, mentality and symbol, simply because abstraction is represented differently inside every human self, and our ancestral social instinct wants to preserve knowledge to replace experience, not identity.
We do this on our own for thousands upon thousands of years. And then there came math. Math is us turning against our own social instinct by employing a huge graph of assumptions as a tool to keep abstraction from being transformed into superstition, myth, mentality or symbol. The thing is, there are many people who are very good at keeping that graph of assumptions active, charged, for long enough times, so that they can navigate easily through layers of abstractions enveloping previous abstractions, which is why it sucks so badly for the rest of us. Most of us can barely follow long sentences without punctuation, despite being very intelligent.
Everyone on the planet should be good at math though, because it will speed things up. You see, when we discuss anything, we keep decoding and encoding between abstraction and superstition, myth, mentality or symbol. This slows us down. Math keeps abstractions decoded, so that makes working with them faster, provided you get the graph of assumptions as a key first. Right now this critical key to the world of math (the graph of assumptions) is an elitist, jargon filled dialect that the naturally gifted fill the wells of knowledge with.
And naming math, a field of knowledge that still has mysterious decoding keys, as the language of the universe is an intimidating move that will not empower future generations to approach it. The thing is, naming math as the language of the universe is akin to invoking a deity as the supreme thing to bow to, and it is very funny that atheists use this idea so freely without realizing that it doesn’t mean what they think. Sure, I am not smarter than many of the people plunging into this posturing dance of math as maker of peace, but I have a feeling I might be on to something.
We need to stop the work at the Babel Tower math has become. It has reached so high that it takes years to climb up there and see if anything is useful. When I read about that basic math issue of five plus five being different from five times two, I thought about people lost inside this Babel tower: folks, the world is outside and there are no solid heavens your tower will ever pierce.
Math is not the language of the universe. Math is not a platform either, because the metaphor is broken again: inside our self systems there is no up or down, and there is no best place to put that platform in, and then stop looking below. Math describes a process of connecting abstractions, and this process needs to be explained in a “great explainer” way, clear and straightforward.
In my opinion, in teaching and popularizing math, we should focus mainly on making the math process accessible first, and leave particular abstractions for later, after we understand the particular way humanity, in one of the few things it did united, manages to think about the same abstract things independent of language, culture and history. We need to use this unity not to make another Babel tower of epsilons, incomprehensible invented words and secret society like terminology, but to use it to make it so that the heavens come down on Earth instead of us climbing a billion trillion steps up to them.