How useful are words?

| 125 Comments

On something as simple as posting about a conference for bringing together Mathematicians and Biologists there are commenters questioning the utility of Mathematics.

To me, questioning the utility of Mathematics to Science (and to Biology in particular) is like asking why words are useful to communication.

Surely we can communicate without words? We don’t really need words for effective communication. We can easily communicate using gestures, expressions and pictures. We can communicate frustration, joy, and sadness without words. We can share knowledge and tell stories without words. I’ve never understood why words are in any way related to communicating and understanding. Words are just a tool developed to convey information, really just an image of reality. And complex words, specifically new vernacular as well as complicated vocabulary, these really serve no purpose to advance understanding. Using words might describe the thoughts that we have, but the words themselves don’t actually do anything to change our thoughts. I think I’ll just keep writing until someone can prove to me how useful words really are to communication.

Toddler Facepalm
My response to ridiculous comments is so pronounced
that that my toddler has learned to facepalm

125 Comments

I’ve pretty much stayed out of it until now, because I wouldn’t want to encourage innumeracy, but the one thing I’d give to the anti-math types is that most of what we basically know or infer comes prior to mathematics. Not advanced physics, etc., to be sure, indeed, even classical mechanics had to be mostly elucidated using mathematics, yet the qualitative generally comes before the quantitative in understanding, and may continue to be prior to it even after mathematics is involved.

Pattern recognition gives us a lot non-quantitatively, like evolutionary theory (since enhanced by math, of course) and early chemistry (save measuring and the like). IOW, what I won’t give in to is the idea that if you can’t calculate it, it doesn’t count, as some seem to suppose. Much can be done (or at least was done in the past) in biology without mathematics, which is why innumeracy is no excuse.

Math is not like words to communication, either, because many courses in biology are taught without significant math (at least the lectures, although labs tend to need at least simply math). Anatomy isn’t especially numerate (can use a lot, but needn’t for many purposes), evolution can certainly be inferred without any statistics, and gunpowder can be invented by trial and error, with no more math than a recipe requires. Numbers and math moves us to a lot of discovery that pattern recognition does not, yet I could also say that much of understanding of biology is qualitative, not quantitative. Math is a tool that enhances biology, not wholly necessary to a good lay understanding of it.

Glen Davidson

Pattern recognition also gives us religion, conspiracy theories, and, in a(n even) more pathological form, schizophrenia.

eta not to throw out the baby, etc. just saying pattern recognition can go horribly wrong.

The point is that we can communicate without words, just as we can understand biology without mathematics. Many communications are nonverbal. And yes, many of our observations in biology do not require mathematics. But just as communication can be advanced using words, so too can biology be advanced using mathematics. Similarly, there are concepts we cannot communicate without words, and biology we cannot understand without math.

Words are just part of a continuum of humans using sounds to convey thoughts Words are segregated combinations of sounds agreed upon for meaning.

On another thread I questioned, what many would think creationist or not, that math never contributed very much to the modern world in discovery/figuring things out/invention relative to how much has been done. Its never been the essence of things but is only a shadow of reality. A language or different language. I understand Einstein figured his ideas out by concepts and other math people put his ideas into equations. Don’t quote me.

Anyways physics etc is a recent case. Yet how many cool things would not of been discovered/invention is math was in a rudimentary stage?? I think few. I don’t see how math helped Darwin or a greater ignorance of it would of hurt him? I know one muse measure to make bridges yet the invention of the types of bridges, the important thing, was independent of math ideas.

I have even read scholars question if math is a science but instead something else. math to me is simple memory of concepts and i don’t see how it adds insight to anything. Computers do math but don’t think. Its a tool for science but not a stimulate.

You don’t know any math. You don’t know any science. You can’t even use words well.

You’re a presumptuous ignorant fool.

Robert Byers said:

Words are just part of a continuum of humans using sounds to convey thoughts Words are segregated combinations of sounds agreed upon for meaning.

On another thread I questioned, what many would think creationist or not, that math never contributed very much to the modern world in discovery/figuring things out/invention relative to how much has been done. Its never been the essence of things but is only a shadow of reality. A language or different language. I understand Einstein figured his ideas out by concepts and other math people put his ideas into equations. Don’t quote me.

Anyways physics etc is a recent case. Yet how many cool things would not of been discovered/invention is math was in a rudimentary stage?? I think few. I don’t see how math helped Darwin or a greater ignorance of it would of hurt him? I know one muse measure to make bridges yet the invention of the types of bridges, the important thing, was independent of math ideas.

I have even read scholars question if math is a science but instead something else. math to me is simple memory of concepts and i don’t see how it adds insight to anything. Computers do math but don’t think. Its a tool for science but not a stimulate.

Robert Byers said:

Words are just part of a continuum of humans using sounds to convey thoughts Words are segregated combinations of sounds agreed upon for meaning.

On another thread I questioned, what many would think creationist or not, that math never contributed very much to the modern world in discovery/figuring things out/invention relative to how much has been done. Its never been the essence of things but is only a shadow of reality. A language or different language. I understand Einstein figured his ideas out by concepts and other math people put his ideas into equations. Don’t quote me.

Anyways physics etc is a recent case. Yet how many cool things would not of been discovered/invention is math was in a rudimentary stage?? I think few. I don’t see how math helped Darwin or a greater ignorance of it would of hurt him? I know one muse measure to make bridges yet the invention of the types of bridges, the important thing, was independent of math ideas.

I have even read scholars question if math is a science but instead something else. math to me is simple memory of concepts and i don’t see how it adds insight to anything. Computers do math but don’t think. Its a tool for science but not a stimulate.

Robert,

Here is a news flash for you Robert. This post is making fun of you. It isn’t a compliment, it isn’t a discussion. You are a laughing stock. Just go away before someone gets nasty. You can’t do math, you can’t do science, you can’t do English. No one cares what you think. Quit making a fool of yourself and piss off.

M. Wilson Sayres said:

The point is that we can communicate without words, just as we can understand biology without mathematics. Many communications are nonverbal. And yes, many of our observations in biology do not require mathematics. But just as communication can be advanced using words, so too can biology be advanced using mathematics. Similarly, there are concepts we cannot communicate without words, and biology we cannot understand without math.

Sure, that’s all well and good, but it’s really the truth that for humans communication without words (words including signing “words” for the deaf) is inadequate. Mute human societies (that is, those not using sign language either) would be dicey at best, since socially-shared knowledge is very important to human survival.

But it’s an argument about an analogy, not the actual point, so it’s not very important, for the most part. One reason I wrote that response, however, is that sometimes the IDists fault biology for not being mathematical like electrodynamics and such, as if somehow evolution isn’t as certain as electrodynamics because we can’t calculate the evolution of an ostrich, for instance, while electrodynamics can be calculated accurately to the 10 decimal or whatever. No, that’s just not so, mathematics doesn’t make something science per se, although it’s probable that all science will end up with important calculations if it is indeed science. And seriously, although we can’t calculate the evolution of an ostrich, we can calculate that the chance of the patterns into which ostriches and other birds fit are astronomically improbable via any known process other than evolutionary processes, certainly improbable from any known design process.

It’s important that much in evolution cannot be calculated, even in principle, because there are always unknowns, especially in a long-gone past. It hardly suffers as a science because it is a real-world phenomenon, not an ideal system (or even a near-ideal system that we made, such as electric systems, which again can be very well calculated so long as they’re relatively isolated from environmental inputs), it’s like the weather, subject to the “butterfly effect.”

Mathematics can fail in the face of contingency. Then we go back to empiricism (and may even learn to do the calculations, but the empirical comes first), the ultimate source of science (arguably also of math). Evolution wins in biology with and without mathematics, yet it does not really reduce down to math in the same way that electrodynamics does.

Glen Davidson

Having conversed with many creationists, I would say that words are needed, but not sufficient for communication.

M. Wilson Sayres said:

The point is that we can communicate without words, just as we can understand biology without mathematics. Many communications are nonverbal. And yes, many of our observations in biology do not require mathematics. But just as communication can be advanced using words, so too can biology be advanced using mathematics. Similarly, there are concepts we cannot communicate without words, and biology we cannot understand without math.

I can’t claim to be a veteran science defender, but I have been aware of organized creationism since 1999.

You can’t convince the locked in ideologues. Their emotional commitment is intense. It would take inhumane and illegal “deprogramming” style techniques to convince them, and doing so might provoke them into a dissociative state.

So why argue with them? I discourse with them when the exchange might have a beneficial impact on a third party observer.

Robert Byers is a harmless and even civil type most of the time. Some commenters enjoy trying to convince him to abandon his rigid beliefs, and more power to them. It’s like trying to train a turtle to be a performing dog if you ask me, but it’s probably fun for them.

For the most part, though, there is zero chance of anyone being won over to evolution denial by Byers’ efforts.

Even the other creationists don’t accept his “math isn’t useful for biology” argument. And as I noted the other day, he doesn’t hold that view consistently himself.

I have a flash for booby. Failure to apply the mathematics of structures, including the effects of cross winds, led to the collapse of the bridge over the Tacoma Narrows, known as Galloping Gertie.

Robert Byers said:

Words are just part of a continuum of humans using sounds to convey thoughts Words are segregated combinations of sounds agreed upon for meaning.

On another thread I questioned, what many would think creationist or not, that math never contributed very much to the modern world in discovery/figuring things out/invention relative to how much has been done. Its never been the essence of things but is only a shadow of reality. A language or different language. I understand Einstein figured his ideas out by concepts and other math people put his ideas into equations. Don’t quote me.

Anyways physics etc is a recent case. Yet how many cool things would not of been discovered/invention is math was in a rudimentary stage?? I think few. I don’t see how math helped Darwin or a greater ignorance of it would of hurt him? I know one muse measure to make bridges yet the invention of the types of bridges, the important thing, was independent of math ideas.

I have even read scholars question if math is a science but instead something else. math to me is simple memory of concepts and i don’t see how it adds insight to anything. Computers do math but don’t think. Its a tool for science but not a stimulate.

I think math helps in more than just communication. It helps us understand our assumptions (like how the Price equation shows the underlying assumptions behind Fisher’s fundamental theorem), and it allows us to see and rectify contradictions (this can be best seen in physics, with Einstein using mathematics to harmonize Galileo’s principle of relativity with Maxwell’s constant speed of light, Einstein’s theories were only tested after the math)and similar to this, it allows us to come up with new hypotheses (it’s nice to look around and come up with experiments but sometimes it requires you to derive something mathematically, something no one would have thought of otherwise).

You don’t need maths to know how the polar bear turned white.

Driver said:

You don’t need maths to know how the polar bear turned white.

So frequency of alleles in the population has nothing to do with why polar bears are white?

Actually Driver, you need math to help fully explain “how” the polar bear turned white, just maybe not so much “why”.

Robert,

Why don’t you try communicating without words here for a few weeks. You seem to think you do OK without math or logic or grammar, try it without words for a while. Please.

harold said:

Driver said:

You don’t need maths to know how the polar bear turned white.

So frequency of alleles in the population has nothing to do with why polar bears are white?

No way. You need maths for that and maths is non biological. :)

SLC said:

I have a flash for booby. Failure to apply the mathematics of structures, including the effects of cross winds, led to the collapse of the bridge over the Tacoma Narrows, known as Galloping Gertie (click link here).

Galloping Gertie is one of many cases of how not properly using math led to catastrophe. Yet another example is the Comet jetliners suffering inflight structural failures (link here) due to engineers not taking into consideration stress and fatigue on metal within a fuselage during repeated pressurization cycles, especially around aircraft window frames.

Driver said:

You don’t need maths to know how the polar bear turned white.

Doesn’t it have something to do with the physics of their hair follicles? That’s what I vaguely remember reading somewhere.

Besides, maths doesn’t count! Just ask what’s his name.

Maybe this is being picky, but neither the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse nor the Comet crashes were failures of mathematics. They were both engineering failures caused by a lack of knowledge. In the case of Tacoma Narrows, one of the key flaws was introduced as a design modification to keep up with what was thought to be an advance in engineering. In the Comet case, not only did the engineers not know of the problem, but engineers from rival firms had said that they wouldn’t have thought of the problem either. And in both cases, the disasters led to renewed research programs in engineering that solved those particular engineering flaws.

If you want to see failures in mathematics, I would consider:

– the fiery death of the Mars Climate Orbiter (a joint effort between NASA and the ESA in which ESA used metric, NASA used imperial units, and in one critical instance someone forgot to convert units),

– the prosecution of Sally Clark for infanticide based on a fundamentally stupid statistical argument by Dr Roy Meadow (his evidence also landed several other people in jail, but the Clark case is the famous one),

– the New Orleans levee failures in Hurricane Katrina (the designers built the levees to withstand a hundred-year storm, but then excluded the most severe storms from the last century as being outliers),

– at a stretch, the collapse of the Quebec Bridge (not a maths failure per se, as the flaw was caused by changing the dimensions of the bridge but failing to recalculate the loads, so it’s more a failure to use maths than a failure of maths…but in the context of this thread, it still counts),

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

Nah, he was a follower of Ayn Rand.

Seems to do irreparable damage to judgment, not to mathematics.

Glen Davidson

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

Nah, he was a follower of Ayn Rand.

Seems to do irreparable damage to judgment, not to mathematics.

Glen Davidson

The repellent Ayn Rand was a staunch atheist (proof that you can be a jerk without being a religious authoritarian).

Yet I suspect that a lot of evolution deniers are Ayn Rand fans, even though the imaginary “atheist agenda” of scientists enrages them.

Of course, if I’m wrong, all they have to do is tell me so.

Glen,

That was just me being snarky at Greenspan. But it’s still, at root, a mathematical error (the belief that Treasury models had to be right because they were mathematically sound.)

harold, I found it hilarious the way Paul Ryan talked up his enthusiasm for Objectivism…until mid-election campaign someone pointed out that Rand was an atheist and then he had to backpedal like an Olympic cyclist who mounted their bike the wrong way. Because it’s good to be a plutocratic sociopath, but not an atheist plutocratic sociopath.

Chris Lawson said:

Maybe this is being picky, but neither the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse nor the Comet crashes were failures of mathematics. They were both engineering failures caused by a lack of knowledge. In the case of Tacoma Narrows, one of the key flaws was introduced as a design modification to keep up with what was thought to be an advance in engineering. In the Comet case, not only did the engineers not know of the problem, but engineers from rival firms had said that they wouldn’t have thought of the problem either. And in both cases, the disasters led to renewed research programs in engineering that solved those particular engineering flaws.

If you want to see failures in mathematics, I would consider:

– the fiery death of the Mars Climate Orbiter (a joint effort between NASA and the ESA in which ESA used metric, NASA used imperial units, and in one critical instance someone forgot to convert units),

– the prosecution of Sally Clark for infanticide based on a fundamentally stupid statistical argument by Dr Roy Meadow (his evidence also landed several other people in jail, but the Clark case is the famous one),

– the New Orleans levee failures in Hurricane Katrina (the designers built the levees to withstand a hundred-year storm, but then excluded the most severe storms from the last century as being outliers),

– at a stretch, the collapse of the Quebec Bridge (not a maths failure per se, as the flaw was caused by changing the dimensions of the bridge but failing to recalculate the loads, so it’s more a failure to use maths than a failure of maths…but in the context of this thread, it still counts),

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

I’m aware of the Tacoma bridge failure as it was a interesting case of winds twisting things by uncommon concentrations. due to some problem of construction. It wasn’t math but was engineering that was the problem. In any case bridges are not math projects but ideas about structures. Math is just measuring distance and other aspects of nature. Yet without the engineering skill (ideas and practice) all the math in the world wouldn’t of invented the bridge. Crunching numbers is a very poor relative to the glory of human achievement in “science” or rather discovery and invention. In fact I think a thinking young person wanting to do cool stuff in “science” should avoid advanced classes in math or anything above grade 10. Get someone else to crunch numbers. i think math is a strange case of poor analysis on human intellectual advancement. Its just a language or shadow of things. It has contributed but not very much. Newton was hit on the head by a apple and not a slide-rule.

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

Nah, he was a follower of Ayn Rand.

Seems to do irreparable damage to judgment, not to mathematics.

Glen Davidson

harold said:

The repellent Ayn Rand was a staunch atheist (proof that you can be a jerk without being a religious authoritarian).

Yet I suspect that a lot of evolution deniers are Ayn Rand fans, even though the imaginary “atheist agenda” of scientists enrages them.

Of course, if I’m wrong, all they have to do is tell me so.

Chris Lawson said:

harold, I found it hilarious the way Paul Ryan talked up his enthusiasm for Objectivism…until mid-election campaign someone pointed out that Rand was an atheist and then he had to backpedal like an Olympic cyclist who mounted their bike the wrong way. Because it’s good to be a plutocratic sociopath, but not an atheist plutocratic sociopath.

I wrote about Ayn Rand and her delusions here: http://dalehusband.wordpress.com/20[…]ut-ayn-rand/

Robert Byers said:

I’m aware of the Tacoma bridge failure as it was a interesting case of winds twisting things by uncommon concentrations. due to some problem of construction. It wasn’t math but was engineering that was the problem. In any case bridges are not math projects but ideas about structures. Math is just measuring distance and other aspects of nature. Yet without the engineering skill (ideas and practice) all the math in the world wouldn’t of invented the bridge. Crunching numbers is a very poor relative to the glory of human achievement in “science” or rather discovery and invention. In fact I think a thinking young person wanting to do cool stuff in “science” should avoid advanced classes in math or anything above grade 10. Get someone else to crunch numbers. i think math is a strange case of poor analysis on human intellectual advancement. Its just a language or shadow of things. It has contributed but not very much. Newton was hit on the head by a apple and not a slide-rule.

You were already told to pi$$ off, were you not?

harold said:

https://me.yahoo.com/a/JxVN0eQFqtmg[…]X_Zhn8#57cad said:

– and the entirety of Alan Greenspan’s economic methodology.

Nah, he was a follower of Ayn Rand.

Seems to do irreparable damage to judgment, not to mathematics.

Glen Davidson

The repellent Ayn Rand was a staunch atheist (proof that you can be a jerk without being a religious authoritarian).

Yet I suspect that a lot of evolution deniers are Ayn Rand fans, even though the imaginary “atheist agenda” of scientists enrages them.

Of course, if I’m wrong, all they have to do is tell me so.

In case you didn’t know, Ray Martinez is a fanatic fan of Ayn Rand.

I know, Robert’s ben told to pi$$ off, but I think he needs to learn that Einstein was no number cruncher, but he discovered the mathematical relationship of E=MC2. And that was just the beginning, maybe you ought take a course in nuclear physics?

FL said:

(FL) … serves Satan and the Antichrist

(FL) … one of our Idiots For Jesus

Cmon folks, you’re starting to sound all dis-combobulated again.

Gotta assign me to one team o’ the other, not both at the same time!

So please reach a scientific consensus already, and then stick to it.

(Sheesh!)

FL

What (your) God and our Satan were one and the same?

What if Jesus was a fraud?

What if the Bible was a product of the Devil’s servants?

That’s no less credible than many Christians’ assertions that their religion is the only true one and followers of all other paths are to be damned to hell.

FL said:

FL -

So if rocks are not designed, does that mean God didn’t create them?

Nope. Not at all.

It only means that human design detection methods have their limits, as does all of science for that matter.

FL

Except real science produces actual results that can be tested. By contrast, human design detection, with its references to “Specified Information” and “Irreducible Complexity”, produces no results at all.

dalehusband said:

FL said:

FL -

So if rocks are not designed, does that mean God didn’t create them?

Nope. Not at all.

It only means that human design detection methods have their limits, as does all of science for that matter.

FL

Except real science produces actual results that can be tested. By contrast, human design detection, with its references to “Specified Information” and “Irreducible Complexity”, produces no results at all.

What would Intelligent Design be useful for besides for what it was designed to be?

Does Current Biology have the Misfortune of Owning an Unreliable Clock? http://scienceandscientist.org/Darw[…]liable-clock

Spammer said:

Does Current Biology have the Misfortune of Owning an Unreliable Clock? *spamlink redacted*

No, it does not.

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This page contains a single entry by M. Wilson Sayres published on April 16, 2013 11:20 AM.

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