This might be the most self-serving post I’ve written. First a confession: I’m really stupid when it comes to math. Back in grade school I was already having trouble when the government forced “New Math” on us so we could compete with the Russians who’d just launched Sputnik, as if Russian children had anything to do with hurling a satellite into space.
As I grew I managed to avoid being sent to “special class,” packed with kids unable to control their bladders or because of poor math skills. Later in life I was spared by the invention of pocket calculators. It wasn’t that I was minimal—no need to feel sorry for me (I was a wiz at art, history, philosophy and literature) but I didn’t have the password to access that part of my brain where mathematical ability was stored.
Now, at the age of fifty-nine, I’ve come to a realization certain to convince many of you that I am minimal: Mathematics isn’t real! And if you think you can prove mathematical principles are absolute, consider this. A mathematician trying to prove me wrong will do so using math. That opinion is tainted because math must first be proven before it can be used. The same for engineers and architects and computer designers—these would also use calculations to discredit my statement.
Here’s an example of how the hoax works. Sometime around 1687 Newton published his Law of Universal Gravitation, and since then our collective imagination has envisioned Newton sitting under a tree with an apple falling on his head. But Newton’s ideas about gravity were only a theory, one the cocky little know-it-all was determined to prove. But how? He needed to create a method of proof. So he invented calculus. This is like creating a playground game where you alone get to determine the rules. In Star Trek lore this is kin to Captain Kirk reprogramming the computer so he could win the famed Kobayashi Maru test. Newton, like Captain Kirk in the imaginary future, cheated.
Food for thought: In 1977 Voyager was launched into space with a golden record containing, among other things, mathematical equations, based on the principle that math was the most perfect of languages, even though we’ve been told repeatedly that space and time and matter are likely to be unrecognizable in the far reaches of space. Why then wouldn’t math also be different, if it existed at all? Why do we put all of our faith in math?
It’s simple really; math provides us with all of our marvelous toys. None of our cars or planes or telephones or skyscrapers or computers would exist without math. All of these were created assuming that math was real. They couldn’t have existed otherwise.
But if these inventions exist, how can math not be real? Well, math was once used to prove that the Earth was flat and the center of the universe. Math once proved that the Earth was the size of the Moon and humans walked the Earth at the same time as the dinosaurs. Math has been used to discount the existence of dinosaurs altogether, and has led to misassumptions about the human body. Now scientists, while trying to analyze the expansion of the universe, are trying to reveal the links between mathematics and time. Anyone putting their faith in math is like a lizard sunning itself on a tortoise. You might think you’re on a hilltop, but wait until you start moving.
All of you who have been traumatized by a lack of mathematical ability can thank me now for poking holes in this sacred balloon. Those of you who aren’t convinced should repeat this ditty ten times: that’s once for each finger. Figuring out how many fingers we have is probably how this ball got rolling in the first place.
Math is fake and this I know,
Even if Newton (or Einstein) tell me so.