Friday, August 08, 2008

Innumeracy

In his article The Innumeracy of Intellectuals, Chad Orzel argues for granting greater respect to those who understand the finer points of string theory, Fermat's last theorem and such other arcana even if they can't tell Beethoven apart from Bach. He says this about the consequences of such disregard :

This has real consequences for society, and not just in the usual “without math, we won’t be able to maintain our technical edge, and the Chinese will crush us in a few years” sense. You don’t need to look past the front section of the paper. Our economy is teetering because people can’t hack the math needed to understand how big a loan they can afford. We’re not talking about vector calculus or analytical geometry here — we’re mired in an economic crisis because millions of our citizens can’t do arithmetic. And that state of affairs has come about in no small part because the people running the academy these days have no personal appreciation of math, and thus no qualms about coddling innumeracy.

Coming from a culture where excellence in math and science is valued disproportionately higher than anything "artsy", I had to wonder about the consequences of groveling at the altar of numeracy form my vantage point. It has not appear to have served well in far as making the average desi's life richer with aesthetic sensibility to balance their math and science abilities. Instead we are faced with a steady erosion of tradition and culture with the bulk of our energies focussed away from it. The slow and nuanced in our lives has given way to the fast, brash and furious. Maybe there is a need for balance - an equal regard for arts and science with equal credit being awarded for fluency.

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