Friday, August 22, 2008

The Numbers Are Bad!

No, I haven't started watching Lost - Although I admit to a great fondness for the character of Hurley.

What I am talking about is part of Robert Krulwich's commencement speech at the California Institute of Technology, titled "Tell Me A Story". Krulwich is not only blessed with one of those distinctive radio voices that instantly makes you want to like him and what he's telling you, but he is a science and technical reporter for NPR and ABC.

The first link is Krulwich talking about narrative, and how essential it is in science, particularly to those whom are adverse to science because of the C- they got in 11th grade biology or physics. Building a way to communicate real science is absolutely essential to keeping us all more-or-less in reality, and not subscribing to pseudoscience or outright creationism crapola that has us at the mercy of forces imaginary or manipulative. And to do that, science may have to relax its tendencies for focusing on the numbers.

The second link, which you may have heard already, is a fantastic story about how the mortgage crisis occurred. Krulwich and NPR news teamed with This American Life teamed up to describe what they named "The Giant Pool of Money". Again, the numbers can make your eyes cross, but we can move the attention away from the numbers (temporarily) to build a better understanding of world finance, and why it's serious problem beyond what we've seen already.

People ask me how or why I'm cut out for technical support - I usually answer that 1) you fall into shit like this when you have an Art degree and don't paint, and 2) I actually do have a natural gift for helping people understand their computers. It comes from being able to translate "memory error at 0x034bc45d7" into "Your computer has forgotten it's list of things to do and gotten lost - in order for it to find it's way back, it has to be rebooted."


Anjha said...

too much for me to deal with tonight Id.

Watched the movie Pi last night (sorry don't know how to put the symbol in.)

For some reason your post felt like the same intense mind fuck...I just cannot comprehend at 8 pm...

I will respond in the morning.

Right after I get my goddamned text message.

idiosynchronic said...

Your first mistake was watching Pi. That movie is in complete opposition to my point - some numbers geniuses certainly have some psychological issues, but that movie's implication that complex higher mathematics will make you nuts, clarivoyant, or usher in an apocalypse is cracked.

Yeah, I know, it's only a story, but stories are the deal here.