Inside the process of how story and math change our world

historical geniusesHeisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies equally to particles, parabolas, and prose. To describe – which is the common goal of any story or mathematical formula – is to influence the object of observation. Our reflection of reality becomes our measure of the world. isaac newton caricatureBut while Heisenberg’s electrons were thrown off course by photons, the change in our reality is essentially rooted in perception. And because perception is our brain’s only way of interacting with the universe, a change in perception equals a change in our world.

Truth is variable according to our experiences. Our experience of ideas, concepts, and proofs come together to pattern our perception of the truth of our reality. ernest hemingway caricatureWhen not individualized through direct sensory exposure, this ‘experience’ is communicated to our neural networks through a language of symbol: story through words, math through numbers. Both math and literature humanize a universe fraught with chaos by translating it into patterns of information compatible with the structure and function of our brains.

The only difference between story and math is the path of emotional access. Both words and numbers are symbols loaded with meaning and expectation of pattern of connection (eg. sentence structure/ B.E.D.M.A.S.). albert einstein caricatureHowever, words have broader associations and are linked with emotions that, when activated, open and extend our logic parameters to create new suspended realities. We can choose to incorporate these new worlds into our own (The Globe and Mail, religion, this post) or simple abandon them when we get to the last page (fiction, Calgary Sun). Mathematical symbols have a much stricter pattern of expectation that, upon entering the brain, must first be vetted by the logic system in our prefrontal cortex before giving us an emotional response/release in the form of soothing contentment (eg. simple beauty of E=mc2), or that sick feeling you get in your stomach when a formula turns out to be bullshit (eg. string theory… don’t get me started!).

virginia woolf caricatureInterchangeable except for path of emotional access, every story and mathematical formula use a shared humanized language of symbol to communicate novel patterns of perception that, if adopted as truth, change our world.

11 thoughts on “Inside the process of how story and math change our world

  1. Insitghtful post- got me thinking! You’re right. Maths is a way of expressing concepts, just as writing it. Or any form of expressed art. And those concepts must by nature be relative to the individual. To me, maths describes shapes and patterns better than words can, and yet the onus is on us to use words because maths, for better or words, has the repute of being about numbers, and difficult, and is not accessible to most of us.

    • Thanks for the great comment, Matthew! So happy I got your brain working, and on a Friday no less – double points lol. You must be amazing with numbers because you’re certainly no slacker with words (worse/words pun). Of course, if it was a typo, then I suppose we’ll have to give your subconscious all the credit 😉

      During a first year physics final I got stumped on a big question and storied my way through with words (+snuck in some humour) and illustrations explaining what I was attempting to do with the numbers. Managed to ace the thing, so just goes to show you… in emergency situations, the more languages one has up one’s sleeve, the better!

      • Absolutely true! Actually it was a first-thing Saturday morning inspiration for me – NZ’s ahead of the world in the weekend stakes (though it means you’ll be enjoying a Sunday afternoon when we’re slugging into Monday morning… :-(). Loved the post & look forward to more!

        • Just waking up to my Sunday morning weekend halfway point… so I guess in numbers, words, or any way you want to put it, your weekend is drawing to a close. Hope you had a great one!!

  2. It seems you’ve cleared up the contingency that has formed between those who write stories and those who propose theorems. I’ve heard a lot from both sides of the fence so thanks!
    Great post!

    • As someone who has experienced highs and lows on both sides of that fence, I’ve always believed that the two languages are far more similar than most people believe. Proficiency in one generally blinds people to the power of the other, but both evolve the human experience and can bring great emotional pain or pleasure. Your comment, Antony, has brought this blushing blogger heaps and heaps of the latter!

        • mmm extending blush~ Pop on by anytime! I’ve dabbled in freelance for newspapers/web/business, but I always come back to where my passion for writing makes its true home… in getting the ideas that percolate between these ears into a language other ears and eyes can possibly, hopefully enjoy 🙂

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