Doing the numbers

I recently finished ‘Calculus for Dummies.’ The book is just what I was looking for: a plain description of the operations, and a simple explication of what exactly calculus might be about – which is mainly rates and measurements of real-world phenomena.

It was a bit of a self-revelation, because for decades my memory of high-school calculus has been of something I paid attention to for three weeks – then lost track of. Apparently not quite, for a considerable amount of the reading seemed almost familiar.

I finished the book none too soon, really, because that very day I encountered a history of physics in a biography of Niels Bohr, and suddenly things were being explained in terms of derivatives and summations. By golly, I recognized what’s going on!

I’ve been looking at biographies because it’s a great way to survey history, politics, and science all at once. The biographies of physicists  and mathematicians also offer insight into why any of us are so motivated to do something so hard in the first place. Often, at least in earlier days, this involved an urge to believe in something absolute, like a physical law, that exists without humans and will be here long after we’re gone. Sort of a religious thing, in fact, and the language is mathematics.

I’m beginning to get a sense of how to be a motivated scientist (as distinct from other sorts of ideologues). The mathematics are absolute and predictively descriptive. By ascribing reality only to the workable formulas, we can hope to fill in a complete picture of our environment – for the first time with control over the causality behind our experience.

I’ve recently read about emotion as being (‘being’ – not ‘arising from’) the neuronal responses of particular brain sections. Doubtless, we’ll learn to poke the critical points and produce (or eliminate) subjective awareness.

The other day somebody manufactured a yeast chromosome. ‘You manufacture one chromosome, you’ve manufactured them all.’ Tomorrow, we’ll manufacture brains which feel love and hear music.

What are we?

Just do the math.


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