It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Why They Are Called Numbers

Those of us who have learned the ability of numbers, properly deployed, to explain and illuminate have always had difficulty understanding where the name "numbers" came from.

All you need to do is attend a typical talk by a concerned, active, engaged but not especially informed person on almost any subject of collective importance.

Then you will see numbers being used to numb. So many million pieces of plastic in the Pacific. So many gallons of oil in the Gulf. So many trees saved. So many billion dollars saved. So many thousand jobs lost. Always without context, without weight, without comparison. Not meant to explain. Meant to numb.

Numb numbers are the sign you are wasting your time. If after hearing the numbers you say, not "yes I already knew that" or "wow, that really opens my eyes to how things work", if your response to the numbers is "yayyy" or "ewww", you are being victimized by numbing numbers.


King of the Road said...

I suggest, for the neophyte in both the numbers and the sustainability/resource depletion/limits discussion, the blog site run by Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at UC San Diego. It's called Do the Math.

David B. Benson said...

Derived from Latin:

Jim Bouldin said...

Excellent! All information is meaningless if not interpreted by the human brain within some greater context.

David B. Benson said...

Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato ti the Present, by Geo. G. Szpiro. Princeton Univ. Press, 2010. (Reviewed Jan 2011 in Notices of the Amer. Math. Soc.)