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Math

January 2, 2017 Leave a comment

Happy New Year…I guess. Last year it was 2016 and this year is one more than that so it’s 2017. Because that’s how numbers work right? I mean it’s universal and there is no reason to think otherwise…

Unless of course you meet several criteria each more confusing and elaborate than the last. I have actually been sitting on this story for a few weeks for a few reasons, but none as near as confusing as the “reasoning” that I am about to elaborate. The first is that it is so utterly absurd that I didn’t believe it. I came across this gem from the Cognitive Dissonance Podcast episode 332, and while I love the podcast the way they cover their stories means I have to double check. I’m not calling them out for spreading false information, just that they take a humorous tone with everything and inflate the absurdities because they cover the absurd. Once I confirmed the story was as crazy as they made it sound I had grading to do. Lots and lots of grading. After that was done, I was burnt from grading and posted my rant about it last week. Now I feel I can cover the story.

1 + 1 = 2. That’s how numbers work, if you have 1 thing and another thing, you have 2 things. There is only one way this simple formula doesn’t work, and that is if two people disagree on the meaning of the symbols. That however is an epistemic problem and/or a linguistic problem. Which is a legitimate issue, and why we send out pulses of prime numbers and geometry when trying to communicate with extraterrestrials. Merely scrawling pi = 3.14 on the side of Voyager doesn’t mean anything if the creatures which find it have no comprehension of what any of that means. There’s also the post-modernist problems with math in that it tells a euro-centric narrative (they do this with science as well which Alan Sokal pointed out in his famous hoax). It’s a ridiculous notion because the thing with math is that it is independent of the external world. You might argue the inherent unfairness of language, and that could be a debate, but math isn’t about language it’s about reason thus we never need two things to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. We can have an entire rule set regarding math which never applies to the actual world, e.g. negative numbers aren’t things. They can’t represent things because we are talking about not only emptiness but positive representations of emptiness which isn’t possible. There can be no existence below existence.

However these are not the problems that are being presented in “Why Math isn’t Religiously Neutral” by Israel Wayne. The problem being presented here is that math is contingent on Jesus. The post begins with Johnny asking why 2 + 4 = 6 all the time. Why is it 6 today, but never 7 on another day. The article goes on to explain that the teacher must repeat the official government story that the story of math begins 14 billion years ago at the Big Bang, then proceeds through random chance to evolution, which also for some reason includes math. Evolution apparently, created math and this is what we teach to the kids unless we want to just say “math simply is.”

Or, we can give the “true” story which is that Jesus created¬† math and it’s not the process of random chance, evolution, or whatever Nihilism that the government and “Big Math” wants us to teach. See only the Christian can give the true understanding of math, which is Jesus did it. The reasoning is that if you combine a few unrelated bible quotes Col 1:15-17, John 1:1-3, and Romans 1:20 the religious interpretation of math is superior because only it understands why.

The reasoning behind this is so absurd I don’t even know if it’s not even wrong. Let’s get this out of the way right now: 2 + 4 = 6 always. It’s not up for debate. If everyone involved understands the definitions of the numbers that’s how it is, we don’t need a god to underlie the meaning of it.

Secondly, math is independent of Evolution. Even if nothing evolved, if everything merely popped into existence then math would still be the same thing. It wouldn’t matter if there were no people. It’s purely rational. It’s so utterly rational that all civilizations independent of each other (and Jesus) have come up with it, barring their different symbols used in place of course. Math has nothing to do with the results of evolution, other than allowing us the brain power to come up with the symbols and the principles behind it.

Thirdly, there is no government “story of math.” Math text books might begin with a little history about the development of mathematics from Archimedes, Euclid, and Pythagoras in the Greek world, perhaps the addition of Babylonian, Indian, Arabic, and Mayan influences in the development of arithmetic, but usually it’s just an introduction and then on to the numbers.

Finally, the author is incorrect that the Christian zealot is better equipped to teach math, or anything other than the bible (and really, not even then), to kids. Their primary, and indeed only, book is littered with scientific inaccuracies that don’t measure up the real world. This normally wouldn’t be a problem, I study Philosophy, and Aristotle’s science has large holes in it, just as Hippocrates’ medical books have errors. However, two important facts separates those authors from the Bible. The first being that they present arguments/evidence for the claims they make. Aristotle reasons that things fall down because they are heavy, which he has in reverse if we are being generous (things are heavy because they fall). Hippocrates attributes the illness of various groups to the climate they live in his work “Airs Waters Places” which could be correct but he has no idea about germs and such. The second and most important difference is that neither individuals are claiming to be reciting the inerrant mind of god or claiming that their words were the literal words of god. They can be wrong and no one is going to lose sleep over it.

However the bible claims that Pi = 3 (1 Kings 7:23 – 26) or its claiming that Solomon’s cauldron did not exist, by virtue of the contradiction negating the existence of the thing. It’s also worth pointing out that math as a measurement doesn’t proscribe a thing it just defines it. A circle doesn’t correspond to Pi because Pi makes the thing, it’s just how we measure the ration of the diameter to the circumference.

Although all of this misses the unintentionally funniest part of the story: which is what was math like before Jesus? Did 1 +¬†2 = 6 for the Indians, while 1 + 2 =10 for Japanese? I’m not understanding why we need Jesus for this whole operation as the societies without him, and contemporaneous with the ancient Israelites were able to come much closer to the real measurement of Pi then the group that literally, according to them, carried around god in a box.

Columbus Day

October 12, 2010 Leave a comment

This is really the biggest bullshit holiday that we have in the United States. Christopher Columbus is a jackass and I’m not even going to touch the slavery thing…no without that consideration he’s still a jackass. I know that I wrote this same idea last year but it bears repeating, he didn’t do anything but conquer some land for Spain.

I will grant that it makes more sense to sail West rather than want to deal with Middle Eastern travelers but at some point you would think that old Chris would have realized that no, he did not land in India. I’ve brought this up before as well, and again I think it’s important. Christopher Columbus has arrived on new land while searching for old land. The old land he was searching for was anything that would facilitate an alternate route than the silk road. He lands at a place where there are no cities, no indications of the developed civilization that Europe had already been trading with for centuries, and still he thinks that he’s landed in Asia.

It’s important that after his brief stint in jail for embezzlement and being a general asshole governor at the behest of Spain, he STILL thought he was in Asia. Even after Amerigo Vespucci sailed and charted nearly 6,000 miles of coastline, noticing that the continent they were near was not Asia; Columbus still refused to believe it. If that isn’t jackass behaviour I don’t know what is.

Of course all of this is predicated on the failure of the Vikings to maintain a colony in Canada. At least they knew they had landed somewhere new though…

Footnotes

August 23, 2010 Leave a comment

I realize a couple of things among the stuff that I read. The first is that among the non-fiction books I have an addiction to reading the notes that go along with the work, especially if it is a translation which is funny because I speak no foreign languages and wouldn’t know the subtleties of moving something from Greek to English without many more years of school. I just can’t help it reading them though.

I despise end notes, whether they are at the end of the chapter or the end of the book is inconsequential because it still involves me having to flip from the line I’m reading over to another section in order to find the corresponding note. It’s disruptive and a lot more time consuming than just glancing down at the bottom of the page without having to avert my head in any manner. I always prefer to use footnotes when I am writing, never end notes.

All of that being said I’m getting quite angry at footnotes while I am reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. Granted there were a couple of things I could have done to avoid this, the first being most obvious: not read them. I explained before though that this is a little addiction of mine and unlike most of my other addictions this one only hurts myself. The problem is that the footnotes are spoiling the story.

I should note that as a matter of my personal knowledge I do know how this war turns out. It’s not the general result that I am most interested in but the small matters. It’s becoming more and more about the role of fortune in this war as Thucydides remarks too often about how the unforeseen chance plays the greatest role in determining the fates of man (he was against using supernatural explanations, which makes me often think about what the people at the time were thinking especially with the plague). That role of fortune: we’re possibly talking about a dissertation topic here so a book that I decided on a whim to read might just pay off.

The civil war following the Median (Persian conflict) is made up of numerous internal squabbles between the Athenians and their allies/subjects as well as the Spartans and their allies. That’s where the real tension in the story lies, I don’t know who wins these things, who the players are, and how they eventually panned out. It is in these things that repeatedly Donald Lateiner, who introduced the book and noted it for the Barnes and Noble Classics,* that is really starting to piss me off.

I mean that literally too, it’s pissing me off. I was angry enough today when I found out that Cleon was going to lose the argument he was making that I shut the book and left the place i was reading it. The Lesbians (from Lesbos) revolted from the Athenian empire, their capital city of Mytilene was central to the revolt as it tried to go over to the Spartans. As it turns out the Athenians win bringing the city of Mytilene under heel, but now what to do with those dastardly Lesbians?

One thought was to execute every male member of the city of Mytilene and enslave the women and children. A punishment, I am told, is common fare for cities/states that revolt from their alliances. The issue is that the revolt was suppressed not only with the military force of the Athenians but also by the Lesbians themselves. The Lesbian aristocracy were the ones leading the revolt and once they armed the commoners, the commoners wanted to negotiate their position.

With this in consideration the argument was how to punish them. Our footnote let me know that Cleon was going to lose, but it did so prior to him making his argument for his side and he was the first speaker. This also happened at the siege of Salamis where I was privy to the knowledge of an escape attempt before I knew there was an incarceration.

Maybe the whole book should be a footnote with the end result of the war as the main text…I should have read the Thomas Hobbes translation.

_______________
*Aka: stuff with expired copyrights that don’t need royalty payments but can still cost 11.95 unless you want to read off your laptop screen.

Categories: book reviews, history, reviews

“Holiday”

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment

I have mixed feelings for Columbus Day. Historically, for me, it has always meant a day off from school and when teaching it meant a paid day off from school. The post office and banks aren’t open so it also means that there are somethings that I cannot do today, which is also nice. These things which I experience with fondness are tempered by inability to realize that we this day is such complete bullshit.

I’m not going to take the side of the indigenous people and discuss the genocide, slave trading, and imperialism that followed shortly after Columbus landed in the Western Hemisphere. We know these things happened but that’s not my issue. That would be like lamenting the invention of the printing press because eventually Dianetics would be printed on one, or the invention of the internet because some nerds can claim that they have Asperger’s Syndrome in order to justify their inability to maintain normal human relationships while at the same time feeling superior to everyone else.

My issue with Christopher Columbus is that he is one of history’s greatest douchebags having garnered credit for something that he never actually did. And afterall isn’t that what defines a douchebag?

He never discovered that the world was round. If he had, it would have been quite the accomplishment but he didn’t. The plain fact is that Aristotle way back in BC times had already proven this: “–But in eclipses the outline is always curved: and since, it is the interposition of the earth that makes the eclipse, the form of this line will be caused by the form of the earth’s surface, which is therefore spherical.” De Caleo 294b 27-31.

Also: “There is much change, I mean, in the stars which are overhead, and the stars seen are different, as one moves northward or southward. Indeed there are some stars seen in Egypt and in the neighborhood of Cyprus which are not seen in the northerly regions.” De Caleo 297b35-298a1-4. In other words you don’t see the same stars in the South as you do in the North, an effect you only get on a ball.

Finally: “Also these mathematicians who try to calculate the size of the Earth’s circumference arrive at the figure of 400,000 stades.” De Caleo 298a15-17. This last quote is important because of the word “circumference” which measures the border of an orb or circle.* The whole series of lies that we were taught about Columbus being a brave soul because he tried to prove against the common thinking that the world was flat has not the tiniest shred of truth to it.

Not only that, he didn’t discover anything. Again this isn’t the whole argument regarding the natives, I think we all know that I can’t discover your house if you are already living in it. No, what I am referring to is the fact that the so-called “New World” had already been discovered by Europeans five centuries earlier by Lief Erickson in 1000 a.d. (or depending on whether Greenland is in North America or not 982). Although October 9th is a congressional recognized holiday celebrating the event we don’t honor or remember it in anyway.

To summarize Christopher Columbus didn’t do anything. He landed on an island that he thought was India despite the fact that it would have meant that India didn’t have the spices, silks, and other sundries the Europeans had been trading with in that region for centuries. Columbus died, after a brief stint in prison for tyrannical governorship and embezzlement, still convinced that he landed on the Eastern coast of Asia. So he was also a moron, and for some reason we have a federal holiday for him.

*It’s also quite flawed because 400,000 stades=approximately 9,987 nautical miles. The actual circumference of the Earth is 24,901.55 miles. 

Categories: history, iconoclast

9/20/480

September 3, 2009 Leave a comment

“On the one hand if he subdues those whom he says that he desires to subdue, and if those matters succeed well which he has in mind when he speaks thus, the deed will after all be yours, master, seeing that your slaves achieved it…”
    -Artemesia counseling Xerxes on continuing the war in Greece, Herodotus, The Histories 8.102

“Why do ye sit, ye wretched? Flee to the uttermost limits,
Leaving your home and the heights of the wheel round city behind you!
Lo! There remaineth now nor the head nor body in safety
Neither the feet below nor the hands nor the middle are left thee,–
All are destroyed together; for fire and the passionate war god,
Urging the Assyrian car to speed, hurl them to ruin.
Not thing alone, he shall cause many more great strongholds to perish,
Yeah, many temples of gods to the ravening fire shall deliver,–
Temples which stand now, surely with sweat of their terror down streaming,
Quaking with dread; and lo! from the topmost roof to the pavement
Dark blood trickles, forecasting the dire unavoidable evil.
Forth with you, forth from the shrine and steep your soul in sorrow!”
   -The Delphic Oracle counseling the Athenians on what they should do to resist the Persians, 7.140

It has been a long while since i have done one of these entries, Ryen if you are still reading this then here you are, another entry into my series on classic battles.

The forces here are the Persian army under Xerxes and the alliance of Greek city-states. As the invasion stands the Persian army has invaded the mainland of Greece. Leonidas, his 300-man bodyguard and the thousand or so allies lay dead at Thermopylae. On land, the sheer number of the Persian army gives them a supreme advantage, so much so that it could seem as if they are invincible. Credible historians place the number at somewhere around 100,000. Whether this includes not only fighting men but also support varies. Herodotus has them drink four rivers dry, which no matter what the number means that there was an incredible force.

In the water however the tune is a little different. Persia still outnumbers the Greeks, but Greek talent at sea is much better. Futhermore there is the prophecy of the Delphic Oracle already stated above. One must remember in the build up to this battle that the whole invasion is largely Athen’s doing. It was Athens that interfered in Persian politics, it was Athens that cast the heralds of Xerxes into the wells (the Spartans tried to apologize for their act), and finally it was to “remember the Athenians” that Darious had whispered into his ear.

Unlike some recent war expeditions this one had a specific purpose: the city of Athens was to be burned to the ground. Xerxes marches on Athens finding the city abandoned as the Athenians interpreted both the already stated prophecy and a subsequent one. Prevailing upon the Athenian leaders the general Themistocles interprets the line, “A bulwark of wood at the last Zeus grants to the trito-born goddess (7.141).” Some of the Athenian leaders believe it to mean that a wooden wall should be built around Athens. Themistocles disagrees believing that the bulwark of wood is the Athenian Navy, that they should abandon the city and sail to Salamis for safety. Themistocles wins the argument.

The real conflict concerns the arguments over who should command the Greek Navy. The Athenians, who have Naval experience, have just lost their city, and have the victory at Marathon seem to think they deserve the admiralty. The Spartans, without whose sacrifice, the entire peninsula might be speaking Persian. Eurybiades, believes that as a Spartan he would be better suited at leading a battle, Themosticles believes Eurybiades to be full of shit, because the Spartans train for land war not naval war. However the compromise is reached that Eurybiades will lead the battle but Themosticles will actually be in command.

On the other side of the battle, Xerxes already infuriated with his armies inability to kill the Spartan resistance at Thermopylae decides that he is going to watch this battle personally. He has a pimp-chair erected at Mt. Augeulus to watch his forces win and note which ships did particularly well. Greek irony, the theatric kind, meant that the very choice to set up a throne to watch the battle guaranteed defeat.

The Persians don’t learn well in their wars against the Greeks. At Marathon and Thermopylae the Greeks used the superior numbers of the Persians against them; here it would be no different and again the Persians fall into the trap. The Persian ships outnumber the Greeks 4:1. The strait was narrow but the Persians weren’t that stupid. They arraigned their ships in three groups. For awhile neither side would venture the battle.

The Greeks because they knew themselves to be outnumberred. The Persians, because part of their total fleet had already been destroyed by the weather and they had been chasing some scout ships all night. However a Greek detachment under Corinthian leadership did encounter some Persian triremes at which point they immediately retreated. History is in confusion about this as some of the Greeks believed this to be cowardice while others believe this was a feint organized by Themistocles to draw the Persian fleet further inward.

The latter seems more likely as this led directly to the main battle. The delay was continuing until an Athenian captain, Ameinias, decided that enough was enough and rammed a Persian lead ship. Herodotus gives an account in which a ghostly woman was seen alongside the ship who reproached the remaining ships, “Strange men, how far will you yet back your ships?” The idea is that this is the goddess Athena encouraging the battle to begin.

The sudden onslaught of the Greek navy, coupled with the inability of the Persian navy to maneuver through the battle into chaos. Herodotus reports that the Greeks remained ordered while the Persians were in utter bedlam. The Persians knew this problem and attempted to fall back and reorganize their lines but a wind came and trapped them. It became a route. The Athenians flanked the ship lines and along with their allies either sunk or disabled the Persian fleet. The Persians lost their mastery over the sea, dooming their land army as it could no longer be supplied.

The Queen Artemisia, who fought alongside the Persians, becomes an interesting anecdote. Her ship was being pursued by the Athenians and she decided the turn and run. However in doing so she rammed and destroyed on of her allies’ ships. This caused the Athenians to abandon their pursuit of her, figuring that they either were chasing an ally or chasing someone that changed sides and was now fighting for them. The odd thing about the story is that Xerxes, observing this gave her great praise. He recognized her ship but not that of her victim and Artemisia left no survivors. He remarked that, “My women have become men, and my men women.”

Thoughts: This battle is pivotal in the respect that its loss crippled the Persian expedition. The land army was too large to be supplied using caravan as the supply lines would have required a great support staff to be protected. Even modestly estimating the size of the army at 100,000 would mean at least ten times that in order to support it. Think about how much money is being spent in Iraq now, and our actual combat forces are much smaller than 100,000.

The question is why would Xerxes choose a sea battle? Athens was already burned and his land army cannot be seriously hindered. The answer is hubris. Xerxes needed to destroy the Athenians and burning their city is not enough. The people have to pay for their slights against Persia. If Athens flees to the sea then in the sea they shall die, but Athenian naval adeptness was already well known. Again, though the simple numbers is what causes Persia to lose.

Amassing a large navy here is imposing and perhaps there wasn’t time to learn the lesson of Thermopylae. The smart move would have been to draw the Greeks out in small groups to then surround and sink them. Even if the Greek Navy was better commanded, and better equipped they couldn’t have held off forever. Herodotus also claims that any Persians surviving the initial fighting all perished because their marines couldn’t swim, something that you might want to consider as a part of the training program for amphibious forces.

Bad terrain, bad equipment, bad training, and no real sense of purpose are supposed to be overshadowed by sheer numbers. That never happens.

Categories: battle, history