Thursday, June 4, 2009

That Didn't Last Long

Okay, so I missed yesterday. My month-long streak of consistent blog entries lasted two days, and that's okay. You know why? Because I'm going to make up for it.

I'm reading an article on historical languages (Science Vol 324, 29 May 2009, p1165), and I wonder how much most people take language for granted. Information gets transmitted in more ways than a lot of people think about. Any time two elements interact, information is transmitted. When proteins align to form bigger proteins, that's information transmission. It's as fundamental to the working of the cosmos as mathematics, but there are hundreds of different schools regarding language while math is more or less universal.

It sounds unfair when it's put like that, but there's a counter-argument that kind of puts math back a peg, and it's that math doesn't carry cultural significance the way language can. It used to, millenia ago when the Greeks were tinkering with theoretical geometry and the Arabians had come up with zero. Over the centuries those and other schools of math became global constants, and it's as though the cultures those constants came from didn't matter. Can you imagine a world where children learned, for example, the iconography of Chinese alongside the meter of English poetry in the same class and couldn't identify the distinctions? Did advanced math students in Greco-Roman times imagine a world where the questions their teachers couldn't answer would be solved by grade-schoolers?

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