The Siren Call of Numbers

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“Our Slide into the Slavery to Analytics”
Written by Rick Trottier – RJT Images

I once heard the statement, “Only in Mathematics will we find Truth”. It was a long time ago, but I clearly remember the deeply unsettling series of emotions that chased each other through my being after contemplating those words. Isn’t truth about exploring ethical and moral content? Isn’t truth about finding “The Good” as Socrates put it? Somehow, the thought of truth being condensed to a calculus problem seemed heartless, inhuman and without spirit. In the decades since that time, I have watched such thinking become the mantra of hordes of businessmen and scientists keen on reforming how we live our lives, making each and every corner of our days more efficient and productive and in the end, possibly robbing us of some of our most uniquely human characteristics. I can think of few things more frightening than having my life and those of the people I love reduced to equations.
Make no mistake, I was one of those kids who loved all avenues of science; from experiments, to research projects, to building anything I could, to reading Science Fiction comics and novels, and most of my favorite TV and movies were connected to science on some level. And I loved memorizing my math facts so that they became Second Nature. I see the study of math and the sciences as one of the vehicles by which the salvation of humanity on our shrinking sphere in space will be consummated. Science and Mathematics have given us many of the better ways of life we’ve enjoyed as a species over the past one hundred years. But neither discipline is the very core of what makes us uniquely human. They are certainly part of the Human Experience and the striving for greatness and progress. But so also is creativity, art, music, dance, literature and all those pursuits that bring a deeper sense of the expansion of the soul and the parameters of the passionate. Simple animal life maximized its potential by seeking the greatest possible efficiency in the struggle for survival. Such behavior is the essence of Darwinist thinking. But no simple form of life on Earth engages in creative activities for the joy and sense of discovery as does humankind. And bit by bit, as The Cult of Metrics takes a deeper hold on us, I see something beautiful and indispensable to being human disappearing.
Clearly do I recall my days as a graduate student thirty years ago, watching the steady advance of “quantification” in the field of historical studies. Top flight research wasn’t just about finding the best possible first person accounts to verify your points in any thesis, it was also about numbers, proving assertions with actual data that could be collected, collated and then analyzed so that conclusions could be drawn from the logarithms. And while I saw some benefit from blending the more literary traditions of social studies with something akin to social/historical science, it concerned me that academics seemed to want to reduce life and the human condition to number theory and data strings.
You can read more of this article in our March 2016 issue of ModelsMania

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