Friday, August 21, 2009

A Quick Comparison

...Of Mathematics and Hard Drugs

The way I see it, mathematics is a lot like opium. That's a bold statement, so allow me to explain a little.

As with opium, most people never use mathematics at all, and rarely come into contact with it. Sure, kids are taught to count and add up, the same way they're given Calpol when they're ill - there's nothing wrong with that - it's even a good thing. However, just as no one would compare Calpol to heroin, no one would compare adding to calculus.

Some people only use mathematics when they have to, and the experience is rarely enjoyable. It may bring some relief, and help to overcome a problem that could not be surpassed without it, but that doesn't mean they'd consider themselves a mathematician. A user.

In the same way, if you're in a great deal of pain, you may succumb to morphine or Vicodin. You don't want to, and you don't associate the use with a happy experience. You do need to though, and there's no shame in that, it'll help you recover faster.

Finally we come to those who use it all the time. Mathematicians are maths junkies, just like heroin addicts are opium junkies. Unable to function properly in society (watch as I carefully avoid making mathematics-based puns). Never being quite accepted by their peers, although clearly many feel sorry for them, and would like to be able to help.

Interestingly, both mathematicians and junkies tend to live for their poison. They are also very concerned with the purity of their experiences, as well as their ability to transcend all else.

It isn't just the users of mathematics and drugs from which a stark parallel may be drawn. Consider also the history. The development of both drugs and mathematics has been propagated by outlaws and rebels. Mathematicians rejected by the church for questioning God and pushing the limits of perfection, addicts were equally rejected, though generally less memorably. Both often went mad.

I may have mentioned before that I'd be good at coming up with conspiracy theories. I only hope that no terrifying Christian cult finds this argument and starts attacking mathematicians for their "over-pure" thoughts. Although, it is quite clearly unnatural.

Consider yourself warned. Mathematics can be dangerous to your health and your social life. Just say no.

P.S. Fiona's allowed me to put a link to her Vet Science blog. It's in the link section with the others. She's a very occasional mathematics user, and needs your support.

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