Chemteacher

swim, chem, baseball, I talk with my hands

Why SF? Why?

black calculator near ballpoint pen on white printed paper

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I realize more each day that what I know is merely the result of aggregating information. While such a simple statement, it is powerful to recognize that I am nothing more than the accumulation of this data and how I interpret it. We live in a world with so much data that we underestimate how much we need to process the validity and limits of this information. As such, one of the unintended results is that we, as humans, imagine that we know more than we actually do. What we don’t know is just a few decimals places away using technology we almost have.

In a way, “faith” in the ancient sense is substituted with “trust” in ideas and progress and technology. I am always stunned by how strongly sophomores cling tightly to the idea that having more digits in a number is “morally better” and clipping digits feels wrong. Because we encounter numbers every day we have this false sense of knowing that really isn’t true. The funny part is that historically humans have always felt this way about knowledge and truth. People of the late 19th century had the same hubris that we do now and that seems laughable to us.

Examples abound in every part of society. Think of climate change and how we are discussing temperature changes of 0.1°C. How well do we know this measurement? Do we think of this as “0.100 °C” ? How do I measure these changes? What kinds of instruments are used? I would love for people to be interested in how we collect and interpret this data before we talk about what causes this or why it is meaningful.

The unfortunate result of learning this topic is that it looks like Quinton is hating on math and taking points off for the wrong number of digits. Sigh… but this is what happens when an adult tries to teach an idea that students think they already know firmly. Some students will walk away shaking their heads and be grateful that they don’t have to follow “silly rules that don’t really apply.” I take heart in knowing that those who take the time to consider that numbers are not what they appear have opened their minds to a broader understanding of their world.

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This entry was posted on 2019-01-27 by in Education, Fun, Philosophy, Stories and tagged , .

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