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  #1  
Old 02-18-2012, 01:59 PM
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Default Math...

Any math lovers in the house?
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Old 02-18-2012, 02:15 PM
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I am not a math lover. Not a math hater either. It's a tool, like a drill
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:01 PM
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In economics mathematics can help you to formalize your thoughts yet the beauty of a neat formula can cause you to mistake what is, as Tom has pointed out, just a stupid tool for truth.
Take the most famous formula of all times, E=mc². OK, it tells you that mass and energy are equivalent and it allows you to calculate how much juice you get of destroying something but it doesn't actually tell you how it happens. Burning stuff, nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, matter-antimatter, you gotta know a lot more than E=mc² to understand the actual processes.

So beauty and truth is one aspect of maths, another is in how far mathematics constitutes a language of its own.

My favourite economic story is one from Joe Stiglitz about sharecropping. You can read about it either in mathematics in the original paper or in prose in his nobel prize speech. I prefer the latter.
On the other hand there are instances when mathematics and intuition, common sense or however you wanna call it do not go hand in hand, when you cannot translate maths into ordinary language. Modern physics is probably the best example. That's what Feynman meant when he said that "nobody understands quantum mechanics". You got a theory for you data but the theory is totally abstract, you cannot translate it into ordinary language. Tiny zero-dimensional particles behaving like particles and like a wave at the same time? Impossible to imagine or understand.

This opens up a sh*tload of ontological questions. One is probably merely based on my lack of knowledge but I never understood whether the uncertainty principle implies that the tiny world is inherently probabilistic or whether it's only thus from our point of view and not from "God's eyes". Another is whether maths is actually better than our intuition. They both come out of our brain so why should we rely more on the one than the other? "Because the one is more abstract" seems like a dubious reason to me.
This brings me back to economics. The most useful stuff I have read concerning understanding what has happened in the last years has been written in prose, often decades ago. Modern day theoreticians with fancy equations and empirical guys with powerful computers failed at explaining or predicting anything. So in the case of doubt I rather stick with the less clear-cut and beautiful, more muddy and foggy aspects of human thinking than with mathematics.
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:10 PM
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Economic questions by their very nature are not purely mathematical, since economics is as much a study in behavior as it is rooted in math. It's like a blend between a hard science and a social science. Probably actually leaning more towards the latter,
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Old 02-18-2012, 03:21 PM
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Sure, it might be inappropriate to lump together the four areas where maths is used. Everyday life where you basically just need arithmetics and sometimes a bit of algebra ... stuff like engineering based on hard science where mathematics is obviously useful and necessary ... social sciences which deal with far more complicated systems than a bridge or a car, namely us, where mathematics is mainly a tool to formalize your thoughts ... and quantum theory which unlike the stuff from the other three areas can merely be expressed mathematically and thus creates these philosophical issues.
My distrust into maths lies only in its application in social sciences and the hardest science of all, theoretical physics.
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Old 02-19-2012, 04:37 AM
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Geometry, yes!
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Old 02-19-2012, 08:02 AM
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Math is not one of my strong suits. As I often tell folks whenever I try to figure out even sums: "I'm not good as spontaneous math."

My strong suit lies in spelling and English. And the ironic thing about English: I couldn't tell you past-participle from past-perfect. I didn't pay attention to the mechanics of English when I was in school, but I can write quite eloquently.

Funny story:
When I was in the Army, I was (at one point) an Admin Specialist (read: secretary in camouflage). The bridgade commander (a Lieutenant Colonel) needed a memo written up, and I was given the notes behind the intent of his memo. I wrote it up...succinctly, yet readily understandable, and submitted it to my immediate superior, who then sent it up the chain of command to the commander himself.

So, my section was discussing matters of the day when our brigade commander came into the work area, holding up the memo, and asked: "Who wrote up this memo?"

All eyes fell on me, and I stood up: "I did, sir."

The commander grinned: "This is one of the best written memos I have ever seen! The English used is impeccable, and you captured what needed to be said. What is your level of education, Sergeant?"

"High school graduate, sir."

"Really? Well done, Sergeant."

"Thank you, sir."

When the commander left the room, my supervisor came up to me and said: "That was higher praise than you might realize, Sergeant. The brigade commander is an English professor. And you just impressed the hell out of him with a high school education? You must've really paid attention in class."

"Ironically, Sergeant," I replied, "I didn't pay very much attention at all. I guess I was just blessed with good communication skills."

We all got a kick out of that.
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Old 02-19-2012, 10:34 AM
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PICARD: Did you read that book I gave you?
WESLEY: Some of it.
PICARD: That's reassuring.
WESLEY: I just don't have much time.
PICARD: There is no greater challenge than the study of philosophy.
WESLEY: But William James won't be in my Starfleet exams.
PICARD: The important things never will be. Anyone can be trained in the mechanics of piloting a starship.
WESLEY: But Starfleet Academy ...
PICARD: It takes more. Open your mind to the past. Art, history, philosophy. And all this may mean something.

Same applies for maths. Anybody can be trained to do deal with stochastic differential equations or whatever, that's just something technical like learning to drive a bike or car. But being masterful with language and all it subtleties, that's a real skill.
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Old 02-19-2012, 06:35 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by horatio View Post
PICARD: Did you read that book I gave you?
WESLEY: Some of it.
PICARD: That's reassuring.
WESLEY: I just don't have much time.
PICARD: There is no greater challenge than the study of philosophy.
WESLEY: But William James won't be in my Starfleet exams.
PICARD: The important things never will be. Anyone can be trained in the mechanics of piloting a starship.
WESLEY: But Starfleet Academy ...
PICARD: It takes more. Open your mind to the past. Art, history, philosophy. And all this may mean something.

Same applies for maths. Anybody can be trained to do deal with stochastic differential equations or whatever, that's just something technical like learning to drive a bike or car. But being masterful with language and all it subtleties, that's a real skill.
Thank you, friend Horatio.

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