Author Archive: Andrew

Bifurcation

And so ethereally walked the shadowy figure alongside the river fork.  Perhaps yet again shall his new companion meet its kin; perhaps too shall his kin beget a new companion.  He had hitherto accompanied the river, and it him.  Its origin is now but a subtle memory, an ephemeral effervescence.  It beget to him a reflection, a projection of his own intricacy.  Yet it solemnly made for a banal companion.  The bifurcation incited a novel awareness, yet a dismal prospect, for his new companion was much like the previous: it beget nothing more than a reflection.

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The Case for Activism

So I watched the video Innocence of Muslims that supposedly caused the outrage ultimately leading to novel US protests throughout the Middle East.

First of all, it was clearly a satire.  The issue is that of blasphemy, which is illegal in many of the countries with these protests.  Blasphemy is often recognized as unacceptable within the religion itself, versus being illegal in a country that predominantly constitutes of those in said religion.  The latter likely implies the former (i.e. being illegal likely means it is unacceptable in the dominant religion).  Although perhaps ironically, the Quran and hadith do not mention blasphemy, whereas Christianity condemns it.[1,2]  In the case in question, the issue was about the legitimacy of Muhammad’s teachings. Given the laws within the countries and the video, it’s no surprise that the protests have erupted.  What I personally find puzzling however, is why in the 21st century blasphemy is still taken seriously.

Blasphemy essentially involves questioning that which is assumed to be true.  There is an inherent anxiety in this, for if the assumptions are without merit, the whole religion falls apart.  Now of course, if the assumptions are with merit, then questioning them is meaningless, so why punish individuals in this case?  Won’t their absence of finding anything troubling with the religious assumptions and corresponding time wasted in the process be punishment enough?

Now take two other institutions that have assumptions that are questioned: law and mathematics.  In law, the assumptions are the laws themselves.  Yet for ubiquitously accepted reasons, we permit our legislative representatives to amend and refine laws so that they are compatible with the time period.  Similarly in mathematics, one may start with some axioms and prove something from them (or analogously, start with some laws and note an acceptable behavior), then later the mathematician may change the axioms to prove something more general or more specific.

Thus for the same reasons, I’d argue that the questioning of the assumptions within a religion could only be beneficial to it–except perhaps to those who benefit from the doctrine at a given time.  Religion, like law, may particularly benefit some members at a given time, and such members may be reluctant to welcome change.  This is something of which I claim all members of the institution need to be aware.  For if you fail to question the authority and dogma, you simultaneously give permission to sustain what may amount to a select few disproportionately benefiting.

[1] Saeed, Abdullah; Hassan Saeed (2004). Freedom of Religion, Apostasy and Islam. Burlington VT: Ashgate Publishing Company. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-7546-3083-8. (via Wikipedia: “Blasphemy”)

[2] Mark 3:29

Strange Military Law

Major Nidal Hasan, the accused 2009 Fort Hood shooter, attempted to plead guilty to the shootings, but was denied this plea by the judge.  The government is seeking the death penalty in this case.  As [1] states, “under military law, Hasan is not allowed to plead guilty because the premeditated murder charges carry death as the maximum sentence and the government is pursuing the death penalty in Hasan’s case”.  [1] states that under military law, he could plead guilty to lesser charges that do not carry the death penalty (which presumably would concurrently prevent him from being charged with the more serious crimes).  The telegram reporter is quoted as saying “‘Judge Gross said he would enter not guilty pleas in behalf of Hasan, if necessary'”.

[2] clarified some of my confusion.  It simply said “military law does not allow for guilty pleas in death penalty trials”.  It’s fine that the prosecution seeks the death penalty, but it’s absurd that the defendant doesn’t have a guilty plea option under military law, or that a judge could enter a “not guilty” plea against the defendant’s will.  It’s a technicality that really needs to be fixed.

Also, “On Wednesday, for the fifth time, the judge started the hearing with a contempt charge against Hasan and fined him $1,000, for showing up unshaven”.  This seems pretty ridiculous too, although [2] says the beard is “in violation of Army regulations”.

[1]  http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/08/15/13299644-nidal-hasan-barred-from-pleading-guilty-to-murder-in-2009-fort-hood-shooting

[2]  http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/08/16/ft-hood-judge-rejects-hasans-guilty-plea.html

What Math Really Is

There is an almost ubiquitous misconception about what mathematics really is, and it’s a misconception that genuinely beckons a correction.  I would take a guess that if the average person was asked “What is mathematics?”, they would respond with something along the lines of “well, it’s a bunch of rules that help you find certain numbers”.  While this may have been a correct answer long ago, it is far from correct today.

Fortunately, what it actually is can be summarized very succinctly.  Mathematics is simply the process of making assumptions and proving what follows.  Hence, we all do math on a daily basis—either when talking to one another, or when thinking to oneself:  “given what I know, I think that…”.  This is math.

This is also why math courses through calculus are terrible—as they are absurdly misleading.  Current curriculum is libelous to the discipline of mathematics and its participants, and action needs to be taken to address this.

At this point, high school language arts and composition courses may teach more math than actual math courses.  Fundamental to mathematics is logic and its application in the context of sets.  Logic was essentially nonexistent when I was in high school.  Yet math and language arts classes implicitly assume that students have a solid understanding of it when they are asked to make arguments.  Granted, as we are logical entities cognitively, we are trivially masters of logic.  But in terms of conveying it communicably, improved training is necessary.  I feel the overlooking of this necessity is a grave miscalculation that has hindered scientific thinking (an ability from which every citizen of the world can drastically benefit) for far longer than it should have.  This needs to change.

Lessons in Venn Diagrams

The Romney campaign released the following diagram several weeks back.  Alright those familiar with set theory, what is the problem with this diagram?  Also, if you figure it out, the Romney campaign may want to hire you.

Some other interesting ones:

(for citations, see http://www.upworthy.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-mitt-romney-in-one-graphic)