Confusing Medium and Message

In a somewhat unlikely Star Trek NG episode the crew encounters a race which speaks, unfortunately, entirely through cipher that is coded references to historical events. Blog, well, neighbor Eli is in a huff because some philosopher of science (Signorelli) offers that the “language of maths” isn’t sufficient for human experience. He offers as counter example not a cipher but a number substitution code and suggests that if you encode ordinary language with numbers you’ve translated text into the domain of maths. Well, sorry. That doesn’t it, the medium is not the message. That you are viewing this short essay which is encoded in ASCII and transmitted via HTTP protocols over 802.1 specified media, i.e., numbers. The message is not maths.

A possible line of argument that Mr Signorelli have more difficulty defending is whether is this possibly apocryphal anecdote whether the speaker at the funeral in his speech was getting off track or whether he was using the language of Maths (in the real sense) to express and work out his grief at a colleagues passing.

On the other hand I might suggest a better avenue to counter Mr Signorelli in somewhat smaller domains. There is an audience and a market for combining ones’ passion for maths with other more basic passions, such as the artist Bathsheba and her wares (which I recommend and am an occasional customer). Consider that “ora” which can be bought as jewelry suitable as a gift for your lover … is two interlinked tetrahedra in its self-dual symmetrical glory … and its pretty. For the right recipient there might be a message of maths (not as transmission technology) but which conveys “I love you.” I’ll also offer that when I was dating the woman who would become my wife, I sent her (in the very early 90s) a love letter written on an HP-48 calculator and transmitted using the same calculator to her via programs written on the calculator (and its serial port) to send the letter via FAX when I was traveling. That is a way in which the medium and the message mix a bit, in that computer geekery was used to transmit, well, passion.

Drop in on departmental lecture in your local university maths building. What you hear there is the language of maths. That is what Mr Signorelli is arguing is in sufficient to transmit the breadth of human experience. Basically, he’s right, except that for those passionate about and fluent in that language it can be used to transmit some of those human messages and experience. It is hard even for the maths monomaniac to begin with “let’s consider a function of one complex variable” to say in that language “Let’s get pizza tonight.”

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