Maths and Language

The Quant. Method. classes at the MPhil I am auditing have begun to really embarrass me. As part of the initiation, we’re rushing through a summary of Intro of Statistics — which is the stuff stat modules in Indian highschools are made of — and I’m beginning to discover that there are gaping holes in my memory where four years of maths classes should have been.

I suppose I should have run home screaming, fished out my trusted yellow texts and dove into them, but so far — although my memory’s been on the blink — good old English and common-sense has been saving the day. Sure, I don’t *remember* what a quartile is, but I don’t need a definition to understand it divides a given sample into four equal parts. And for the four parts to be analytically useful, they must be ordered. And a child could tell you what a range is, and what mean and median are. Things that need a second’s thought are things like ‘inner fences’. Clearly, they are limits used to select a particular section of a sample. But why the arbitrary 1.5? Possibly because quartiles are too exclusive, and fences select the broadest possible range while keeping out the two extremes.

And that’s an entire class neatly decoded and wrapped up, without any panicked textbook-intervention.

This whole experience reminded me of my dear friend Lali, who insisted she could do no arithmatic at all and had married a mathematician expressly for numerical purposes. However, she knew far more about the etymology of money, lending terms, origins of financial institutions and laws of exchange than he did (he was, he said, happy to be ignorant of such things entirely). And neither her knowledge of words nor his mastery of ‘number-dances’, as she sometimes called mathematics, could make him come anywhere near the family finances, nor keep her from balancing a multi-channelled monthly budget perfectly.

There is a lesson here, I think. And I think it has to do with ending the vigilant segregation between the ‘Arts’ and Maths that we habitually practise, a segregation I personally suffered from.

But I could be wrong.

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3 comments

  1. “This whole experience reminded me of my dear friend Lali, who insisted she could do no arithmatic at all and had married a mathematician expressly for numerical purposes.”

    -Why do you think I married a statistician? 🙂

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