Sometime between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, humanity took a giant leap forward, as our ancestors started understanding that numbers were pure abstractions and that one system alone was enough to count everything, i.e., the same number can be applied to three cows, three farmers, three houses, etc. Think how revolutionary and abstract was the idea that a certain number of coins could represent a certain amount of goods. The so-called “digital economy” is now upon us.
But what does it mean if not for the abstract –and yes mathematical– representations of goods, services, phenomena, and knowledge so that we can identify them, evaluate them, trade them, secure them, and multiply them more efficiently. And guess what! These representations are becoming more and more abstract, hence often less and less understood by more and more of us. Policy makers ought to be the first to gauge their impact on societies. They should be first to comprehend that these abstract constructs are as concrete and consequential as can be.
It has been reported that certain empowered policy makers in Ottawa think that “Pure Mathematics” qualifies as “Philosophy” or “Art”, with the implicit implication that it doesn’t deserve the same support as other disciplines, which have a more direct impact on “innovation” and hence the economy.
So that’s what they think of the language of science, the enabler of technology, the framework for precision, uncertainty and chance, the “public key” to the mailbox, the cornerstone of coding and decryption, and ultimately of our privacy and our security.
Then, I saw the following terrifying display. It can of course be described as a bad joke, but still it is a telling caricature of what could explain faulty and uninformed decision-making by people holding positions of stewardship of Canadian science and technology.
But what if the relentless Mathematization and Digitization of society is making our own existence a bit too abstract. More later.