Decimal Fractions

/ / Teaching / Thinking Tools /
@ K. 2003 11 22

Absolute versus Gradual

Mission: to highlight differences between absolute and gradient distinctions

I blurt and rant in my Society section. Even my FLEX (deschooling) section has untamed files. But I’ve long meant to be careful here among my Thinking Tools: still some blurting and ranting has intruded. I don’t know yet how this one is going to emerge (just starting it, of course), but I do know I don’t have time or attention today to do it the justice it deserves. Yet tired, old pk of 2003 has no patience with the perfectionist pk of the ’50s and ’60s … perfectionism characterized by nothing ever seeming to get done.

Things happen in fractions; we tell the story in whole numbers.

Everyone knows the limerick about the mixed marriage where of four offspring one was white, one brown, “and two khaki.” Yet one of the extraordinary discoveries of modern science was Gregor Mendel’s pea plant experiment: mixes of tall and short developed to be either short or tall; not mid-sized. Blue eyes and brown eyes produce either blue eyes or brown eyes; not mud. The genes mix invisibly but the phenotype, the individual organism “rounds it off” as it were. The bank owes you a penny and a fraction: either it gives you the whole extra penny or it keeps the change: it doesn’t pay in mils. Calculate, yes; pay, no.

Just like our minds. Part of our consciousness is capable of dealing in decimal fractions; most isn’t. Things happen in fractions; we tell the story in whole numbers.

A couple of my modules have touched on this rich area: stories of my Faulkner class] and my Thinking Tools module on Spectra, for example. The latter especially approaches points I now want to hit bulls eye from this angle: the angle of decimal fractions.

The universe, including the universe of life, involves more complexities than the human mind has yet evolved to map properly. Science expands our limitations: a little: too little.

For example, our justice systems are rhetorically divided in binary: Guilty or Not Guilty. In practice we have myriad fractions: First Degree Murder, Second Degree Murder … Notice the implication I just slipped in there: what we would model based on rhetoric does not map against what we would model from practice. Neither does theory and practice, practice and theory.

One guy’s life is disrupted, permanently, for lifting up a girl’s skirt: once, when he was twelve; other guys who lifted up plenty of girls’ skirts, when they were eight, when they were thirteen … and when they’re President of the United States, were never called to trial. Thus: the latter are Not Guilty!

You want to know how people really think? Look at their myths. Reason through their theologies, their cosmologies … In theory, Christians are either Saved or Damned. Yet Jesus was supposed to have spent three days in hell. Excuse me: isn’t that a decimal fraction? Three days of damnation; all of eternity-minus-three-days … being God: not saved, but the Saver.

In our loose talk, we’re black or white; in our experience we’re a spectrum of mixes of black and white.

I recommend experimenting — freely — with decimal fractions in areas we’re used to used to dealing with as wholes. Nothing productive happens? So what? but pay attention if something interesting comes up.

We say someone is “intelligent”; someone else “stupid.” How about both — and all else — being some decimal fraction between the binaries intelligent and stupid?
We say someone is “beautiful”; someone else “ugly.” How about both — and all else — being some decimal fraction between the binaries beautiful and ugly?

You see surely how extendible a list of such could become. Here: add more yourself. I’ll seed the list:

How monogomous is homo sapiens? Zero? One? Some fraction?

Where your answers are decimal fractions, try estimating a possible value for the fraction.

Your mother may have blue eyes while you have brown, but surely some things are either or: plain and simple. Like, for example: you’re either dead or alive.

I suggest that the more closely one looks at such either / or dichotomies, more leeway may be found to stretch out of them. Can one really say that all “living” people are equally alive? I was once selling motorcycle accessories when the middle weight boxing champ walked in. Sorry I’m not remembering his name from the summer of 1967, but man that guy glowed.

The time I picked Ivan Illich up and whirled him around in my arms, he felt like I had embraced a live high-tension wire. I swear he levitated. (I suspect we both levitated. (Believe me: I hadn’t been levitating until I touched him.)) But then people have told me I seem like an angel: just fallen from the sky. Who can say we’re all “equally” alive: at all times. Everyone knows of days when they burned bright; and other days when they just sputter.

Then again so many of our distinctions are verbal, semantic, political. Then we believe them, trust them: think our descriptions are real. These days you’re not dead until a doctor (licensed by the state) pronounces you dead. The organism is discounted; the magical words, with their magical document, promoted. Maybe it’s better than throwing people into a coffin the minute they fall down — so we don’t have to put up with the smell, and then exhuming the coffin later to find it full of frantic scratchings. And what about when the doctor pronounces you dead, then some other doctor finds you walking down the hall: or decides to try to electrocute your heart back into action? Were you “zero” dead? or “one” dead? or decimal-fractionally dead?

More may follow, but that sets the direction.

Oh: and meantime, ask yourself to what extent my questions are “real”: that is, do they correspond to survival issues or are they chimerical, artifacts of our (my) verbiage? don’t be too quick to decide: especially not merely because I mix “superstitious” examples with “scientific.”

Thinking Tools

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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