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Numbed by Numbers on the Way to the Digital Palace

By Edward Curtin

“But yet mathematical certainty is after all, something insufferable. Twice two makes four seems to me simply a piece of insolence. Twice two makes four is a pert coxcomb who stands with arms akimbo barring your path and spitting. I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too.”

– Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground

Everybody knows that 2 + 2 = 4 since 4 = 2 + 2.  They know that excellent thing with certainty but generally fail to appreciate the charming nature of 2 + 2 = 5.  Tautologies are usually preferred to choices that seem to contradict the “laws of nature.”  Mind-forged manacles are popular because freedom from the laws of nature, while desired, is feared.  It suggests that liberty is a fundamental existential truth.

Don’t get me wrong, I can count.  I am drinking my second cup of coffee.  Number one has disappeared down my throat, but the second coffee tastes fine.  It is real and still exists. The first is just an abstraction now – number 1 – a simple vertical line on the page.

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