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The Unity of Data and Principle
- To: Chris Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: The Unity of Data and Principle
- From: Bob <email@example.com>
- Date: Sun, 04 Feb 2001 15:13:34 -0600
- CC: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Organization: MANTIC STUDIO
- References: <B6A2E3AD.5E1email@example.com>
- Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, Chris, you pointed me back to some of your old articles so I
finally have an opportunity to argue one of them. This isn't completely
off-topic in the I-Drama forum but it's a roundabout way of getting to
the point. However, I apologize in advance for the lecture I'll launch
I'll start with the quote (taken from
"The realization that toppled this literal interpretation is that laws
and data are not separate entities; laws are highly digested forms of
data. For example, let us take the elementary scientific observation
that 2 + 2 = 4. Now, that's about as simple, obvious, and
uncontroversial as a theory can be. But this law is not some ethereal
hypothesis cooked up in of the fevered mind of an effete academic.
Instead, it represents a digestion of a vast amount of data. If I take
two apples and put them in a box, and then I add two more apples, when I
look in the box, I'll see four apples. Surprise, surprise! But, if I put
two oranges in a box, and then add two oranges, when I look in the box
I'll see four oranges. The same thing happens if I use kumquats, or
monkeys, or pencils, or planets. After thousands, nay, millions of such
experiences, I have been able to conclude that two things added to two
more things yields four things: 2 + 2 = 4. This is not airy-fairy
theorizing &emdash; this is a gigantic mountain of data reduced to a
That seems like something nobody in their right mind would argue with,
eh? But I had my eyes opened about the inaccuracy of this very concept
early on. Here's how:
Forget that you have been indoctrinated into the religeon of
mathematics for a moment and become little Johnny, sitting at the head
of the class as Teacher is about to start preaching... er... teaching.
Now, Teacher has a box of apples. They look really tasty and you know
all about apples; you even have your eye on the biggest, reddest apple
in the box. Teacher picks up an apple and displays it to the class.
"This is ONE apple." She tells everyone.
You, Johnny, see that it has a green spot on it, and an ugly dent...
and it's rather small. Teacher reaches back in the box and picks another
apple. The very one you were drooling over. She holds it up and
proclaims: "And THIS is ONE apple." She holds out the apple, "ONE
apple," and then the other, "plus ONE apple." Then she does something
silly; she holds them both out and declares that these "are TWO apples."
How many problems are there with that? From the semantic angle, these
apples changed their very state of being; suddenly they are no longer
ONE apples but TWO apples. What is a TWO apple? Wouldn't a TWO apple be
twice as big, twice as red, and twice as shiny as the ONE apple Johnny
is lusting in his heart over? And when she puts them down on her desk
side by side they look like the Prince and the Pauper. So surely ONE
apple is not equal to ONE apple. The only way to combine the ONE apples
equally this way would be to get a blender, and a blender wouldn't
produce a TWO apple... only apple-sauce. And she can compound the
problem: she hands out the apples to the class by TWOs, but Amy got that
big, red, shiny apple and Johnny got a little green one and a smashed
one with a big brown spot and a worm in it. As surely as a ONE apple
wasn't the same as another ONE apple, a TWO apple isn't any more equal.
Laws and data ARE separate entities. And Johnny isn't a very happy boy.
The point I'm making is that the math is an exact while the reality is
approximation. A simplefication for the sake of efficiency, and the
concept of TWO is not necessarily identical to ONE and ONE together.
Defy that doctrine that tells you the inequality is solved by balancing
weight and quality with a paring knife, too ... because what's left of
at least one specimen by that method is no longer a ONE apple. The whole
idea is pretty odd upon initial exposure -- fortunately Johnny is young
and trusting, and maybe if he's lucky Amy has a crush on him.
This is the preamble I picked up to an explanation of plot in fiction
at it's simplest representation (it may go back generations, so I can't
claim the wisdom behind it). Plot is the resolution of ONE force put
together with another ONE force as surely as TWO is the resolution to
ONE plus ONE. It's kinda fuzzy in the same way. Going at it with the
physical representation, you have conflict as ONE boxer thrown together
with another ONE boxer (it could as well be a pair of TWO boxers, or
sets of FOUR or TEN); the resolution isn't exactly a TWO boxer, but it
is the result of the combination. Boxer-sauce?
In most stories the elements involved are wandering around a little
more etherial territory, but still aren't so equal as they may seem,
much less as equal as the abstract 'numbers' of elementary mathematics.
The elements being emotions. When maternal love (ONE emotion) and
profound patriotism (ONE emothion) get thrown together the resolution
may be whether Johnny goes off to war. Johnny-sauce.
The resolution of principle and data? Results may vary. ;)
Apologies in closing, as well.