Is daily life possible without irrational Math and rational Faith?

By Lennox Farrell Wednesday August 13 2014 in Opinion
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By LENNOX FARRELL

 

As a driver, whenever you stop on a red light, and proceed on the green, that simple act is an example of faith in practice. It is your faith, or confidence in other drivers that they too, comply with the traffic laws. For example, in Ontario, your driver’s license is a covenant between you and the Province; a covenant of faith that obeying the Traffic laws allows you to continue driving on public roads.

 

Or, consider another example of actions you regularly take by faith. Before you board a commercial flight, how much do you usually have to know about the laws of aerodynamics? Or what must you know about the credentials of the air traffic controllers and the pilot? Like driving in Ontario, taking a flight is also an act of faith. Faith in publicly run systems and professionals.

 

Of course, even under the best of circumstances, errors occur. Flights fail. Planes plunge. In 1983, a 767 flying between Ottawa and Manitoba ran out of fuel. It is called the “Gimli incident” because the skilled pilots were able to land at an airport in Gimli, Manitoba. What had occurred? Those who’d fueled the plane had been confused by a then recent decision by Canada to change its Metric and Imperial conversion charts and tables. In this case from gallons to litres.

 

What value then do we place on the practice of faith? How abhorrent is being unfaithful? How undesirable is being faithless or not keeping faith with principles and responsibilities? Yet, which of us has ever seen “faith, or faithlessness”? Which of us has ever seen the intangible and invisible forms of other cherished principles? Yet, which of us does not adhere to intangibles, while only the material evidences of these can be seen? For is faith as much belief as it is the evidence of one’s beliefs?

 

Truly then, faith, as the evidence of things not seen, is also the trees visibly waving when bent and bowed by the invisible wind. It is the visible courage of a Dr. King influenced by an invisible Faith in Divinity. It is the concrete and steel structures which protect us even when, as foundations, they are also constructed to remain unseen, out of sight, underground. This is my thinking, and on which I can be wrong. The idea is that we are encouraged to think more, and be thereby, clearer for self, family and community.

 

To segue from intangible principles to rational Math, does faith in it remain unaltered and unshakeable? This certainty or uncertainty was part of the discussion by Cliff Goldstein in a video, referred to last week, “Math Problems?” Therefore, take for example, some axioms of Math which we cannot see, yet take as absolutes. It is not that these postulates are to be denied as axioms; it is whether it is reasonable or not that they be taken on the basis of faith.

 

For example, take numbers. What is more numeral than one, two and three, etc.? In fact, it is even possible to see, and believe in a tangible two, and a tangible ten. With these numbers we can visualize two people: a Trini couple in Niagara Falls nyamin down 10 Haitian mangoes.

 

Ok, so positive numbers make positive sense. However, what about negative numbers? When last have you seen a negative two (-2), or a negative ten (-10)? And how – without faith – is it possible to accept that multiplying a negative two by a negative ten you would get you a plus twenty (-2 x -10 = 20)? Is it rational for some numbers to be irrational?

 

Or take geometry. Remember high school on a hot, hot Friday afternoon half-asleep in some small classroom without windows in St. Elizabeth, St. James, or St. Dominic’s? To be precise, consider Euclidean Geometry. The only type we then knew. From where and from whom did this joy-killer and its axioms come, and with what historic effect on humanity?

 

From the 3rd Century AD into the 19th century – except for some 11th, 12th, and 18th century Arab geometers like Ibn al-Haytham and Omar Khayyam – the axioms of Euclidean geometry formed the bases of what were, otherwise, the universally accepted ‘truths’ of mathematics. Derived from a Greek mathematician, Euclid, whose name translated into English means, “Great Glory”, set the laws, or axioms, which governed geometry. These were self-evident truths which didn’t require proof for calculating lines and angles…for 2,000 years. Among these axioms, postulates or laws are the following: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line; that parallel lines can never meet, etc.

 

Since Mathematics represented the best opportunities for unparalleled certainty, many philosophers, especially since the 18th century, have also been mathematicians. In the 20th century, two of the most celebrated were Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. Regarding Euclidean geometry (elliptical), which assumes a plane or flat surfaces in which the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, under Einstein’s geometry (hyperbolic), in which the shortest distance between two lines is geodesic, or along a curved line (like the Equator).

 

Now there is both Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry…both derived from pure logic and unassailable objectivity. Or so we were taught. And believed. On faith. So, after two millennia, does one now believe in Math derived from the bases of both pure logic, and on faith? And what happened to Euclidean geometry, especially its fifth postulate; for example, in which parallel lines remain at a constant distance from each other even if extended into infinity?

 

Were Euclid’s axioms wrong? And Einstein’s right? Or do they both enunciate postulates which we continue to accept, on faith?! And if anyone could make the point about “Math Problems”, consider what in this context Bertrand Russell said: “Mathematics can be defined as a subject in which we never know what we are talking about, or if what we are saying is true.”

 

Finally, the self-evident axioms, and universally-accepted postulates of Math are, like our traffic laws, generally taken for granted; generally taken by faith. What do all the above ultimately mean? That as humans, in the same way we cannot exist without Math and its intangibles, so too, we cannot live without faith and its intangibles: intangibles like grace, beauty, peace, joy and compassion. In short, faith in these is not incredulity. Doubt is.

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