Numbers and words

There’s an old Jewish joke of the man who sends his son to school – presumably at some expense – so that he could become successful. When the son returns home the father asks him what he has learnt:

“We learnt that if I have two apples and Greta has three apples we have five apples between us.”

The father gets extremely angry: “I didn’t send you to school to learn about apples. Are you going to become a farmer?”

The next day the son returns and the father asks him the same question.

“We learnt that if I have four chairs and Ellie takes two of them then I’m left with two chairs.”

The father gets angry again: “I didn’t send you to school to learn about chairs. Are you going to become a carpenter”

The following day the same question was asked of the son:

“Today we learnt that if three of us each has two books we have six books between us”

“Ahh”, says the father. “That’s what I sent you to school for – to learn about books”.

I’ve had discussions with sceptics and Atheists that are of this kind. Picking up on the irrelevant details rather than the crux of the matter. But the point of this article is not really that, it’s about numbers and words and left and right-brain thinking. I’ve written about left and right brain functions before:

Thinking with Left and Right Sides of the Brain
Mathematics and the Real World
The till roll and the Turkish carpet
Binary thinking

Numbers are left brained. Words (and to a certain extent letters) are right brained. Numbers require precision: if you are one digit out in a phone number you will dial the wrong phone. Names are not so precise: if you misspell a name or you mispronounce it slightly it may not really matter1. The fact that our society has moved so much towards numbers is an indication of how our thinking (and education) has become more left-sided. There is no room for vagueness or imprecision, even though it’s often out of imprecision that real progress is made. I sometime say that real understanding comes from the edges of what we know. .

I listened to a podcast some time ago by someone who was attempting to explain Darwinian evolution and was answering some criticisms of the theory. These criticisms had been selected of course to be quite specific details but for each one he had a very detailed answer.

There’s a story (probably fiction) about a Dutch boy who spotted a leak in a dyke and put his finger in it to prevent the water cascading through, bringing the dyke down and flooding the area. As a metaphor it’s a good one and I thought of it when I listened to the podcast. It was as if the podcaster found a fault, however small, in the theory of evolution the whole thing would come crashing down, and he couldn’t possibly accept that. Real science (and Darwinism is a long way from being real science) doesn’t work like that. We form hypothesis and then test that with theories. Over time we revise our theories and we must be able to dispense with the theory altogether if a better one comes along. Left-brained thinkers however, requires a series of steps and each step must be complete. There is no room for imprecision or vagueness. There is an inability for people who are left-brained to revise their thinking. Once a pattern is formed it is very difficult to change it.

Sometimes when I explain my ideas to people they try to trip me up on details. Sometimes I can answer their questions but sometimes I can’t. I have to say ‘I don’t know’ – and that is an important phrase for any real scientist to learn. It doesn’t mean that my ideas are complete rubbish because I can’t answer that detail. It just means that we have to look deeper into it.

There may two or more theories that all seem to make sense. It is inherent in left brained thinking that that there can only be one explanation but it is important in any real understanding to be able to accept a degree of cognitive dissonance. Unless you can accept that you will always reject one theory out-of-hand. Sometimes we are not in position to reject one explanation over another until we have more information.

There used to be women on talk radio in Melbourne who answered questions about science. She trained astronauts and her field of expertise was astrophysics. However, she would attempt to answer questions on any aspect of science, sometimes with comical ignorance. I never heard her say she didn’t know. It was as if she had to fly the flag for ‘science’ and scientists are the high-priests of science who know all. If she admitted she didn’t know then the edifice would fall – the dyke would be breached.

And of course, in this time of Covid there can be no possibility of allowing the edifice that ‘science’ has built up to fracture. If we were to doubt the words of the experts then what next? So any person who hints of any criticism of the story that the authorities (with the backing of ‘science’) tell, will be suppressed.


  1. It’s interesting that even where letters are used to substitute numbers, as in a phone number, the letters are not so precise. For instance on a standard phone keypad A, B or C can substitute for the number 2.

By Philip Braham on May 21, 2021




One response to “Numbers and words”

  1. Shino Braybrooke
    Shino Braybrooke

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