Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How useful are words?

On something as simple as posting about a conference for bringing together Mathematicians and Biologists there are commenters questioning the utility of Mathematics.

To me, questioning the utility of Mathematics to Science (and to Biology in particular) is like asking why words are useful to communication.

Surely we can communicate without words? We don't really need words for effective communication. We can easily communicate using gestures, expressions and pictures. We can communicate frustration, joy, and sadness without words. We can share knowledge and tell stories without words. I’ve never understood why words are in any way related to communicating and understanding. Words are just a tool developed to convey information, really just an image of reality. And complex words, specifically new vernacular as well as complicated vocabulary, these really serve no purpose to advance understanding. Using words might describe the thoughts that we have, but the words themselves don't actually do anything to change our thoughts. I think I'll just keep writing until someone can prove to me how useful words really are to communication.

Toddler Facepalm

My response to ridiculous comments is so pronounced
that that my toddler has learned to facepalm


Anonymous said...

I think this article nicely sums up the power of words and the fact that good communication skills start with being communicated to, verbally.


mathbionerd said...

Thank you for sharing!

I actually have a post half-written that refers to this article, and to the science therein. I've just been waiting until I had time to read the primary article to post it.

EllenQ said...

That picture is awesome and I think you should post it whenever people are being ridiculous. I worked in an undergrad lab where I was the token biologist (they called me hippie), most people were chemists, and there was one physicist and one mathematician. The argument was frequently made that chemistry was the basis of all biology, physics the basis of chemistry, and math the basis of physics so all science was essentially different forms of math. The farther I get into science, the more I think that is true.

mathbionerd said...

I think I might use this picture more often, Ellen.

Your story reminds me of this xkcd comic: http://xkcd.com/435/