Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Week 13: Your World. Delivered.

In the process of education, we immerse ourselves in different fields of study, laying down a sample size of data in our brain large enough to illuminate a coherent pattern. The more we learn, the more this pattern is refined, reinforced, and strengthened. This pattern then lifts us up, allowing us to see the world not as a forebodingly complex jumble of dissonance, but as infinite variations on a singular theme: the world becomes one. 

Through education, we are empowered to infer beyond the world of our five senses, beyond our perception of reality. Through education—we find faith.

In Week 11, when Billy tried to sound out the word “mathematics”, he was transforming a single, ominous and impossibly complex “sound” into a logical sequence of more familiar, easy-to-spell syllables. He took a complex word, framed it as a collection of syllables, and used this new perspective to decompose the word into smaller, more manageable pieces.

This is the exact same approach we take to add any multi-digit sum, such as 88 + 66. The down and dirty approach would be to start at 88 and then count a collection of 66 sticks, rocks, fingers, toes or some witches brew of all the above in order to arrive at the sum. But nobody does this—not anymore; modern mathematics allows us to sense and manipulate numbers more efficiently than that. In school, we all learned how to take a multi-digit addition problem, frame it as a collection of place values, and then use this new perspective to decompose it into a series of easy-to-calculate single-digit sums. The algorithm is simple: start at the ones place, carry over if necessary, move on to the next place value, and repeat.

Taking a complex problem, orienting it around a familiar frame of reference, and then decomposing it into more manageable components: this is problem solving! Through education, we expose ourselves to so many different frames of reference and familiarize ourselves with such a diversity of viewpoints that no problem is too complex.

Education: the entire world—decomposed at your fingertips.

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