Probabilities and the Written Word

I had occasion, one parents’ weekend, to attend a college math class.

The room was filled with rows of computer banks where bright-eyed students sat, in varying states of posture, but all paying attention. White boards were on opposite walls of the classroom, front to back. The professor—a lively young man—moved the discussion along at a serious clip. It was a statistics problem, a thorny thing, and he coaxed and challenged his students to come up with the answer.  Bouncing between white boards, his marker raised as if a sword, he dashed off formulas in a hasty, furious hand.

Soon, the white was slashed through with lots of black and touches of red, for emphasis, some things starred and boxed and underlined. It was so logical, so sequential. Beautiful, he insisted. His jubilance was infectious. Indeed, even I saw the beauty. As if modern art, the two white boards hung, lovely to behold and weighty with unspecific meaning.

At that moment, I envied the mathematician.

A writer doesn’t dwell a lot in percentages and probabilities. Standard deviation, sample size, mean, medium, mu . . .  ?

There just aren’t any reliable proofs that a writer can call upon in his search to arrive at a specific, beautiful truth. There is no crisp bouncing between white boards. Victory is far from assured. Ours is a chaotic, messy, insane, and reverential thing. There’s no mighty sword. Just a hand-clipper by which the writer must make his way through the South American jungle that stands between himself and his treasure.

Photo credits: math – codranknmath4, sxc; jungle – Andres Ojeda, sxc.

This entry was published on June 25, 2010 at 8:27 am. It’s filed under Revision and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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