Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I'll confess in public for the first time, (and I know this will shock many of our devoted fans,) that I am not a science nerd.

In George Orwell's 1984 there is a scene in which O'Brien listens to Winston Smith say that 2+2=5. I found out recently that it's a trick question of some kind. It is exactly that about science that I love so much even though I'm not a numerically adept kind of guy. I like math for the same reason I like Latin, which I'm no better at: both have, when well done, an elegant beauty that is surpassing of nearly everything else. Thus, given my organic limitations, I do what I can with science, I read Bacon for the idea of science. I read of the beauty of thought well written. I love the beauty of Human thought at its highest. I go all funny when I find out things such as a formula for measuring the volume of a cone. It works for me better than Viagra.

Below I'm adding an apple and an orange to make a point of some sort. The first article is excerpted from an interview on Islamic fear and hatred of Humanity and its beauty, our beauty. The second is from an article on the fear and hatred of algebra. In a flourish of scientific method, I'll conclude at the end.

Frontpage Interview's guest today is Reed Rubinstein, the Washington, D.C., attorney who successfully represented Andrew Whitehead of Anti-CAIR in CAIR's libel suit against him.

As I went through CAIR's paper and Internet trail back to approximately 1994, it
seemed to me CAIR's world view, its "meta-message" as it were, can be broken down into three key themes. The first is terrible fear. It seems from reading their material that Islam is under intense assault. The second is triumphalist confidence. It seemed to me that the authors of CAIR's e-mail alerts and website texts and written reports believe that Mohamed said that Islam is the only true faith, so Muslim control and domination are eventually assured. The third is that Jews and Zionists are apparently a source of and explanation for Muslim problems and failures. The conclusion seems to be Muslims will reap the benefits if Jewish "power" is reduced.

I saw these same themes reappear over and over again on a variety of Muslim websites, that I explored, and in many mosque sermons and Islamic publications that I read. In the course of defending Mr. Whitehead, we engaged in a great deal of wide-ranging research, and I must tell you that I found entering the Islamic Internet world was like walking through a sewer. The contempt and intolerance for difference and dissent (even by other Muslims) is shocking. Anti-Americanism and disdain for Western civilization is a given. The oppression of women seems to be a basic cultural norm. And, of course, raw, eliminationist anti-Semitism is ubiquitous. Frankly, the obsessive fixation on Jews, Jewish control of the United States, and Jewish worldwide plots at times led me to believe there is some sort of mass psychosis at work.

Students (and pundits) who find algebra hard might consider how difficult such math must have been for the people who actually pioneered it. That story is told in a new book, Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra , by John Derbyshire (Joseph Henry Press). Derbyshire, who wrote a previous book on math, Prime Obsession, and is a frequent contributor to National Review, gives an absorbing account of algebra over the millennia, from its rudimentary origins in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt to its cutting-edge applications in 21st-century physics.

An interesting feature of this history is just how slow progress often was. Babylonians in the 2nd millennium BCE worked out algebraic word problems on cuneiform tablets, and the ancient Greeks handled similar problems with a geometrical approach, but it was only at the time of Diophantus, who lived in Alexandria in roughly the 3rd century CE, that anyone used letter symbols to keep track of unknowns in equations. The brutal death of the female mathematician-philosopher Hypatia in 415 at the hands of a religious mob marked the twilight of math in the declining Roman Empire.

Around 820, the Islamic scholar al-Khwarizmi wrote a book on algebra (the word comes from the Arabic al-jabr, or "completion," his term for adding the same amount to each side of an equation to put it into a standard form). However, al-Khwarizmi and his contemporaries worked on algebra through word problems and geometry. Diophantus' practice of employing letter symbols in equations had vanished into forgotten archives. It was not until the late 1500s, particularly with the work of French mathematician François Viète, that algebraic symbols were reinvented and started to be used in a systematic way.

Such tortuous history, as Derbyshire points out, suggests that symbolic algebra, with its high level of abstraction, does not exactly come naturally to people. He finds this a bit depressing but also inspiring. The remarkable thing is not that it took humanity so long to learn how to do this stuff, but that we can do it at all. No thanks to some pundits, though.

Kenneth Silber is a TCS contributing writer who focuses on science, technology and economics.

"The first is terrible fear.... The second is triumphalist confidence."

"...how slow progress often was."

The primitive world is static. There is no slow progress, only a waiting and a drifting and a cycle of death in the hope of some final release from the world of pain and illusion. Muslims follow sharia to the letter in the hope that nothing will ever be different from what it should be in a perfect formula. If X is perfect, then to tamper with X is to take away from its perfection. Sharia, the law of Allah, is perfect. Hold your breath. Don't anybody move! Stay like this forever.

Islam is the proverbial House of Cards. It's there, and it's likely to stay in place so long as there is not a hint of tremor. And just a few more additions will make the whole thing complete. Muslims are living in fear of the whole of Islam collapsing in a flash, and they are also jubilant at the sight of the massive edifice of Islam as they see it. Just-- nobody move!

Knowing that a breath of fresh air will topple the House of Islamic Cards is not enough to discourage the Muslim world, only enough to frighten it. And to see themselves as almost at the end of their great success in building a House of Cards makes their hands tremble. Knowing that their House of Cards is silly and worthless even in terms of other primitive pass-times is frightening; but worse is to know and not be able to acknowledge the idiocy of the game, which is to drive them deeper into self-willed madness and denial. This is a child's game, one of an angry and distempered child. And the permissiveness of the West, the continued allowance of this childishness and violent tantrum is furthering the distemper to the point whereat intervention will lead to destruction that never needed to come to pass but is now likely inevitable. Not only the House of Islamic Cards will fall, the ummah itself will have to endure a terrible retraining in the world of Human beings exasperated and determined to stop the rage and destruction of Islamic childishness. Islam is coming in for some major spanking. Islam goes to bed without dinner. Islam stands in the corner. Islam gets detention and maybe some time in reform school. This game is running out of time, and the adult world is coming to collect its due in proper behaviour from an out-of-control child.

Our own have created this situation. We must now correct it.

The world's people have split in two, bifurcated between the cyclical and the linear. Those who wander in a tight circle throughout history are aware of the rest who have left them far behind. the gap is unbridgeable. There is no joining again. The sight and the deep knowledge of being left behind is maddening and rouses the lost to violence and self-destructive hatred. The Muslim world is committing suicide before our eyes. In a final frenzy of tantrum the Muslim world will smash its own House of Cards and destroy all it can in its hysteria. Too many of our own ignore that fact. Too many of our own blame us for demanding the Muslim world stop its madness. Muslims look to the permissives for permission to continue, and they find it. They will find the permissive over-ruled soon enough.

Algebra is a pursuit of the mind and a making in the world. Like a house of cards, it's a delicate construction, done one piece at a time; but it never falls down regardless of assaults around it or even directly on it. Many people don't like it, algebra appearing to be difficult and irrelevant to living. And algebra continues on into the future based more solidly as time goes by.

Islam is a rotten phantasy of murder and childish hatred turned against adulthood. Our efforts to achieve adulthood, one being the rise of mathematics, are also subject to a childish tantrum, this time from our own, from those who rebel against Modernity. Humanity is split in two. Some live in a mental House of Cards, the rest live a life of the mind in the Palaces of Mathematics. The point is not whether we're good at organising numbers: it's a matter of which side of the division we're on.

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