10 November 2008

Telling stories with numbers, telling stories with words

As a mathematician by training, and inclination, who is employed to exploit words, a talk entitled "Telling stories with numbers, telling stories with words" was always going to interesting.

I was also interested in the possible Knowledge Management (KM) connections as story telling has been a hot topic there for some years.

But let's start with the geeky stuff first. The map shown here is taken from my iPod touch. When at home and on the wi-fi network I can use the maps application to find out where I am going and then save that map as a photograph so that I can access it later when offline. Simple, but very useful.

The talk was hosted by the Royal Society and was in the form of a conversation between Mark Haddon (author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time) and Marcus du Sautoy (ubiquitous maths guy) on the similarities and differences between their two practices.

I am not sure that I agree with all of their observations but it was interesting to hear how they see things.

The main difference between the two was that story telling with words was seen as a open world where gaps are left deliberately for the reader's imagination to fill and where the story never really ends whereas as mathematics has to be precise so that all readers get the same message and the story ends with a firm statement, e.g. a proof.

The point was also well made that the mathematics invented (or discovered, perhaps) by the Ancient Greeks is still used today, and always will be, whereas their stories are mostly forgotten.

From a KM perspective, the aim of literature seemed almost to be the antithesis of KM in that the aim is to have uncertainty but in maths it was interesting to hear Marcus du Sautoy describe how he goes from having his original ideas, to sharing them with a small number of people who can understand what he is on about (the arm waving stage) and then writing them down in an academic paper that any mathematician can understand.

Like all good conversations it was inconclusive but it was well worth listening to for an hour and it gave the 200 or so eavesdroppers a few things to think about.

1 comment:

  1. Matthew - That was very interesting. I love it when I hear or read definitions like the difference between lit and maths, when somebody nails it in one descriptive go, something you kind of knew but never spoke yourself.

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