When you lose your “dummy card” in my book (or the Wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld)

I am getting ready to work out and then go to a coffee shop to work on my math paper (I have a paid leave to do research this semester).

Part of my study involves studying this object:

Screen shot 2013-01-25 at 6.14.42 AM

The red circle represents a line going to infinity; the yellow circle represents a “pattern” that is obtained by cutting it with a disk bounded by the red circle, and attaching copies of itself “end to end”. This gives you algebraic data to analyse.

So, what about the title of the post?
I had a conversation with a Sarah Palin supporter (I haven’t undfriended them all) who didn’t like the movie Game Change; they thought it was an “exaggeration” and refuse to believe that she was the way that she was portrayed, despite some top McCain campaign officials saying it was like that.

Then the topic of “common sense” came up. Yes, such “common sense” (a way of reasoning based on everyday life experience) might get you through your day to day routine (e. g. prevent you from getting swindled, help you run a small business, help you in relations with people) but it frequently fails when the situation becomes larger (say, nation wide, or world wide) or unfamiliar (say, science). Here is an example of such a failure:

I don’t blame someone for not knowing a technical area that isn’t their speciality; most of us have to struggle for success in our own fields. I do blame someone for not realizing that other fields have smart people working in them; just because what they are doing doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean that what they are doing is nonsense, waste of time, etc.

So, to me: you lose your “dummy card” when you realize “hey, this might seem strange to me, but this is in a different arena than I am used to; maybe I am missing something!”. In other words, when you realize that your “common sense” isn’t enough to compensate for a gross lack of knowledge, training or experience in another field, then you’ve lost your “dummy card” in my book.

Or, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld (NOT one of my favorite persons): “when you realize that there are not only “known unknowns” (variables that you don’t know the value of) but also “unknown unknowns” (variables hidden to YOU that you are unaware of to begin with but that the experts are aware of, as well as some that no one is aware of yet), then you lose your dummy card.

And, no this is not a partisan rant (think: Senator Proxmire Of course, projects should be vetted prior to getting funding, but they should be vetted by knowledgeable people and not “common sense populists”)

Off I go…


January 25, 2013 - Posted by | mathematics, ranting, sarah palin, science, social/political | , ,

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