Romantic Figures

There is nothing romantic in figures, and the average man takes little interest in any subject pertaining to them. As a result of this antipathy, there is plenty of historic evidence of man’s endeavor to minimize the hated drudgery of calculation.”

–J. A. V. Turck Origin of Modern Calculating Machines (1921)

Apologies for the false advertising in the title.

I have a question and I’m going to try my best to frame it such that it’s not too far off topic. I found Turck’s book in one of Zeugma’s recent PG New Release posts. I’ve done nothing more than read a few paragraphs. My husband told me something this morning that made me think of it. Apparently, medical schools are beginning to require all first-year students take a basic statistics course. Physicians, as a group, are notoriously bad at probabilistic reasoning. This has been a problem for a long time:

The evidence presented shows that physicians do not manage uncertainty very well, that many physicians make major errors in probabilistic reasoning, and that these errors threaten the quality of medical care.

Judgment under Uncertainty Heuristics and Biases , pp. 249 – 267
DOI:[Opens in a new window]
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1982

The general question is, when did this aversion to numbers become prevalent? I’m not talking about the “drudgery of calculation” (which @marciawac Reckoning Books discusses). No one wants to calculate the value of π every single time you want to find the circumference of a circle. I’m asking when it became a thing that people couldn’t properly count out change, etc.

I have a lot of old mathematics text books, and the older one is, the more the particular subject is presented in a matter-of-fact fashion, often engaging students through everyday examples. Farmer has x# bushels of apples, had to pay kids 2¢ per apple to pick, … average #apples/bushel… How much should Farmer charge per bushel?

So math-o-phobia hasn’t always been a thing. Lincoln studied Euclid’s Geometry end to end in order to become a better reasoner and rhetorician. But obviously it was at least creeping in by the 1920s when Turck was writing.

Curious to hear your thoughts.

Where is @wellsprynge when we need him? He’s signed up but isn’t here yet. Could someone re-post this to that social media group to get his attention? I know he’s engaged in a time-consuming project, but I bet he has thoughts on this.

Note that I managed to work Euclid’s Geometry in so hopefully not too far off topic. 🙂

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