Slate Star Codex: The Lottery of Fascinations

We wrote once before about Scott Alexander’s blog Slate Star Codex (now Astral Codex Ten), on a great post he wrote about psychological testing. We’ve now run into another great SSC post, The Lottery of Fascinations, on Alexander’s lack of interest in mathematics. Here is part of the introduction:

Suppose I were to come out tomorrow as gay.

I have amazing and wonderful friends, and I certainly wouldn’t expect them to hate me forever or tell me to burn in Hell or anything like that.

But even more than that, I think they would understand and accept the decision. There would be a lot of not-so-obvious failure modes they could fall into, but wouldn’t.

For example, I don’t think any of them would say something like “Oh, obviously you just haven’t met the right woman. I know this really cute girl Alanna, a friend of my sister’s. I’ll introduce you next time she’s around.”

But announce that I don’t like math, and suddenly the knives come out.

It’s not that I don’t recognize that math is awesome. If there were “Pray the lack-of-interest-in-math away” camps, I would totally go to one. But just as a gay guy may recognize the many ways his life would be easier if he were heterosexual but this recognition does not immediately lead to finding women attractive – so discoursing on the beauty and importance of math does not suddenly make math books any more readable to me.

When I try to explain this to people, the responses are eerily similar to the ones they would never give if I said I was gay.

“Oh, obviously you just haven’t learned the right kind of math. I know this really cute proof of the Pythagorean Theorem in my sister’s textbook. I’ll show it to you the next time we have pencil and paper.”

Alexander’s post is very funny, and there are plenty of missionary maths types who might heed its message. They might learn to be less desperate preachers for a cult that will never be of more than marginal interest to the majority of mankind.

6 Replies to “Slate Star Codex: The Lottery of Fascinations”

  1. Perhaps “lack of interest in mathematics” rather than “disinterest in mathematics”. He seems to be uninterested rather than disinterested.

    1. I get it – agnostic rather than atheist!

      Also we talk to agnostics and atheists differently; on different levels.

      And the one is active; the other is passive.

      Or spectator and participant.

  2. A story about psychological testing.

    Once I was sent on a management training course; they thought I had potential. I knew in advance that it would involve one of those tests where you are given a 100 questions and without thinking you had to say whether you agreed with it or not (Yes/No answers). The night before I wrote out the decimal expansion of \pi to 100 places; even digits I wrote as Yes and odd digits I wrote as No. Next day I turned up to the test and copied out my answers. I was the first finished! Furthermore, my score was excellent, indeed the best in the group as I recall.

    Maybe another one after dinner.

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