People sometimes say things like:
- you should feel what is important in life and not go around measuring everything like a computer
- there are lies, damn lies, and statistics
- not everything can be counted.
But do they really mean them?
People also think:
- it’s a bigger deal if one hundred children die than if one child dies
- it’s a bigger deal if you have to wait a year to see a doctor than if you have to wait a minute
- If you have thirty moments of incredible bliss listening to composer A and 1 moment of incredible listening to composer B then composer A is more transcendent than composer B
- If potential life partner A did one caring thing for you and a thousand selfish rotten things and potential life partner B did a thousand caring things for you and 1 selfish rotten thing then partner A is a worse choice for a husband or wife than partner B.
Why the contradiction?
The number of things is important. A drug that kills 1 out of a billion children is very different than a drug that kill 200 million out of a billion children. A person who is nice once a day is different than a person who is nice a hundred times a day. A piece that makes you feel the touch of God on your heart a hundred times is more profound than one that makes you feel that only 1 time or zero times.
But you need to know what the units are and be able to identify them in order to count them.
You just need both: the ability to recognize an instance of a concept and the ability to count it.
You need to recognize how one child is different from all other children and is unique. But you also need to be able to recognize that if you take one child and add another child you get two children. In other words you need to know what counts, but you also need to know how to count.
Poets are not the enemies of mathematicians: and indeed how could they be? They need to count the syllables in their lines.