Discussion Topic: Number

Losing Sleep

A NUMBER IS AN ADJECTIVE,

NOT A NOUN.

Comments? Thoughts? How does our tendency to make numbers into things rather than descriptions affect the way we think and how we see the world? Over to you, dear readers….

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6 Responses to “Discussion Topic: Number”

  1. Graham Higgins Says:

    This comes under the heading ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I can make sense of that’, and the idea hadn’t occurred to me before… hear the approaching ‘But…’? … although I could pick it up and examine it from various linguistic angles I use number in such a rudimentary way that i feel unqualified to comment.
    I suspect that those who use number as their material and tool-set, much as you use fabrics and needle and thread to work out patterns, could also argue for numbers as verbs. Sadly, I think you’d need to be working comfortably with number at a sufficiently sophisticated level to appreciate the argument.

  2. Numbers are usually adjectives, because the information they give is how many of the noun. They can be cardinal (like one, two, three), or ordinal (like first, second, third).

  3. suetortoise Says:

    Agreed. But there’s a human tendency to turn adjectives, descriptives, qualities into nouns. I do think that some of the maths-phobia that so many people have is partly due to the ‘thingification’ of numbers, the divorcing of the adjective from the object(s) that give it meaning.

  4. Graham Higgins Says:

    Actually, from what I read of it via patient pop-science writers, if you put in the work and have the aptitude to leap all the basic number-operation routines to experience that realm of ‘pure’ abstract number, maths becomes similar to music or sculpture. That level sounds very attractive.
    I don’t have a number phobia, I’m just not very good at retaining simple formulae.
    I did try a couple of years ago, working on the principle that if you could master the GCSE standard stuff, like learning basic guitar chords, enough practise would ratchet you up to some semblance of mathematical improvisation. While I was playing with maths workbook problems I quite enjoyed the satisfaction of equations working themselves out. Then I got distracted and found that a couple of months later I’d already lost any sense of *why* they worked.

    • suetortoise Says:

      That sounds a bit like my own attempts to improve my maths – I get things to work and then I promptly forget them again. I probably lack the right sort of mental coat-hangers to keep the abstract stuff in order. I also suspect that Real Mathematicians are having a special sort of fun that I am missing, but the handy-for-getting-things-done, problem-solving variety is the only kind that ever sticks with me.

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