Cafe Witness

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Life Is Math

Chris Brogan recently mentioned that the best comedy works because we, as humans, can relate to it.

I'll go even deeper: the best comedy works because it's mathematically sound.

As any comedian will tell you, comedy is all about timing... and timing is math. Sure, relatability is the humane filter that determines whether or not we develop an emotional response to something (like humor), but whether or not a joke works boils down to simple mathematics.

The same goes for music, painting, photography, theatre, dance, writing, architecture, film... Everything we consider to be aesthetically engaging and unspeakably profound -- even sex -- can be broken down to mathematics.


Composition, color scheme, rhythm, tone... each element that affects the "finished product" of art is mathematically based. Change any element, even by a fraction, and you have a wholly different end result -- one which society may react to in completely different ways.

The same goes for life beyond art. Great feats in sports are merely the result of body mechanics. The difference between a great golf swing and one that slices into the woods off every tee might be one-sixteenth of an inch.

Likewise, traffic patterns are entirely mathematical -- humans operating machines that are simultaneously computing millions of equations, all the while being influenced by external data (weather, temperature, distance, congestion).

The entire concept that life is math occurred to me in college, and I recall being profoundly depressed at that observation. Who, at the age of 20, wants to believe that his or her entire life will be dictated by the uncaring objectivity of numbers?

But Chris's post highlighted the element that mitigates the objectivity of math: we're all subjective creatures. Life might be entirely mathematical, but individuality is our one-of-a-kind way of interpreting the exact same set of data.

Or, in other words, I like Whit Stillman movies and you like Jim Carrey... and that's okay.

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home