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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Either side of zero.

In grade school math all of us were eventually introduced to the concept of negative numerical values. You might remember the arrow pointing off in both directions with zero stuck right there in the middle. On first impression the idea seemed fairly logical but also a bit unreal. After all I could not possess a negative value of anything only a potential. Therefore it being outside my frame of reference it began to feel like the notion of a negative value was as elusive as Santa Claus. It had to be some kind of trick the teachers had cooked up to make their weird number games add up. For some time that’s how I figured it. Later as I began to look at the world with more objectivity the secrets these numbers began to tell fascinated me. I wound up back again to the notion of potentiality this time however its meaning was profoundly different. Today we live our lives scrutinized by hosts of ever changing charts; diagrams and bell curves all measuring our relative position on either side of zero. Overtime the feedback gained has proven to be a valuable tool to many of man’s endeavors. There are a number of real world examples that reinforce the power of this scale that leap immediately to my mind. Forecasts in weather, economics and epidemiology are have increased harvests, profits and longevity. This however can be a double edged sword. Daily we are bombarded with factoids designed to either stir emotion or apathy. To reinforce these ideas statistics are quoted often out of context. I personally am at a point that if someone is telling me something involving interpretations of statistical trends, I immediately assume they must have their own personal agenda. It would seem that our lives are lived in the shadow of potentiality. How long will we live, and to what degree of success will we attain? The answers to which are hidden somewhere on that invisible line that we studied in childhood. Seemingly each day in our choices and actions we make tiny adjustments to the calculations. In theory then feeding data into these abstract diagrams we should with just a turn of the head be able to survey simultaneously both our futures and our pasts. This surely however has never been the case. It said that every war is won or lost before it is fought, but this is only true in retrospect. In order for these things to be made real the game must be played and pieces moved out across the board. Only after the fact, can anything be known with a degree of certainty. I wonder then if I have come back around full circle to the outlook I possessed in my elementary school days, or if I’m becoming again comfortable with a healthy degree of skepticism.