Friday, May 30, 2008

think logarithmically

The natural way of thinking about numbers, according to a report out in today's issue of Science magazine, is to think logarithmically, i.e. to plot them onto a line leaving equal distances between 1, 10, 100 ... The researchers came to this conclusion after studying the maths skills of indigenous people in the Amazonas area.

Now this suggests to me that schools go against nature by teaching children to think of numbers linearly (where 1,2,3 get equal spacing), an effort which has to be reversed as soon as the same children grow up to be scientists, because they have to re-learn the logarithmic way of thinking, where orders of magnitude are more important than individual numbers, as in the progression from metre, to millimetre, micrometre, nanometre, picometre, etc.

What a waste. They should start teaching logs in the first year at school ...

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