Maybe it was one of those equations on the blackboard in an episode of Big Bang Theory, but suddenly I perceived that grammar could be tackled as mathematical equations.

What finally hooked me on grammar – and the art of writing – was a very patient and very demanding English teacher my sophomore year of high school. We spent far more time than we were officially allotted mastering the rules of grammar, and looking back, I see a close similarity to what we were also doing in geometry.

The turning point came in our diagramming of some very long sentences – 250 to 300 words or so – and then realizing the lines and forking could be arranged in various manners, depending on our application of the rules.

Put another way, those lines on the blackboard were also equations that might also reveal errors in thought and observation or even allow new ways of balancing what was at hand.

A few years ago, though, when my elder one delved deeply into sentence diagramming as part of her linguistics training, I hoped we’d soon be swapping insights. Didn’t happen. Didn’t work, either. The newer approaches she was being taught – and a completely different terminology – were so far from the classic approach in my discipline that we simply had no common ground.

Anyone active in the math and sciences world have similar experiences?

4 thoughts on “IT ALL ADDS UP NOW

  1. I understand what you’re getting at with this post. It scars me as math is not one of my strong points, especially geometry. I failed geometry. What’s interesting about this is that I’m an expert with a compass.
    I do agree with the idea of mathematics being applicable to writing. There are aspects of rule driven writing such as types of poems or a treatise of a rigid subject which support this.
    On the other hand, how can it apply to the transference of emotion, the soul or heart of a person. Can such parts of ourselves be measured and formulated? I think not. This is where I believe math loses pure application. I believe that all thought and relationships to and within life is not linear but circular, existing in every dimension of the universe. It is in this realm that the rules of grammar should be loosely adhered to as reducing communication to mere mathematics subjugates the writer’s ability to express himself.
    I know that I’m not the best person to comment on this subject as proper writing is a challenge for me. However, I choose to reply to this because of the philosophical implications of math reigning over the written word. It will be interesting to read the replies for the post by those who are more qualified than myself. I look forward to the exchange.

    1. I’m glad you raised the emotional, or subjective, aspect to this matter. One of the wonders of that interface is in classical music, where someone like Bach can convey such depth of feeling while also working a very strict equation of musical precision.

      1. Excellent point. I too am a composer/musician and run a small format professional recording studio. The strict environment grants me the ability to provide the possibility for replicate what I compose both in lyrics and the music itself. The use of symbols and other notations are of great importance to help others express my emotion(s) etc. in the exact same matter utilized by math, especially geometry.
        However, I still believe that an exact replication is impossible. No one person can play a composer’s music in exactly the same manner. The interpretation is owned by the replicator playing who may love the song and bear feelings and a strong connection or bond with the original composer.
        Symbols of expression are very important to the emotional and philosophical aspect of capturing the feelings and intentions of the the original composer.
        I do agree that the rigid rules for composing, especially like geometry, are both important and a necessity for the listener, soloist, and for a group to play a piece as a group of musicians. Here the mathematics is very important. But then again, how can A+B always = C (I feel this and writing this equals a perfect manner for others to express just like me.) The work of geometry seems more applicable but can it too find a way to infuse an individual’s internal thoughts, ideas, feelings, etc. so as to be perfectly expressed?
        Don’t read this as being anti-math but an expansion of the realism of mathematics. I do believe that the relationship exists. Music is a prime example that supports the notion. The question is how do we apply what you’re suggesting in your blog entry? (“Those lines on the blackboard were also equations that might also reveal errors in thought and observation or even allow new ways of balancing what was at hand.”) Can be that the math falls under the auspices of proofs or of theories that relate to creation and the nature of the universe?
        May some mathematicians or at least one well versed in the subject enter this conversation. I lack the ability to move beyond what has been said. Even if not, I’m enjoying the process of looking at both sides of the idea at the same time.

      2. It’s a conversation I’d love to hear. The limitations you mention apply to writing as well, yet there are times, miraculously, that the notations leap over into something else. So here we are, doing art, with all of its own shortfalls … and glories.

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