What is this site about?

First, this site is not about Ishango Bones. Rather, it is an Ishango Bone. What is an Ishango Bone? Funny, I thought you might ask. Here are some brief facts:

• Paleolithic “tally stick” that some people think contain evidence of knowledge of higher mathematics, such as multiplication and division and prime numbers, and possibly used as a lunar calendar.
• First estimated to have originated between 9,000 BC and 6,500 BC, but currently estimated to 20,000 years old .
• Either date would make the Ishango Bone the oldest mathematical document in existence.

In other words, the Ishango Bone potentially represents Man’s first attempt to collect and record higher knowledge. It is also the first calculator, although a far cry from the Amazing Antikythera mechanism dating back to 100 BCE.

Well, that is what this site is all about. Inspired by years of personal emails, notes, books, and websites like Better Explained and the Math Less Traveled, I decided to make a permanent mark. So this is it. This is my personal collection of higher knowledge. This is where I record and collect facts and information that I don’t want to lose track of.

A lot of these posts will be half-formed expositions where I am working out my own understandings and mis-understandings. These are my notes on difficult (for me at least) ideas that I struggle with and want to work through.

Unlike the actual Ishango Bones, this site is not specific to mathematical knowledge, but does hover around the fringes of math and physics, yet from a very lay perspective. My interest lies (like a child’s) in the wonder and awe of the unknown and the unknowable.

Why is this site?

I am not a scientist, mathematician, physicist, or programmer. Which is to say I have no training in these areas. My natural curiosity of these subjects was beaten, battered and abused in school by teachers who presented miracles to their classes with the passion and enthusiasm of a frog.

It seems that much effort was taken to hide these miracles in techno-jargon and equations.

“…if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done — I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul-crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.” — taken from A Mathematician’s Lament by Paul Lockhart (pdf), which I found at Better Explained.

And this applies to Science Education as well. Have you ever wondered why there are best-selling books on science and physics always on the shelves while registration in science classes continues to decline? Have you ever wondered what it is that the (private) publishing industry knows that the (public) education system doesn’t? Well, I can tell you: humanity. The education system has stripped science of life.

If only my teachers had shared the deeper understanding that Richard Feynman describes here; if only they had said to me, “inertia: no one knows how it works, only that it does” … wow! I would have surely become a physicist. But instead, they told me that the “reason” the ball in the wagon rolls forward when the wagon stops is “inertia”. Then I had to memorize that fact. And thus, not understanding anything whatsoever, I assumed I was just stupid.

Throughout my entire life, I have become stuck in these places, asking, “yes, but why?”, intimidated by the fact that everyone else seemed to get along just fine without asking these questions of why. But I could never really get them out of my head or understand why my peers were not perplexed. Why did knowledge come so easy for them but not for me?

Alas, I did not know about the different types of knowledge, what the Greeks called knowledge-that and knowledge-how. We know that light and electricity and gravity and space do this and that, but we as of yet do not know how or why. This might come as a surprise, this idea that we don’t know how light works. After all, we have quantum mechanics and the QED. We have Einstein and atomic bombs. You might think we’ve figured it all out quite well. But this is not the truth.

Yes, scientists are good at making measurements, and we have made very precise measurements, and we have even made very precise predictions about how the measurements will come out, but when we try to establish the causal chain of events behind matter and space and energy and all the phenomena of the universe, we fail miserably. The knowledge of how the universe works is an utter mystery. Anyone who tells you different is either lying, or they are just ignorant of the facts. Everything that happens is a miracle beyond explanation and the deeper we peer into this mystery the closer we come to the absolute edge of thought and understanding itself. Here at the brink, physicists meet the philosophers and theologians and wise men that came before them and they each try in their own way to push through the utter darkness that lies beyond images, beyond imagination, beyond words, beyond language, beyond thought, beyond understanding.

Other resources

Lastly, let me say that this site is but a poor man’s version of many other sites out there (see my blogroll). I share with these bloggers the excitement and passion and awe of discovering the underlying facts of the world around me. I highly recommend these sites. Some of the topics I touch on here (especially math related) is drawn from these sites.

Endnote:

I don’t actually know very much about Ishango Bones and I don’t have an informed opinion on what they contain, exactly. I know simply that they were containers of some sort of information, potentially mathematical in nature. I found in these bones an apt metaphor for this site, which is put together as much for my own sake as for anyone else. That said, if you find the items herein of interest, I invite you to drop me a note, correct me where I am mistaken, or share anything that these pages might stir up in you.

Images of Ishango Bones