Updated: Apr 21
My high school English teacher was intense. He held many firm opinions about everything. How he would wear orange shirts on Wednesdays because of Norse Mythology. Knowing the Bible and Greek Mythology was the crux of understanding western literature.
But probably the most repeated refrain we heard from him was that math has no soul. It's just numbers. The numbers . . . there's no art in those dispassionate figures and equations.
I'm inclined to agree with him. I'm also inclined to share a TedTalk I found particularly inspiring.
Chris Hadfield has a TedTalk called What I Learned from Going Blind in Space. He shares his experience as an astronaut taking off, and how that's a dangerous time because the ship can explode. He shares about going blind in outer space (hence the title of the TedTalk), a situation that would make most of us Earth-faring humans terrified.
But Chris Hadfield shares that . . . he wasn't afraid.
Because he knew the numbers. He knew the probability of the ship exploding was one in thirty-five. He was educated on what to do if he went blind in space. The training, the preparation, the education and knowledge helped him conquer his fear.
I think this is an important thing we need to learn with this Coronavirus outbreak. We might want to read literature that boasts the human experience of endless compassion. Find inspiration from characters in literature who are brave. We might even want to search texts for guidance on how to handle this pandemic. News releases and opinion pieces. Speeches . . . listening to leaders telling us to stay united, to stay strong, to . . . gosh, the list of artistic expression goes on and on and on . . .
I'm reluctant to say it, but art isn't what we need right now. Art is all its forms isn't nearly as effective as . . . dare I say it . . . math.
Please note that I'm a writer and an artist. Math is not my friend. I was indoctrinated by my teacher to believe that math has no soul. So this is painful to say.
Math has something that literature and art do not.
Math is a weapon against fear. Math, science, and logic are the best combatants against Coronavirus, misinformation, panic, racism, and all the other things in life far more lethal than Coronavirus.
What does the World Health Organisation say about Coronavirus? Instead of being afraid, let's do research, and find reliable statistics—these things can guide us towards actions that will stop the spread of the virus, in addition to reducing fear and panic.
For example, here are a few pieces of information from the World Health Organisation Website:
THERE ARE MANY PIECES OF INFORMATION. If you're feeling scared, to the World Health Organisation Website. Personally speaking, I'm oddly comforted when I flip through the website because numbers, statistics, and reasonable actions are how we can eliminate fear.
The WHO also gives a lot of good, simple advice to turn fear into measurable (IE: 1 metre) action.
We need to listen to Chris Hadfield, and take the lesson he learned from going blind in space.
When we are educated, we can conquer our fears. We can act rationally in dangerous situations. We can stop the spread of Coronavirus and reduce panic.
I am like my English teacher. I do believe math has no soul.
But soul isn't what we need to get through the Coronavirus—only math can help us. If we want to act like the characters in literature who embody the human spirit, then we need to educate ourselves first.