Art of the sciences

November 13th, 2014



People have hinted to me that I’m not the greatest mathematician.


I’m guilty as charged if we’re talking strictly about algebra and numbers. Most times, I defend myself against these attacks by claiming I enjoy writing and can’t understand the first thing about numbers. I’d defer to the whole “left brain” and “right brain” conversation, without really thinking about what I meant when I said this to people.


Only recently have I realized literature and mathematics are not as different from each other as they seem. In fact, they teeter on being identical.


Writing and literature are typically understood as liberal arts. For many people, literary studies are largely subjective and personal experiences.


In some ways, this is true. But language and writing are anything but arts – they find their roots in pure mathematics.


To build a house or undergo any architectural endeavor, architects must possess deep familiarity with physics, geometry, calculus and other mathematical studies. Piecing together the framework to a house requires knowledge of how each piece’s length, purpose, strength, flexibility and any number of other qualities will interact with each other. Mathematics provides the necessities for these questions.


Without intimate knowledge of these topics, no structure can reasonably serve its function. Poor building can result in leaking floors and ceilings, susceptibility to the weather and elements and, most seriously, foundational damage that condemns the whole construct.


But how are these structural concerns different than literary concerns? Besides the size, shape and material used to erect a building, the process is identical for architects and writers. Both depend upon the proper application of mathematics. Just as each laid brick adds stability to a physical structure, so too does each word provide support for the ideas they hope to convey.


Writing, then, is a site of heavy construction. As the writer hauls in new thoughts and materials, he or she must piece them carefully together to match the blueprint of the initial thought or feelings.


Words are the architectural innovations that, if carefully built, last much longer than any stone or wood.


After each unique word is pieced together to build a structure, the test of its foundational strength begins. If the writer has not paid painstaking attention to the words used to mimic his or her mental blueprint, the author might end up buried in the rubble of misplaced words and paper-thin phrases.


Inviting audiences into an author’s construct is really an open house for showcasing literary abilities. If the literary calculus of the writing was wrong, impact is drained from the writing. Instead of Fort Knox, the author and any readers are left with the House of Usher.


To form a sound argument, writers must first understand the theories and principles of language. Similar to arithmetical principles, writing demands the same mathematical exactitude that architecture does.


Without regard for precise measurements and calculations of how different words, phrases and arguments interact, literary skyscrapers could never be built. In this way, understanding the basic principles of language and sentence structure are as integral to writing as core mathematical principles are to the building of any home.


Words are puzzles, but they do not have to be puzzling. Understanding basic literary principles, sentential formation and word choice are the mathematical principles that give rise to the most profound arguments and discussions.


So when people say that writing is an art, I really can’t help but smile. For people who truly succeed in their literary endeavors, writing is never anything other than precise calculations. Words are weighed and the calculus of an argument must fit within the metrics of writing’s principles.


Pure mathematics doesn’t have to include numbers. It involves abstract, broad, theoretical considerations.


As a result, the physics and algebra of architecture are derivations of the same pure mathematics that governs literature and language.


Only when the concepts of pure mathematics are rightly applied does any reader experience the art of the sciences.