N for Numbers


It all begins the day we’re born.

Our life is ruled by numbers. Various permutations of random juxtaposed digits, that shadow, trail and chase us every day of our life.

Your birthday: a series of numbers. The time you were born, and how much you weighed as a newborn – more numbers. And it doesn’t even end when the parental fascination of childhood minutiae does. You head off to school and it simply expands to cover a whole new range of markers: the grade you’re in, your rank, the number of goals or runs you scored in that important game. “Old” numbers continue to crop up here in the form of interesting and anecdotal updates…how tall are you now they ask, how much do you weigh, and what percentage did you score in that all important high school examination ?

And it doesn’t get any better as you enter the working world. What time do you need to be at the office ? How long is your commute? What is the temperature today ? How much rain is predicted ? When is your train or flight ? How long will it take to get where you are going  ? What are the revenue projections for this quarter ? What is the profitability of that product line ? What percentage do we hold in reserve for bad debt or commissions ? And by the time  you’ve reached this life stage, you’ve stopped growing vertically, so the personal metrics turn to the horizontal ones…what size trousers do you wear ? How much do you weigh now ? What’s your BMI ? How about  your cholesterol, sugar and blood pressure numbers ? And your heart rate ?? The numbers follow you in various hues, their affiliations and loyalties rivaling the number of United Nations flags, fluttering furiously in the often cold breeze of life.

Not to mention the “number-people’s” numbers, the moolah-markers: how much money do you make and what percentage are you saving ? What rate of inflation have you accounted for …and what’s the rate you’re paying on your loans ? (And almost to come full circle)  how old are you anyway, and how many years before you retire and expect that retirement to last. As if actuarial tables were some curio calendars where we cheerfully mark off the passing  of each year towards a statistically certified  expiration date for ourselves.

You do see, don’t you, that there is no escaping the hundreds of combinations stemming from the innocuous  set  of 0 through 9,  numbers that measure, define and shape our very existence every single day. And as if this staccato recording of myriad numbers wasn’t enough, scientific and technological advances are now bringing us the rise of the “quantified self”, where tiny sensors on our body continuously measure and trend every single action in our lives from our pulse rate to our heart rate, number of steps taken, calories burnt and hours slept..all to make us super aware and efficient in how we live our daily lives to help us accomplish whatever goals we set for ourselves. Ironically, several of those goals bounce back to us from the reflecting pools of earlier life stages, like a target weight or waistline goal that we should have learnt to leave in peace with alongside the fading  photograps!

However, does awareness create reality, or does reality exist because  we are aware? For a blog that emphasizes the value and role of thought , cogito ergo sum, should perhaps be a rallying cry. Instead I occasionally wonder if the modality of thought is independent of the reality of the universe.  Was Bertrand Russell right in his skeptical hypothesis that there is no way to disprove with certainty that all of earth was created just five minutes ago, and all our experiences and memories are merely artifacts created just in the last few seconds ? Is there a way to know that for sure, and is there any empirical evidence of consciousness when we know that empirical evidence itself is nothing more than a description of human observations and thinking.


consciousness2Or perhaps, if I interpret Dr. Donald Hoffman of UC Irvine‘s  research  on the multimodal user interface theory of perception correctly, one can argue that when we merely touch on the icon on our phone app or click on the computer screen, we are  initiating and defining our user experience, but the real transactions are happening via a streaming series of 0s and 1s – through the silicon, the ether and the air – and that this binary number stream is actually what enables and completes the perceived expected responses, thereby completing the virtuous cycle of how numbers do continue to play a central, even vital, role in our consciousness and thought…

One Comment Add yours

  1. Raj Rao says:

    Numero Uno rated write.
    Thanks Jethi!



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