11 July 2009

still a mathematician at heart

although i now work with languages and theology and how to read the Bible, there are certain things that have carried over from my love of (and time studying) mathematics:

- a love of patterns and figuring out the puzzle of how things work together - this love has allowed me to enjoy the somewhat more technical work of working on a database.

- i really, really like consistency. with the werkgroep this is at times a challenge. the hebrew of the Massoretic Text doesn’t always follow exact rules, especially not poetry. and there’s a level of subjectivity in experimenting with the semantics and syntax of words and phrases and clauses and sentences. and this subjectivity increases when you realize that a diverse number of people (with different perspectives) have worked on the dabase – and the database is too large for one person to be able to keep all of it in his/her head. it’s understandable that there’d be inconsistency, but it’s something that frustrates me a lot (and something I probably complain about the most).

- i get excited about when i re-create a computer technical error. our computer program designed to work with the data in the database has a few glitches (although i guess that's understandable since most of them do :)). i manage to crash it much less than i used to - and even when it does crash, it’s so much less frustrating. either i now know how to work around the crash or i know how to reproduce the problem (crashing consistently at the same place for the same reason) so that it can be reported to our IT specialist and hopefully fixed.

- i remain astonished by how frequently poor logic or bad statistics is present in biblical studies. the number of things I’ve read/seen that say that said “this” proves “that” based on faulty statistics or logic exasperates me. See the footnote for examples of bad logic/statistics.

- i’m in the process of changing my dissertation project so that it in essence becomes trying to solve the puzzle of how all the talking (discourse) in Ezekiel fits together. this then becomes a large study of different patterns in Ezekiel. as a friend of mine (who works in computer science) put it – such a project is what might expect from somebody with a mathematical background studies the biblical text.

i think i'm overall glad that my former mathematical training affects my life and studies even now.

Footnote: An example of a poor use of statistics would be to say that since God is named five times in a certain chapter, his actions are obviously key to understanding the chapter. It is possible that God’s actions are an important element in the chapter but God’s name being used five times is not enough to prove that. Since God is often named in many chapters, there is nothing that would make five times be statistically significant. It is the use of the name of God 30+ times in Genesis 1 that is an example of something statistically significant/relevant (especially when you consider that since God is the only character/actor in the chapter, a pronoun could have easily been used in many of the cases where He is named).

An example of poor logic is when you argue that “this” is true because of “that” when in reality “that” is true because of “this.” [This is the difference between the mathematical \Rightarrow \!\, vs. ↔ or "if" vs. "iff" (if and only if)]. An example of this is: If a verb is a cohortative, it has an added ה at the end of it. However, the argument cannot be reversed – you cannot say that a verb having an extra ה at the end of it is then a cohortative. Certain verbs with this extra ה are actually just ‘long imperatives.’ The argument could only be reversed if you defined whether the verb is first, second, or third person.

This last example is actually taken from a glitch in Libronix where there are more than 250 examples of imperatives that have a very confusing cohortative mood label. I’m doing what I can to see if this can be changed.

a version of this entry was originally published at "Joining in the Conversation".

1 comment:

Tom Braun said...

Man, in another life you are TOTALLY a database developer... I too have a 'thing' about consistency and logic and when people violate the rules (or just make them up) in their databases it really drives me up the wall!