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KLondike5: Stupid Stuff I Know

My deficiencies

While appreciating the analytical minds of the women I have known, I found myself contemplating the deficits in my generally pretty good mind.

Mathematically, I found arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry to be trivial. Then I hit calculus. My advisor told me it was a well-known fact that a portion of the population falls at each level of increasing abstraction (his term) in that list. That is, algebra is more abstract than arithmetic, geometry than algebra, and so on.

My dearly beloved mother couldn’t make the jump from arithmetic to algebra. After 12 years of cruising in math, understanding it the first time every time, imagine my surprise when I got to MIT and hit differentiation in first-term calculus. I barely got it. Then integration in second-term calculus. I never got it. I passed the course by doing “monkey math” and through rote memorization.

Then there is the more general intellectual skill of deduction and induction. I suspect my deficit there is related to my mathematical deficit. As I understand it, deduction is the ability to create specific instances when you know the general rule, while induction is the ability to see the general rule after witnessing multiple instances. Deduction has always been easy for me. Induction: not so much. I have never been able to look at a bunch of trees and see a forest.

The only time in my life it really held me back was when I covered conventions as a technology reporter. All my colleagues would look at the show floor and the dozens of product announcements and proclaim: “This year’s Comdex was about…” something. I, on the other hand, could tell you what happened but not what the overall theme was.

A final note; one day on the subway to Boston, a well-meaning friend of mine asked “How can you waste your fine mind on a trivial pursuit like journalism.” (She reads this column; will she remember saying it?)

At that moment, I realized why I loved journalism and always would. “It is a challenge, even to my fine mind. You witness disordered reality, and impose order on it. You are presented with a mélange of facts too large merely to record and regurgitate. So, you impose order on disordered reality, and do so in the correct written form within the time allotted. I believe that is a challenge I will wish to accept, the accomplishment of which will satisfy me, for a lifetime.”

At the age of 21, I was right.


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