Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Math and the hunter-gatherer

People used to marvel at how Einstein might have survived in the environment of our hunting and gathering ancestors (or, more likely, not).

But there were no people like Einstein in those times - sophisticated hyper-abstract intellectual skills didn't evolve until agrarian civilisation. Only structured societies create niches where Einsteins can flourish.

The essence of maths and physics, exploring the deep conceptual consequences of a few assumptions, is useless when dealing with life in the wild. There's too much that's unknown or ambiguous, and things keep changing faster than you can theorise.

I was thinking about this as I re-engaged with the algorithm for a scoring spreadsheet I'm working on. I finally realised that what I was doing was computing the dot product of the score and weight vectors.

By the time I had figured this out I would have been eaten, if spreadsheets were more predatory.