The Mathematics of Core Values

Over the holiday weekend, Geraldine took me to see Lincoln. I’d watched a clip aired during the Daily Show last week that had me excited to see the film, and Fred Wilson’s post sealed the deal.

That clip contained the following quote:

Euclid’s first common notion is this:  ‘Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.’   That’s a rule of mathematical reasoning.  It’s true because it works.  Has done and always will do.  In his book, Euclid says this is self-evident.  You see, there it is.  Even in that 2,000 year old book of mechanical law, it is a self-evident truth that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other.

Here’s a short version from YouTube:

Obviously, the quote is fictitious (though Lincoln’s assertion that equality is rooted in algebra has some historical basis). But the idea behind it is one I found fascinating – that the principles of science, reason, and mathematics can inform our values and ethics. I don’t often see the connection drawn between mathematical proofs or the scientific process and the human ideals of virtue or vice, but I imagine that more of these connections exist.

The scientific method, for example, relies on data recording, replication, and external review. I like that Moz’s core values of TAGFEE include transparency, as this parallels the requirements of sharing information and making it available for others to see and judge. Likewise, in economic science, outliers are often responsible for much of the positive progress (and negative events, too) in a macroeconomic system. Perhaps this ties into the value of exceptionalism – being a unique outlier that does not follow the norm, but seeks to break a new path gives greater opportunity to overperform (or fail miserably).

I need to spend more time studying the proofs that underly physics and mathematics, but I find a strange satisfaction in the idea that ethics and science could flow from the same logical underpinnings.

p.s. The film is tremendous – not only poignant, but thoroughly enjoyable as well. I highly recommend going to see it.