Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Your Degree of Ignorance

Without going in to too much detail, this morning I found myself on the wikipedia page for trace theory. Now, I don’t know anything about trace theory, but I thought I’d see if I could learn something. So, I figured, I’d first better figure out what trace monoids were. And in order to figure that out, you really need to know what just plain old monoids are. Annnnnd, in order to understand that concept, I needed to read up on algebraic structure. All that digging around in wikipedia got me thinking, though. A lot of mathematicians talk about their Erdös number, which is essentially the degrees of separation between them and a published Erdös collaborator. ((Incidentally, Paul Erdös is one of the most fascinating people I have ever read about. I highly recommend the book “The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.” He truly lived mathematics, working 19 hour days and foregoing a wife or children. He lived out of a suitcase and coauthored and wrote over 1500 mathematics papers.)) At any rate, your Erdös number is how close you are to having published with Erdös. It made me think about the number of articles I had to link through on Wikipedia before I got to a concept that was familiar. That number should be your degree of ignorance on a subject. So, for example, I am 3 degrees ignorant about trace theory.

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