John Allen Paulos wrote of innumeracy, the mild malady of being unable to work with numbers. “I’m not primarily concerned with esoteric mathematics here, only with some feel for numbers and probabilities, some ability to estimate answers to the ubiquitous questions… people should have a visceral reaction to the difference between a million, a billion and a trillion.”
So it is true. And undisputed.
The opposite of innumeracy isn’t numeracy or even mathematical ability. High-level mathematics will always be closed off to all but the few, not only because it requires innate abilities most don’t have in the same way most can’t be centers on professional football teams, but because it requires years of dedication and few have the time or inclination.
The love of mathematics isn’t hypernumeracy: the ardent desire to quantify everything is. This is proved from realizing a person can suffer from innumeracy and hypernumeracy simultaneously. The cop who buys the daily lotto ticket with his badge number will exaggerate his chances of winning, evincing innumeracy. But he will also say things like, “I’m ninety-nine-percent sure that I left my glasses on the dresser”, which because it puts needless numbers to a strong conviction proves hypernumeracy.
Of course, this level of hypernumeracy is minor, and we can put down the “ninety-nine-percent” to a figure of speech. Thus there are degrees of hypernumeracy—which if we attempted to quantify would put us in the realm of the hypernumerate.
The parable of the lost sheep is instructive. “I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” A hypernumerate approach is to take this literally and come up with an estimate of what fraction of repentant souls to righteous pleases God.
The hypernumerate answer descends to statistical modeling, and one might conclude “The observed data is that the fraction of repentants to righteous is one to ninety-nine, therefore the heavenly host will not bring out the ice cream if there is only one repentant and 100 or more righteous (P < 0.05).” A Bayesian would furrow the brow over the best prior to put on the ratio, but would still end at a number.
Whatever answer arrived at would be confronted by new data. “Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?…In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Now the data insists on a fraction of one to nine and an entirely new model emerges. How to reconcile the evidence? Don’t answer because the parable of the prodigal son, which sees the fatted calf roasted over coals over just one sinner and one righteous brother.
There is probably a way to ingest all this and regurgitate a formal model, which no matter how sophisticated would still be an obvious affront to the intent of the passages. Repent and make your Maker happy. (Yours Truly is always working on this.)
Hypernumeracy is present in every questionnaire that graduates to class the of “instrument”. How happy are you on a scale of 1 to 7, and so and so forth, the stream of quantified remarks gushing forth. Scales, as they are called, are invented which weigh emotions and states of mind, which is odd when you consider our intellects have no material being, and which are therefore weightless.
These scales crop up everywhere. Entire academic fields are littered with them. Human Resource departments inflict them on employees. The bureaucracy is stuffed to the gills with them. And everywhere decisions are made on the results.
The hypernumerate quantify what can’t be quantified, a seeming paradox. But the act of putting numbers on things is the justification for the quantification. Without numbers there is no science, and everything must be science. Medicine must be “evidence based”; the rational rely on “evidence”; and always the evidence means quantification. And finally we land in Scientism, our current predicament (or one of them).