Re: Learning binary numbers

From: m.a. <>
Date: Mon, 24 Aug 2009 20:27:40 -0400

             My previous answer to your question was glib and evasive, I apologize for that, but I think your question was misleading as well. In an attempt to be kind, you asked my opinion, from a pedagogical POV, of a lesson designed to make binary arithmetic simple enough for third-grade students. I think that what you really wondered was whether the lesson would work with a math-challenged adult like me. So, because I believe you to be genuinely and unmaliciously curious and in the interest of science, I'll try to describe my experience of this lesson.
           Did it teach me about binary numbers? The answer must be "Yes" and "No". As I studied the lesson step by step, I understood each point and felt at the end, that I had a solid grasp of the topic. Will it become part of my general knowledge? No. Will I remember it tomorrow? No. Why not? Because my sorry excuse for a brain won't try to absorb it; in fact it will try strenuously to forget it.
          I can think of several reasons for this. 1) I won't leave the safety and familiarity of base ten. After a lifetime of base-ten, base-two is disorienting and disturbing. If I were forced to live in a house with pyramidal rooms, I could do it; but as soon as I was released, I would return to a cubical house. Someone who is shaky in math to begin with, clings to the part that he finds to be solid and doesn't venture into the whirlwind of incomprehensible artifacts outside. 2) The space in my head set aside for mathematics is entirely occupied by base-ten. I use it constantly and value it as a trusty tool. I can see no way, since I don't design computers, that binary can be useful in my everyday life.
       3) This is purely subjective, but perhaps worth mentioning. Binary arithmetic seems to me like a language of ants. I am not an entomologist or even a biologist. I don't want to know what the ants are saying. I do want to know what the Russians and Italians and Spanish are saying and I study their literatures. My mind accepts and always finds more room for information about these languages even as it refuses to accommodate binary. I know that computers and the modern world could not exist without the ants and I am grateful for all of it. But I am resigned to the sad fact that their language will always be inaccessible to me. Hope this helps,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            marty a.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mirek Dobsicek" <>
To: <>
Sent: Saturday, August 22, 2009 11:05 AM
Subject: Re: The seven step series

> m.a. wrote:
>> a towel into the ring.
>> I simply don't have the sort of mind that takes to juggling letters,
>> numbers and symbols in increasingly fine-grained, complex arrangements.
> [...]
> Marty,
> If I can ask, I'd be really interested what do you think of this
> socratic experiment
> Cheers,
> mirek
> >
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Received on Mon Aug 24 2009 - 20:27:40 PDT

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