Doctoring Philosophy

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Of Mice and Men

- by Partner In Crime

Intrigued by the National Science Foundations's recent predeliction to literally throw money at all and sundry computational biologists who ventured their way, I decided to take a class on the subject and find out what the hulabaloo was all about. Since the class was being offered by the Laboratory of Computer Science inthe Department of Computer Science at the School of Computer Science, I had hoped itwould be a bunch of computer scientists learning about the birds and the bees (someof them no doubt for the first time),but, as fate would have it, it was quite theopposite.

Prior experience had taught me to be a tad suspicious of a biologist's grasp ofmathemetatics- in this case however my fears were entirely unfounded. It turns outthat over the years, biologists have come up with a wonderfully concise and elegant theory to explain all things mathematical- it's called Hand-Waving. And it's notwithout it's nuances- a Leap of Faith, for example, cannot be confused with a Proof by Smugness, which in turn is very different from Wishing it Weren't So. Furthermore, an invocation of the theory isn't really effective unless you actuallyshake your hands vigorously in the air while using it. The next time you see a biologist convulsing wildly, you know that she (the use of the feminine pronoun hereis not only P.C., but also, in this case, more probable) isn't really gettin jiggy wid it, but is instead skilfully navigating the choppy waters of mathematical rigour. I wait, with bated breath, for the day when a biologist will excitedly proclaim "And if we wave our hands a bit, P=NP!...."