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Straight Lines Make Us Dumb

Jan. 20, 2021

Why do we teach impressionable children about squares and straight lines, especially if neither of them can be found in nature. Bees use hexagonal structures, not square, for their honey. The DNA molecule incorporates the double helix. Despite the notion that we believe we are “straight shooters” and that we shoot straight, bullets fired do not travel straightly but rather they take the path of a parabola as they process and progress both forward from the muzzle and earthward.

We cannot depict and describe beauty in straight lines. We cannot write music in straight lines and music is hardly linear. Growth in nature from the fertilized cell through the zygote and embryo onward to the fetus and new born is far from linear. Growth of populations—be it human beings, mosquitos and bacteria, much more resemble geometric, exponential or logarithmic rates.

During ovulation nature sees to it that a woman becomes more sexy. Her breasts become more symmetrical. Her waist tightens. Her skin becomes more clear. She gives off pheromones that send subtle messages to males that she is ready. But none of this is linear.

True accountants use arithmetic when they add keep track of inventories, hours, salaries and benefits. Economists observe phenomena and obsessively seek trends and then use regression lines to undertake predictions and their Harvard based guesswork. And then we have period of plenty and recession while ants, bees, worms and mosquitos do their own thing (and often excel at it). But all in all, with our obsession with linear thinking, after all our errors, are we really doing better than animals? None, for instance, of us can outdo bees that dance to communicate where to find the best pollen. Meanwhile ants produce antibiotics and spiders do some of their best spinning in the dark.