Numbers, Game Theory and Discrimination (Part 1)

Anmol Mohan

In a distant future, in a galaxy far far away from here, there was a planet. The people of that planet took pride in technological innovation that they have achieved. Just recently, they had invented mobile communication technology, and it was an instant success. People can now talk to their loved ones without a wait. And business productivity has reached an all-time high.

Key to that success was a group of technologists called Pushers. The global group was a collection of a loosely connected to the button technology. You see, they enabled the long-press technology on mobile phones in the form of buttons. When pressed, these buttons can interpret the instructions for the portable computers and, in turn, execute the commands. It was an instant success, and the Pushers were brimming with success. Not to mention they became famous and wealthy overnight.

There was another group of technologists who were working on an alternate technology. This technology did not depend on any physical buttons but more on the touch of fingers. They thought that even though buttons were more comfortable to implement, the drag of touch directly on the screen has many benefits. It can help give the users more space to perform more activities and does not need any after-sales service.

Pushers knew that touch technology is superior. But the corporate mechanism behind them was not ready to give up the crown so soon. One of them heard Pushers referring to the proponents of touch technology as Draggers. He came up with a brilliant idea to coin this word in publications.

Then started a campaign to brand touch technology as slow and tedious by associating with the word "Drag." Although the touch technologists try to demonstrate the benefits, they could not showcase long-term cost benefits. Very soon, all Draggers were being seen as jealous bandits.

The negative connotation of the word Draggers led general people not to believe what the touch enthusiasts had to say. The corporate mechanism behind Pushers successfully branded a promising technology out of their competition.

It will be several years before that planet will see the cultural shifts that can create an innovative environment again. Until then, the people will live with a sierra of mirage without realizing it is a mediocrity cycle.

Enter Number Theory

This bizarre example is to draw your attention to a story in which all of us have lived. Even though this is a fictional example, it can be used as a template for all these stories.

One of those stories is the tale of Number theory.

Irrational: Webster dictionary defines the term as 'lacking usual or normal mental clarity or coherence'. Today we associate the word with the people who are not making any sense. But there is a branch of Number Theory which is associated with something called Irrational Numbers.

How can it be?
The kind of numbers that do not make any sense?
Surely, they won't be useful for anything.

But as it turns out, they are not only useful, they are crucial to our day to day life. Your perfectly shaped football, compound interest of your loan, and orbit of your GPS satellite would not have been possible to calculate if we did not have an understanding of irrational numbers.

Irrational numbers are the numbers that cannot be represented as fractions. They can only be represented through an infinite sequence of numbers. That means they do not match the discreetness of our practical reality. How awesome these numbers are and how awesome would have been the path of their discovery is a discussion for another day.

The discovery of Irrational numbers is associated to a young mathematician named Hippasus. You see that time of Ancient Greece was dominated by Pythagorean mathematics. It was like a religion that was founded on the principle that the world is perfect. Everything in the universe is discreetly ordered and can be represented as a whole number.

The discovery of irrational numbers was putting everything that Pythagorean school has built at risk. If people find out that reality is different than what is being told by a bunch of influential people, they will lose their power.

Nevermind if it can help make people's lives better, it threatens to burst our bubble.
It is better to kill Hippasus and brand the discovery as illogical.
Once there is a negative brand, who cares about reason?

But the truth is truth and you cannot hide it for long. Sooner or later it comes to the surface and people forget about these manipulations.

The surprise is that we don't learn from our mistakes. We know that we have this weakness which makes us abandon scientific thinking and make decisions based on labels. But despite hundreds of examples from the past, we are still running after labels without understanding what they mean. I wouldn't be surprised if tomorrow if we start branding people working on irrational numbers as lunatics because that's what the definition says. Have you ever considered, who created the definition?

Some of these labels (or non-labels) are just mistakes. "Misogynist' is the term used for a person who hates women. It was introduced in the 1650s. Amazingly enough 'Misoandrist', which means a person who hates men was not introduced until 1878. Linguists did not forget about it for 200 years. They just never imagined someone can hate men. Because they were men.

But now in the modern world, there is a long line of corporate machinery that is constantly branding things positively or negatively as per their convenience. The supply of labels is at an all-time high because the demand is skyrocketing. They are not even pretending to be an authority anymore. All you need is social media and the ability to be the loudest or the sexiest.

Black and White, Left and Right, Women and Men, This country or that country - something is always higher or lower. But no one cares to find out why. We just take the brands as given. Everyone is either fighting battles to get higher or is feeling dejected if they are unable to do so. And we wonder why we are sad all the time?

But why is this happening and how does it work? Enter Game Theory in Part 2. Thanks.


Anmol Mohan

I am just trying to make sense of this world. I am interested in the hardest puzzles like Consciousness, Humanity and Multiverse. Sharing my honest learning during this journey.