Let’s see. An op-ed in the New York Times entitled “Doubleday and Darwin”, with the following opening paragraph:
As I sat in my high school math class one day, my teacher asked a question that I doubt will find a consensus opinion in my lifetime: “Was math invented or was it discovered?” To this day, I still scratch my head.
Yeah, I think I can be persuaded to read the whole thing.
The writer is baseball player Douglas Glanville. He finds some interesting parallels between the rules of baseball and the evolutionary process. He writes:
But humility reminded me that there are rules by which this game is played. Rules that, when changed, can quickly turn a natural into an unnatural. And if you change just one — the length from the plate to the mound, the number of strikes and balls, or even something much less significant — the landscape of the game changes. And with it changes that group of people who could be deemed “standout” performers in the game.
The adaptive landscape as applied to baseball. Cool!
Change in the game is inevitable. Some of it comes from amendments to the rule book by the powers that be, some is evolutionary. Either way, some players have the ability to fit right into whatever the current system may be, others require just a little more work to remain high achievers . . . and others just get phased out.
There are quantifiable skills that can make someone naturally compatible with the rules of the game, but it’s almost more important to be adaptable. Baseball can update pretty dramatically for a National Pastime. It has the ability to stay both classic and current, without contradiction. On the table of baseball rule changes for late this season is the instant replay, intended to help umpires on difficult home run calls. In the end, if it’s added to the rule book, the game will go on; players — and umpires — who don’t adapt won’t.
As the game changes, what is deemed “talent” changes right along with it. A player is discovered only in the shadow of these rules — rules that were invented and that have matured over time.
And now we have the idea that notions of fitness depend on the environment. Glanville knows his evolution well.
I recommend reading the whole thing. I am reminded of a piece of dialogue from an episode of Columbo:
MURDERER: (Angrily) What’s your point, Columbo?
COLUMBO: Point? No point. It’s just interesting, that’s all.
Oh, and here’s Glanville’s answer to the “invented or discovered” question:
If I were to make my baseball experience the basis of answering the question about discovery vs. invention posed by my high school math teacher, I’d say that math was discovered . . . through the lens of our invention.