The mathematician and the lawyer

My pulmonologist ex-girlfriend used to complain that her mother, the math professor, was always arguing with her.  I’ve  sometimes been accused of arguing, so it’s a sensitive topic.  And, whaddya know, my first degree is in Mathematics.

So I wondered aloud whether the professor, rather than attempting to prove her daughter wrong, might simply be trying to reach the “truth” of an issue.  Daughter duly enquired, and mother replied “why yes, that’s what I’ve been doing all these years.  What did you think?”  My relationship with the pulmonologist didn’t last, but I still look back with satisfaction at having helped the filial relationship.

This incident helped crystallize for me the distinction between a truth-seeking attitude, which I call “mathematician,” and the trying-to-win-every-discussion attitude, which I call “lawyer.”  As a mathematician, I love being proven wrong by data or reasoning – it means I’ve learned something.  Lawyers, though, are obliged to try to win each case, no matter how wrong they may believe their client to me.

It’s a small shame for me that the mathematician is so often mistaken for a lawyer.  (And I’ve learned over the years to pick my battles.)  But it’s a much larger shame for all of us that “lawyers” are running the country.  Winning has become more important than any semblance of getting to the truth.  As Scalia said in 2000, “[You lost] Get over it.”  Tough to do.


One Response to “The mathematician and the lawyer”

  1. Susan Says:

    Yeah, right on. It reminds me of this quotation:

    Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.
    John Adams, ‘Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,’ December 1770
    US diplomat & politician (1735 – 1826)

    Oh…oops…sorry…it was a lawyer who said that. During a trial. Defending some very hated folks. With the truth. Ok, now running to find a mathematician who has put her neck out for the truth.

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