Figuring

figuring
"They count on fingers unimaginable to me and perhaps unimaginable to them as well."

I consider myself to be a counting-on-my-fingers type guy. This self-image supported most all of my pursuits until about fifth grade. Long division won't yield to finger power. Neither will most of the most troubling difficulties (aka "problems") I encounter in this life. What smug scientists label 'higher level' thinking seems necessary to crack more advanced mathematics and most other truly troublesome questions. Two plus two almost never equals four anymore. Neither does seven minus three. I seem to need to stumble into some alternate strategy besides counting on my fingers to successfully unwind even the most seemingly pedestrian problem these days.

I suspect that simply classifying myself as a counting on my fingers type guy nudges me about halfway toward resolution, though.
Many seem to be unaware that they're counting on their fingers when they do. I also catch them whispering the words they're reading to themselves and pantomiming the motions they're winding up to perform. Maybe most of us started out as analogue solvers, learning in a world seemingly defined by countables, only to later discover the necessity of leaving behind such childish pursuits. The popular descriptions of 'higher level' tactics often come across as little more than gibberish to anyone who whispers to them selves as they read. These alternative methods seem like leaps of inadequate faith at first, though I suppose the hesitance evaporates with practice. Maybe not.

I read of scientists, artists, and other so-called creative types nattering around the borders to their work. Writers experience writer's block. Scientists might find their professional skepticism slipping toward the cynical. Artists lose their inspiring felt sense then start counting on their fingers to re-find it. Of course inspiration rarely emerges under even the most sincere finger counting. The flip seems mysterious because it is genuinely mysterious and defies analogue description. Faith seems in short supply then. The scientists rely upon their method, no guarantee of anything but movement when momentum stalls. Long division seemed to require a different sort of memory, practiced to the point of rote reaction. Quadratic equations wanted something I could never touch.

My life demands no less Figuring than anyone else's. I know myself to be a lousy figurer. Set even a small novel difficulty in front of me and I'll start counting on my fingers again as if whispering a rosary to protect me from evil. The doctor mailed me an "easy at home" test which I supposedly could perform in the privacy of my own space, and I spent three weeks fussing over the instructions, which seemed to have presumed knowledge not evident in the privacy of my own home. I wrestled with this existential challenge day and night, deflecting robo-calls from the testing laboratory doubtless calling to wonder where oh where my lab test had gone. It roamed around inside my head, searching for fingers, I suppose. I finally put my head down and bulled my way through it. We'll see how well I performed when the results come back.

I have been wrestling with my drip irrigation system all summer but it still doesn't work right. I've collected a boxful of emitters and hoses the equal to any three year old's Lego® collection, but still haven't quite figured out how to connect together even half of the pieces. The instructions all seem to presume a sort of problem solving beyond counting on fingers, a higher order perspective which, of course, the instructions never even hint at. I suspect the fine engineers who designed the system might have been unaware that they inhabited a world quite different from the one the rest of us (well me, anyway) inhabit. They count on fingers unimaginable to me and perhaps unimaginable to them as well. They might base their fine products upon what they consider a settled engineering and science I can't quite find the fingers to count.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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