Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Bad Math in a Jack Reacher Novel

This is getting to be a series! In 2007 I criticized Lee Child's Jack Reacher hero for suddenly gaining the ability to perform lightning mental calculation, and for treating boring problems as if they were mathematically significant. Last year, I pointed out that (at least in one edition) Jack computed the decimal expansion of 1/81 incorrectly.

Well, happy 53rd birthday to Jack, who was born on October 29 1960. But I can't help complaining about yet another mathematical error, this time in Child's latest book, Never Go Back. On page 379 of the Canadian edition, Reacher muses,

"His ears had the center whorls intact like any other guy, but the flatter parts around them had been cut away, probably with scissors, very tight in, so that what was left looked like pasta, like uncooked tortellini florets, shiny, the color of a white man's flesh. Not exactly hexagons. A hexagon was a regular shape, with six equal sides, and Shrago's stubs had been trimmed for extreme closeness, not geometric regularity. They were irregular polygons, more accurately."

Sorry, but a hexagon is not necessarily a "regular shape"; that would be a regular hexagon. A hexagon is any polygon with 6 sides; there's no symmetry implied.


Robert Byers said...

Idiot savcants (sp) do lightening fast computation. Famous thing and remember the rain man movie. At least in counting toothpicks quick.
I met a guy in the states who met a Indian woman who I saw on Johnny Carson , who could do fantastic quick computations.
She said she could see the question in her mind.
I don't see this as a product of intelligence but rather just a result of a memory trait.
They are, greatly, using their memories for the computations and great memory equals great results.
They really are just seeing in their mind the question as if actually reading it carefully on a blackboard.
Just like computers.
Its all memory and nothing to do with thinking.
Books like this think its a sign of greater intellectual ability.
Its important to creationism to always insist there is no innate intellectual ability to man or creatures.
We just use our thinking and memory for outside information.
We are souls and not brains.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Its all memory and nothing to do with thinking.

You have no idea what "thinking" is, as anyone who reads your contributions quickly realizes.

We are souls and not brains.

Claimed without evidence, like a typical creationist.

Robert Byers said...

Mr Shallit
A computer does not think. or rather choose options between info sources whether right or wrong or in volume.
Yet computers can play chess or jeopardy .
This because its merely about memory options.
Thinking means the answer is not already memorized. Without memory computers are worthless for conclusions.
All thinking requires knowledge, understanding, wisdom.
This is why kids are never thinkers/intelligent although they can do great feats in memory. in fact they are called prodigy's.
Yet its just evidence of kids whose memories have been more activated by their society/family. Or some mental problem.

modern society is trying to use alchemy to invent intelligence from innate abilities but its in vain.
Just hard work dealing with info.
memory feats obscure all this.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

A computer does not think.

Sure it does, by any reasonable interpretation of the word. With a little effort, you can find my talk on the subject online.

Great stuff, Robert. You're the perfect creationist - equal measures of ignorance and arrogance in the same body.

Robert Byers said...

I read your article on computers thinking.
They can't think because no one is there to think.
Its a machine.
or rather its just memory storage.
Saying a computer can think is like having a person repeat back to you the words you spoke to them YET they don't understand your language.
they have no reflection or reflection on failure of reflection on what you said.
A computer just repeats back what one said or rather what one asked because the answer is in its memory.
Only living beings think or rather choose options for chosen motives.
Computers have no motives and so no choosing options . tHey can only choose previously chosen responses.

Playing chess is case in point.
chess is entirely a game of memory. Better chess players simply have memorized plays or options for plays for situations. Not much diffeent then video games.
its a myth chess is anymore difficult then any game save in how much needs to be memorized. children play chess very well and some famous yet its because they just use their memory.
Games are unrelated to intelligence.

The error in the whole debate of AI has been overlooking the very separate matter of memory from intellectual operations.
man is intelligent only because we are made in gods image and think like him.
Animals think very little and largely live on their memories.
I'm sure most thinking Canucks think like me.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

They can't think because no one is there to think.

Just like airplanes can't fly because they don't have feathers, right?

they have no reflection

False - there are programs that can take actions in the real world and then explain why they did them.

A computer just repeats back what one said or rather what one asked because the answer is in its memory.

You really have no idea what a computer can do, do you? I have to admit being somewhat amused by your illiterate attempt to instruct me in my area of expertise, though.

chess is entirely a game of memory.

Completely false. I see you understand chess as well as you do computers.

man is intelligent only because we are made in gods image and think like him.

You are unlikely to make any progress in understanding when you start from a false premise.

Babbage said...

I wonder why these guys put "think" in quotation marks: http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/digital-logic/12/269 -- "How Do Digital Computers “Think”?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Babbage: Because it is still the case that not everyone is comfortable with the realization that thinking is not the sole province of humans -- the same way that not everyone is comfortable with the realization that people do not have souls, and that prayer does not work.

Eventually, though, I expect at least the first one to be a commonplace. A poll conducted 20 years or so ago suggested that.

Paul said...

Geometry aside, the hexagon passage reads like an entry in the Bulwer Lytton contest. I would have trouble guessing his target audience from these excerpts, but I see he is a best-selling author. Has bad math become trendy?