An axiom, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, is “a premise so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy.”
My English professor asked me if I had picked up any axioms in life. That was easy. “Mathematical concepts.”
He told me he didn’t mean any physical laws. He wanted something I personally thought to always be true, in that I saw my life through the lens of this axiom. My second answer was…
I couldn’t think of one. I blinked, my mind whirring and refuting even the most concrete-seeming ideas. He moved on to someone else in the class, who said something optimistic about how everything that happens is the best thing that could have possibly happened. Hmm, that’s an interesting idea. I could believe that. I could fight it, too. Like this kid to my right is doing right now. Is there nothing I believe completely?
Other than math, that is.
I don’t think that I’m a pessimistic person. I’m a pretty hopeful person… or so I thought. I believe in God, but I’m constantly fine-tuning what I mean by that, leaving it open for doubt in that sense. But I have never looked at a theorem in my math book and said, “Well, maybe not.” I always believe them instantly. (Except maybe the whole dividing by zero is undefined thing.)
Later I talked to a friend about this odd, self-defining breakthrough. I told him I never thought I was so cynical that I would only believe in math completely, without a doubt. He held up his fork. “You’re telling me that you can doubt that this is a fork?”
“Then why don’t you doubt that two plus two is four?”
“Because it’s right. There’s no way you can make that … not four. I can make this fork a comb, or a claw, or a concept, since words are just concepts …”
We argued about whether or not four is a concept. The word four is a concept, I had to explain. But the essence of four is not. The essence of four exists everywhere, always. This went on for a while. Finally, he asked if I believe in gravity.
I said yes, but I can doubt it, since my idea of it isn’t absolutely always a true idea. We worked from that. Eventually I decided that I believe that for (probably, depending on that moon colony thing) most or all of my life, I will live in a world where my current idea of gravity stays constant.
“So I believe in math and (almost) gravity? Still doesn’t sound like me to me.”
He came up with one more: my parents’ love. “Yeah … yeah. I don’t think I doubt that. Okay. Math, gravity, and my parents’ love. Undoubtedly.”
I still don’t think it sounds completely like me, but it’s getting a little closer. I believe in love, and the power of words. And math. I’m working on finding more absolutes. My constant questioning is an absolute, though; my continual self-discovery is an absolute.
About the Author (Author Profile)Cecilia (or Ceci—not Cece, not Sassy) is a senior and co-Editor-in-Chief of Culture Shock. She is a Comparative Literature major and a math minor. Her time is spent speaking in and thinking about Spanglish, reading poetry, running (both with and without a basketball), and doing her best to smash the patriarchy. Tweet knock-knock jokes at her: @CCWeddell
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- Dear Math: A Last Love Letter to My Minor | Culture Shock | May 14, 2014