2015-2016 Anthony Reitz

Anthony Reitz




Rhetorical Mathematics


Ralph Cintron


This project is exploratory by nature, so no question is too crazy. Mathematical language has been given a certain privilege in the world, and I want to know why. Is it really the “language of the stars,” or merely a good description of it? What makes an object “1” more concrete and universal than “freedom”? It seems to me that numbers derive their meaning from the absolute guarantee that “1” is, in fact, a real thing that is “out there.” In virtue of “1” actually being an object 1 we can, with enough time, get all the way to a googolplex and logically prove the steps we took to get there. In verbal language, a similar phenomenon occurs through “linguistic communities” where words derive their meaning from other words within a given “community.” The difference between the two seems to be the incredibly simple and incredibly “real” 1. Is it as real as we all take it to be and how different is it from its pals on the verbal language side?


During the Spring 2015 semester I was taking ENGL 448: Topics in Rhetorical Studies with Professor Cintron, and we began to ask questions that pushed the boundaries of rhetoric and what constitutes communication or persuasion. I thought about these questions a lot, and as I was streaming “How the Universe Works” there was a discussion about quantum entanglement. How two particles across vast distances of space can be spinning in opposite directions, and if you change the direction of spin in the one particle, the other particle instantaneously changes its spin to maintain its opposition. This made me think that perhaps this could be a form of communication and the questions that this raised eventually led to an inquiry into the ways that mathematical and verbal language generate knowledge and make truth claims. I hope that what I’m able to do with this project is start something that I can keep writing and thinking about over the years. I hope to eventually change the way we look at language, both mathematical and verbal, to bring us to a new understanding of the world around us and how we come to know the things that we know.


First, go to class. Even if your head isn’t totally in the game, just show up. After that, try hard, and when you think you don’t have any more “try” in you, try harder. I think professors recognize when someone is genuinely committed to learning about the ideas and figuring out how they work. Also, there have been times where I show up at my professors’ office hours consecutive days in a row with all sorts of questions about a myriad of different topics, and so far, I haven’t been kicked out of anyone’s office for being a pest. Professors do the job that they do because they love thinking about these ideas and they love teaching them; so, when you show the initiative to care about the ideas outside the fifty minutes or hour and fifteen minutes that you have to be there, they will give you as much information as you can take in.