Precision and rigor

Eddie Zhang
2 min readJan 8, 2023

At a college admissions interview for undergraduate a few years ago, my interviewer told me this thing that would happen to me after going to college. I remember it very distinctly.

“You will find that you will be able to make very sharp statements, where the meaning is exact and clear. Now what you say is fuzzy and unclear. But this will change.”

Today I understand what he meant. He was talking about learning the language of mathematics, of propositional calculus and of algorithms. But even more than this, he was talking about a philosophy that would permeate through not just my schoolwork but into the very essence of my thinking. He was saying that I would be able to express my thoughts and arguments as precise trajectories, paths that could be followed simply and lucidly by all who wished to. I have found this to generally be true in the sciences and engineering. Our precise language is essential for effectively manipulating physical and virtual worlds.

However, as I now embark into the world of policy and law, I find that the language is muddy and opaque. This is frankly sad. Perhaps I will just need more time to learn how to speak their language, but I’m doubtful. It feels fundamentally different from the languages of engineering, and is slightly infuriating.

https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/impostor.png

Law is not literary criticism, but it is certainly closer to it than computer science. While the primary purpose of pseudocode is to elucidate, it seems that the primary purpose of most legal documents is to confuse.

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