Can Love Be Reduced To A Mathematical Equation?

Much of our lives are dominated by algorithms.  We turn to apps for every manner of things: to shop for clothes (shout out to LeTote), to track our workouts (kudos to Strava) and to weave around traffic (thank you GoogleMaps).  We are increasingly dependent on apps like Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to communicate with friends and family.

I continue to wonder about the effect of these dependencies.  And so, my curiosity was piqued when I saw the recent article, “The Yoda of Silicon Valley.”

Donald Knuth is considered the father of computer programming. He has written a multi-volume book, considered the subject’s Bible, The Art of Computer Programming.  Although I am certain this book will never be added to my Amazon wish list, I found his life work fascinating.  His philosophical musings were particularly insightful and illuminating.

Knuth comments: “I am worried that algorithms are getting too prominent in the world.  It started out that computer scientists were worried nobody was listening to us. Now I’m worried that too many people are listening.”

With the nearly daily revelations that tech companies have been trading more of our personal data than we previously imagined, perhaps it is time to give heed to Knuth’s advice.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my apps. I am grateful for the millions of calculations that Google Maps makes every second to help me shave time off my treks to the city.  I relish the ease with which I can stay in touch with friends who live in faraway countries. And yet, our lives cannot be reduced to likes and emojis.   We appear to forget that human relationships cannot be reduced to algorithms.

Part of the reason why I keep doing what I do is that people invite me into their lives at their best and worst moments.  They ask me to stand by their side when they are grieving, and they ask me to help sanctify the moment when they dance with joy.  I have been privileged to officiate at many weddings. In preparing for these occasions, I always ask the bride and groom how they met.

To be honest, some report that they found each other on dating apps.  For a brief moment, I wonder. Perhaps human relationships can be reduced to mathematical equations.  Perhaps love can be programmed. And then I dig deeper and ask a few questions. Inevitably, one says something like this, “I had just about given up on meeting someone.  I was about to cancel my subscription to JDate. I did not want to go out on this date. I figured, this is the last time.”

There is always some chance occurrence, or unexpected decision, that pushes people together.  It cannot be quantified. It is impossible to tabulate.

There is, as well, the story from a recent wedding.  He was not supposed to be at a sales meeting, but at the last minute he was asked to attend.  And there she was at the meeting. A few days later, she was not supposed to attend a corporate party, but for some mysterious reason she received an invite.  And there he was at the party.

Now they are husband and wife.

The serendipitous is really what programs love.

How else does one explain where the Book of Genesis concludes?  After all the tribulations and betrayals, our patriarch Jacob and his family are together and reconciled.  One never would have expected this conclusion. Think about where the story began. Not too long ago, Sarah could not get pregnant.  Not too long ago, Jacob was on the run from his brother Esau. Not too long ago, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt.

Now the entire family of Israel are one.  Jacob, and Joseph, must have doubted this outcome.  And yet the Bible suggests over and over again that God guides our heroes.  It is God who is the thread that connects all these stories. Joseph gives voice to this faith.

“It was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” That sums up the overarching point of Genesis.  All the sibling rivalries, the jealousies, the longing to conceive, and even every seeming human machination is in truth directed by God.

It is God who moves the story.

Kevin Slavin, another renowned expert in computer programming, comments: “We are now writing algorithms we cannot read. That makes this a unique moment in history, in that we are subject to ideas and actions and efforts by a set of physics that have human origins without human comprehension.”

But that’s what we have always been doing.  It is called, “Friendship.” It is called, “Love.”  The mysterious and the serendipitous may be incomprehensible, but they are what defines us.

People say, “I love you,” for all sorts of inexplicable reasons.  And no formula can ever really explain all that, except one.


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