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Lost in coordinates

Oct 15,2019
HA HYUN-OCK
The author is a financial team head at the JoongAng Ilbo.

An apple and a fly might seem trivial, but they led to some revolutionary discoveries. British scientist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) discovered gravity thanks to a falling apple, which led to the law of universal gravitation. René Descartes (1596-1650) — a French philosopher and mathematician who famously said, “I think, therefore I am” — developed the coordinate system while watching a fly on the ceiling, opening a whole new chapter in mathematics.

In the Cartesian coordinate system, values are used to refer to a specific point on a line, plane or space: Numbers can be identified through the x and y axis on a plane, and through the z axis denoting depth in a 3-D space.

Descartes fought in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and years later in 1680, he came up with the coordinate system to mathematically denote the position of a fly on the ceiling while he was lying in his bed.

Coordinates are widely used in our lives, such as for navigation systems. The world is set up in coordinates, and this enables satellites to find the value for my location and my destination.

Motion capture technology, which is used to imitate the movements and facial expressions of humans and animals in films and animations, also uses the coordinate system. By attaching sensors to humans and animals, the coordinates allow for the vivid realization of facial expressions and body movements.

The meaning of coordinates, which serve as a guide, is used in a distorted way in Korea. In the online space where factional confrontation is fierce, “setting a coordinate” means posting responses on news articles or sharing links such as a Blue House online petition board to attack the other camp or reinforce their own arguments. In order to turn the public opinion in a favorable direction, the coordinate of attack is set, and the influence is boasted by making a vigorous attack with supporters.

A coordinate is a compass that shows where we stand now and where our destination is at the same time. But the coordinates that Korean society desperately needs to follow are lost in a world that is full of coordinates.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 14, Page 35