More On Pinker & Gladwell

Lloyd explains why Pinker and Gladwell don’t agree, which is partly based upon Gladwell’s new book, What the Dog Saw., a collection of essays that were published in the New Yorker.

Igon Value: Pinker on Gladwell’s What The Dog Saw

I’m kind of surprised at the ignorance of some writers, especially when it comes to mathematical terms, such as Igon Value. For those of you who don’t know, it’s not igon value, but eigenvalue. Here’s what eigenvalues are all about. The name come from the German word eigen, which means “self”.

Eigenvalues, eigenvectors and eigenspaces are properties of a matrix. They are computed by a method described below, give important information about the matrix, and can be used in matrix factorization. They have applications in areas of applied mathematics as diverse as finance and quantum mechanics.


An eclectic essayist is necessarily a dilettante, which is not in itself a bad thing. But Gladwell frequently holds forth about statistics and psychology, and his lack of technical grounding in these subjects can be jarring. He provides misleading definitions of “homology,” “sagittal plane” and “power law” and quotes an expert speaking about an “igon value” (that’s eigenvalue, a basic concept in linear algebra). In the spirit of Gladwell, who likes to give portentous names to his aperçus, I will call this the Igon Value Problem: when a writer’s education on a topic consists in interviewing an expert, he is apt to offer generalizations that are banal, obtuse or flat wrong.