Sunday, April 26, 2015

What can we learn from Albert, Bernard and Cheryl ?

By now, most readers would have heard of the maths problem which went viral two weeks ago.

You can access the information about the original problem here.

This blog article is not about the mathematics behind the problem but about the behaviours of the folks who attempted to tackle the problem on social media which I think can teach us a thing or two about failure and living lives of mediocrity.

I'd like to address two behaviours in this article :

a) The behaviour of blaming the folks who set the question.

The first behaviour is that some folks get bitter when they fail to get the correct answer to the problem. The question has been set by the folks who run the Math's Olympiad and its original purpose is to test the logic of a 16 year old competition participant. Although the question was designed with an answer in mind, some folks came up with a fairly credible second answer and then proceeded to start a campaign blaming the question setter for introducing ambiguities into the question.

b) The behaviour of rallying others to be indifferent to questions of logic as they have no significance in practical life. 

The other group of folks are those who needed to get into a discussion just to highlight how pointless the question is in daily life. This behaviour is baffling to me as it would be a lot more economical to simply ignore the entire discussion thread, but no, these crusaders of practical living are proud of their failure to provide the answer to the problem. They want more people to do the same because this question does not reflect the daily challenges of real living.

Both groups of people miss the point behind Mathematics.

I think the Spirit of Mathematics is about curiosity and the willingness to confront complicated problems. You might not get a problem right the first time round, but if you examine how answer is arrived at, you get access to a heuristic, a procedure for solving all similar problems. Knowing the heuristic allows you to crack the problem in seconds instead of hours. This heuristic can be then be applied to other problems you face at work or in your relationships.

Complex numbers which involves the mathematics of imaginary numbers is almost worthless when you study it at your 'A' levels. But in engineering school, it is used in the modelling of alternating currents which powers all our homes.

Regression mathematics does not amount to very much, until you realise that psychologists have found a strong correlation between conscientiousness, health and stable marriages so you might want to look out for a conscientious person to be your life partner.

And don't even get me started on retirement planning. Logic and mathematics is the first step to financial planning.

What do you need to cut out of your budget so that you can you can invest it in a portfolio which would maximise the probability of you becoming a millionaire before you reach your 40s ? These problems are way more complex than just finding out when Cheryl's birthday is.

I'm going to go out on a limb and present a hypothesis to the readers.

The folks who blame the question setters are the same kind of folks who cannot take ownership for their own problems. When they fail, a lot of folks are going to be blamed for their own personal disasters.

As for the 'practical' folks who think that the problem is irrelevant will fall prey easily to get rich quick schemes. Expect them to use a TA when positioning their portfolios.

 














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