Oh the irony of it all. Two days ago I post about two math books, at least one of which (if not both) I think everyone should read. This morning, reading my newsfeed, I see one of those “People Are Confused By This Math Problem” articles that pop up from time to time.
Often those are expressions without parentheses, so they require knowledge of operator precedence. (I think such “problems” are dumb. Precedence isn’t set in stone; always use parentheses.)
Some math problems do have a legitimately confusing aspect, but my mind is bit blown that anyone gets this one wrong.
According to the article, many people get the sum 5,000.
Which is off — that is to say: wrong — by a considerable amount (almost 22%).
As I look at that column of numbers, it’s hard to see how anyone could think it sums to 5,000. To me, that it can’t and doesn’t seems blindingly obvious.
But apparently what happens is that people sum it (in their heads) from top to bottom, so the running total they get is:
1000, 1040, 2040, 2070, 3070, 3090, 4090,…
And then it goes south when they add that final number, the 10. Somehow the rollover skips a zero and bumps the leading 4 to a 5.
That’s what happens when one’s mind has no feel for math because one has disdained or feared it, and I think that’s a major pity. No one should fear or dislike math — it’s far too crucial in our lives.
To me, the way people seem proud of being incompetent with math is shameful. It’s like taking pride in being illiterate. Math innumeracy is a form of illiteracy — it’s a lack of a key means of communicating about and understanding the world.
On YouTube, I’m struck by how many people find it important to comment about how poorly they understood some science or math video. They don’t add to the conversation in any way; they just announce their poverty. Are they begging for help or is it a weird form of reverse bragging?
When I look at that column of numbers, I see two groups. The four occurrences of 1,000 jump out immediately. Then one takes in the other four numbers, which are all small.
The four 1,000s immediately sum to 4,000.
The 10, 20, 30, 40 series is just 1, 2, 3, 4, multiplied by ten, which makes it 4! (four factorial) multiplied by ten, which is 100.
So the total sum is 4,100.
I read the article thinking there must be some weird trick I wasn’t seeing, but, no, it really is that simple.
It’s a glaring example of how innumerate too many people are.
Even worse in my eyes, they generally seem fine with that. As I say, to me that’s like being fine with being illiterate — it seems like going through life seriously impaired, and it makes me sad.
I really do believe that gaining some fluency with math leads to more clear and more logical thinking. A great deal of science and technology has evolved beyond the horizon of most people’s background or interest, but math fundamentals should be as common as reading and writing skills.
Recall that the original phrase was: Readin’, Writin’, and ‘Rithmatic. (The canonical three “R”s.) We’ve gotten well away from the last one, and I often wonder about the first and second — video involves neither.
But I suppose I’m just spittin’ in the ocean when it comes to math.
Oh, well, so it goes. It is what it is, I guess.
Stay summing sensibly, my friends!