As a Doctor of Math, I often have to deal with a lot of the
misinformation that floats around about math. Whenever I hear a child
(or even an adult) make a claim like "Math is boring" or
"It's pointless to learn math" I just have to cringe. I then also have
to take the time out of my busy schedule to set the misinformed wretch
straight, which I also do not appreciate. But what else am I to do? Am
I to allow the good name of mathematics to be casually shat upon
without lifting a finger? Certainly not.
So, to set the record straight once and for all, I
recently invited members of the public to send me any pressing
questions or concerns they had about math. This way I could publish the
most common questions (along with my answers), and in doing so ensure
that the absolute beauty (and usefulness!) of mathematics could be
revealed to as many people as possible.
So, without further ado: Math!
Learning math in school is all well and good, but when am I going to
use math in real life?
- Jason R.
You'll always use math! Math is the most useful skill a human being can
with self-locomotion and the ability to digest dairy products. But just
for a moment, let's close our eyes and imagine what your life would be
like in a world without math....
Your friend Ted asks you to "please hand him one of those
you, being unable to count in a world without math, attempt to pick up
all twelve oranges from the bowl at the same time. You drop most of
them, and a few roll under the brake pedal of the car. Ted is unable to
stop and the next intersection and the ensuing wreck mangles both of your bodies beyond comprehension.
The sign on those potato chips said now 5% more free, and you, having
no knowledge of how percentages function in a world without math,
blindly purchased them. They may have been a good deal, but then again
they may not have. It doesn't matter in any case, because you did not
care for their flavor and were forced to discard them.
Without math, there was nothing to stop you from pouring slightly more
red phosphorus than you needed into your methamphetamine mix, causing
your meth to come out somewhat chalky. Your customers may be meth
fiends, but they are not savages. You are forced to listen to them
complaining about the consistency of the meth.
Balancing Your Checkbook
You needed to balance your check book. Unfortunately since math did not
exist, you could not. Therefore you accidentally wrote a check for $12
for some ice pops when you actually only had $5 in your account. Your
credit union automatically transferred $7 from your savings account
into checking at no additional charge or inconvenience to you. If math
had existed for you, this never would've happened!
So as you can probably see, to be ignorant of math is a gamble you
can't afford to take!
The Pythagorean Theorem seems worthless. What a bunch of crap.
That isn't really a question Megan, but I'm certainly not going to let
that stop me from showing you how utterly foolish and ignorant you
really are. Here are five situations where knowing the Pythagorean
Theorem means the difference between LIFE and DEATH:
1. Building a Bridge
Engineers, carpenters, builders, and architects all use the Pythagorean
theorem every hour of every day. Without it, it's impossible to create
a right-angled triangular shape, and we all know right-angled triangles
are the basic building blocks of all life on earth! Why, just take a
look at a window frame, a college campus parking lot, or the stem of a
crack-cocaine pipe. These are all wonderful examples of
naturally occurring Right Triangles we would have a hard time living
Needless to say, I won't be crossing any bridges built by a carpenter
who doesn't know his math! (It would collapse immediately because of
the builder's failure to utilize right triangles due to his lack of
knowledge about Pythagoras's Theorem!)
2. Purchasing a Television Set
How else would a shopper calculate the size of the base of a television
to see if it would fit in his entertainment center? In case you didn't
know, the screen size of TVs is measured diagonally, not horizontally.
Good luck figuring the horizontal measurement out without using the
Pythagorean theorem, loser!
3. Buying a New Car
When sizing up an automobile for purchase, the first thing any good
shopper looks at is structural integrity. If the auto isn't
structurally sound, it won't do you much good in a crash (or even basic
cornering for that matter). Yes, the first thing any savvy car-shopper
looks for is how well the angles of the structural beams of the car
conform to--you guessed it--the Pythagorean theorem. The rule of thumb
is: The more right triangles, the safer the car. It's simple.
For a good laugh, try imagining a car comprised entirely
non-Pythagorean-conforming triangles. Talk about wacky!
4. Playing a Game of Soccer
A soccer player utilizes Pythagoras's work each time he runs
diagonally. Without knowledge of this theorem, he would be relegated to
turning at 90 degree angles, and wouldn't that be a sight to behold!
No, without good old Pythagoras, little Pepe won't be scoring too many
"soccer points" for his team, I'm afraid.
5. Piloting a Commercial Aircraft
Airline pilots need to learn the Pythagorean Theorem due to their
reliance on angles (take-off, landing, distance of approach as related
to the sun, etc), so if you ever meet a pilot who claims not to know
it, run the other way!
If you're still not convinced, imagine this situation: A pilot is
flying a group of diseased war veterans and award-winning girl scouts
from New York to San Antonio. Suddenly, lightning strikes the plane,
causing the power to go out. All the pilot knows is the precise speed
of the plane, the distance to the ground, and the exact distance
remaining to the nearest airport. Unfortunately, this particular pilot
didn't bother to learn his math, and therefor cannot utilize
The plane plummets to the ground so fast that it catches on fire upon
entering earth's atmosphere, searing every passenger alive before it
smashes into a million pieces into the newly rebuilt world trade
Still think math is useless?
Can you Find the points of intersection of the curves with polar
equations $r=6\cos\theta$ and $r=2+2\cos\theta$?
I certainly can, but at the present moment in time I have far more pressing
matters to attend to, such as defending the good name of Lady Math from
those who would orally violate her.
But...seeing as you are one of the faithful, I suppose I won't let you
leave empty-handed. Here's a small hint to get you started:
If Ï€n(X) = [Sn, X] = [S, X]n is the smash product of an
n-dimensional sphere, then carry the substrate of the regular
parametric representation ratio to the extension from affine schemes
which are diametrically charged in opposition to the manifest destiny
Hope that helps!
My dad works as a carpenter and he says he only uses basic math. I want
to be a carpenter too, so why do I have to take classes like
Pre-Calculus in school? It seems like a waste of time which could be
better spent learning a useful foreign language like Spanish or
A waste of time?! Math is NEVER a waste of time! Knowledge is
knowledge, and you just never know when you might need to use a skill
like calculus! For example, what if at age 42 you are suddenly unable
to perform your duties as a carpenter (due to something like early
onset Alzheimer's or a crippling dismemberment) and the only job
available to you was Aerospace Engineer? You can bet you'll be darn
glad you spent all that time on Calculus in high school, won't you?!
And as for other "real-world" classes like Spanish being a better use
of time than advanced math? You must be joking! Let me tell you, if
you're looking to break into the lucrative field of "possessing the
ability to communicate on a meaningful level with a Mexican", then go
right ahead and waste your time taking Spanish IV.
While you're "learning" about your "Casa Pequitos" and your "Mucho
Libros", I'll be a Best Buy, purchasing a $146 graphing calculator I'll
probably only use twice. And that's really the concept behind advanced
math in a nutshell: Expensive and time-consuming planning for events
which are highly unlikely to ever take place. Some folks call it
wasteful. Some folks call it ridiculous.
But Me? I call it beauty.