Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thank You, Math (Part One)

as featured in Desert Exposure Magazine
As odd as it sounds, I'm reading a book about mathematics.
     The first thing it taught me was how much more a paperback book about mathematics costs than a regular one. It’s bigger than a regular paperback, but smaller than a trade paperback, and it cost me $16.00 plus tax. I don't need a math book to figure out I’m now poorer by closer to twenty bucks than I am to ten.
     The author is a mathematician, a comedian, and English, so the book is interesting, funny, and has bad teeth. He's made mathematics entertaining the way the Queen of England makes the queening of England entertaining.
     For example, take the number 111,111,111 and multiply it by itself. The answer is kind of nerdy, but pretty cool. Oh sure, I could do it for you, but where’s the fun in that? It’s like my mother always says, “I’m drunk.”
     I was fascinated to learn that Newton (the scientist, not the cookie), in order to prove his theories (such as calculating the distance between planets), had to invent a whole new discipline of math: calculus
     Now you know who to blame for that “F” you got in high school.
     With math, you can prove ALL movement is impossible. That’s right, mathematically, it is impossible to move from point "A" to point "B". What good does that information do you? Not much, until your wife wants you to spend the day shopping with her and you'd rather stay home with a cold beer in your hand.
     "Sorry, honey, I can't go shopping with you because it is mathematically impossible for me to move from where I'm sitting to where you're going."
     The impossibility of movement comes in mighty handy at such a moment.
     "And, since it's impossible for me to move, can you bring me a beer?"
     You see, before you can move from point “A” to point “B,” you first have to make it to the halfway point. Before you can get to the halfway point, however, you have to make it to the quarter point. But, before that, you have to get 1/8th of the way there. And, before that, 1/16th of the way. 1/32nd, 1/64th, 1/128th… it never ends. You see, numbers are infinite, therefore it is mathematically impossible to even get started because there is no starting point to get started from. Confused?
     Yeah, me too.
     Another fun thing you can do with math is count to 31 using only the fingers of one hand, assuming you have at least one of your hands and five of your fingers (which leads me to wonder, “Do prosthetic limbs cost an arm and a leg?”). First, give each of your fingers a different numerical value. Your pinky finger would be the number one, your ring finger would be two, your middle finger would be four, your pointer finger would be eight, and your thumb would be sixteen. Then, add them up however you want. Pinky finger and ring finger add up to three. Ring finger and middle finger add up to six. Thumb and pointer finger add up to twenty-four. You see what I’m doing? Good, because I don’t. I’m busy watching the weather girl on TV.
     Would you believe me if I said YOU could count to over a billion on the fingers of both hands using a similar system?
     “Surely, you must be joking,” I can hear you scoff.
     Well, I’m not joking, and stop calling me “Shirley.”
     1,073,741,823, to be exact. Well, as exact as it can be until another mathematician with too much time on his hands finds a way to count higher. How do they do this? I don’t know, I don’t have time for that kind of nonsense. Watching the weather girl has put me in the mood for some 1 + 1 with my wife.
     As it turns out, she has a headache.
     I guess I do have time for that kind of nonsense, after all.
     Mathematicians are a funny lot. When they’re bored, they like to do math. They also like to devise mathematical problems so difficult no one can solve them. The most famous math problem that I’m sure you’ve never heard of is Riemann’s Hypothesis, and it comes with a million dollar prize to anyone who can solve it.
     A million dollars?
     That’s a lot of math.
     I once gave it a shot. I never fell asleep so fast in my life.
     Some mathematicians, if you can believe it, like to study knots. In fact, there was a time when people thought the universe was made out of knots, not atoms. The only knots which interest me come from my wife. As in, “Knot tonight, dear. I have a headache.”
     As I go through life, I like to enlighten other people about the wonders of math. When I’m driving, if I’m feeling generous and see a panhandler on a street corner, I’ll pull a ten-spot out of my wallet and tell him, “If I gave you this ten-dollar bill, you would have ten dollars more and I would have ten dollars less.” By this time, the light will have turned green, so I’m able to drive off with no further action necessary on my part. You see, if there’s one thing math has taught me, it’s that it’s better to feel generous, than to be generous.
     My point is, numbers are important, and they can be used to solve problems. Take the number two, for example.
     “Here, honey,” I recently told my wife.
     “What’s that?” she asked me, her eyes bright with curiosity.
     “Two aspirin for your headache.”
     “But I don’t have a headache.”
     Hee, hee.
     Thank you, math.
American Chimpanzee