Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The relevance of math to everyday life

Here is an excerpt from an editorial in the Vancouver Sun from this past Sunday. I just got a copy by email and think it is worth passing along. I encourage you to read the whole article.

There is no escaping the influence, and the virtues, of math


In an effort to illustrate what he described as the "unreasonable effectiveness" of mathematics, the late Nobel laureate physicist Eugene Wigner used to tell a story.

The tale concerned two former high school friends, one of whom had become a statistician working on population trends. The statistician was explaining the meanings of various symbols he used when his friend asked about the meaning of pi.

When the statistician explained that pi was the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, his friend responded, incredulously, that "surely the population has nothing to do with the circumference of the circle."

The friend's incredulity is understandable, since it's reasonable to wonder what a relatively abstract matter like the circumference of a circle has to do with a population. But that is the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics -- math seems to insinuate itself into everything, even things where it appears not to belong.

For example, everyone knows that math is absolutely essential to physics and, to a lesser extent, to the other natural sciences. But what many people don't know, and others choose to forget, is that math is crucial to the study of just about everything, including ecosystems, financial markets and sports scores.

Truly, everything is number, as the Pythagoreans said. And that is why everyone needs a decent understanding of mathematics.

The problem, of course, is that most people, particularly when they're in school, don't see how math is relevant to their lives. In an ironic way, this may be a direct result of its unreasonable effectiveness.

Heres what another blog had to say:

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