Math Illiteracy

I’m afraid you’re going to have to bear with me for a few moments while I go on a rant.

Why are people so afraid of math, for the love of all that’s holy? Our mortgage person, who I swear to sweet merciful Christ might be one of the stupidest people to draw breath in the entire history of mankind, is fearful because we moved some money over from a credit card to make a down-payment on our house. This, for some reason, “throws her off.”

OK, I understand. The amount you owe is increased by x dollars, and the amount you are able to put down is also increased by x dollars. Can’t you just…do the fucking MATH?! I mean, is this so hard? Add one, subtract the other, place into handy-made mortgage formulae, analyze results. Isn’t this what you do all goddamn day?

I was reminded of when I did archaeology. We had this thing called a “transit,” which was basically a tripod you could use to sight both distance and angles. We used to cut areas we were digging into a grid of 5′ by 5′ squares; we would put a nail in at 5 feet from the transit (for example), the put another nail on the same line at 10 feet, another at 15, etc. These clowns would do a run of about 100 feet, then they would pick up the transit, move it 5 feet to the left, put it down, recalibrate it, then do another run.

Recalibrating this machine was a gigantic pain in the ass, so I suggested that, next time, we measure the hypotenuse of these squares we were making and put a nail 45 degrees away, 7.07 feet away – that way, we don’t have to move the transit as much.

They thought I had grown another horribly misshapen head.

“That’ll never work!” they said. The fucking theorum of the hypotenuse is at least 2500 years old; arguably, you could go back to the goddamn Babylonians (and if you think that’s too obscure… these were supposed to be archaeologists I was working with). I can accept that you might not remember how to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle. But to insist that it won’t work, like we were working in some sort of mystical Bermuda Triangle in Trenton, NJ, where the laws of terrestial physics and math no longer apply? I found myself wishing that Pythogoras had been there to start hitting people with a shovel. I had to argue for close to an hour to allow them to even let me try my “hare-brained theory.”

Guess what? It worked. Assholes.

I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said that people should be ashamed of saying they’re “not so good at math.” I know you’ve seen them – people passing the bill down the table to the person at the end, shrugging their shoulders and saying “I can’t add very well.” That’s like passing the menu to someone else and saying “I don’t know how to read. Can you order me a Fishamajig?”

Mathematics is the language of the universe; it’ll always be unambiguous and it’ll never lie. An answer is what it is, like it or not. Math is one of the gifts to Mankind (which, in my opinion, include Language, Writing, and Music). Math is one of the things that makes us human. If you don’t “know math,” please – pick up a book and learn. I promise you you’ll be a better person for it.

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