Friday, November 11, 2011

Math, Society, and You...

Like many of you, I often get sucked into Facebook. Also like many of you, I end up taking silly quizzes and polls because, let's face it, sometimes I have absolutely nothing better to do. The most recent poll I took was a simple, straight-forward math problem:


The answer is 15. Not 0. 15. No, there are not different ways to do this problem. I also don't care what your calculator says (yes, it's wrong). The answer is 15.

"But anything times zero equals zero!" according to many people in the comments section. Which is true. But only the last 5 is being multiplied by zero. What happens to all the other stuff? It becomes 15.

At first, I was sad at the number of people who answered zero. Seriously, this is a very basic math problem that a ten year old (or younger) should be able to do. I'm sure there are many people don't remember the most basic math skills, but I feel that this goes deeper than that. I very much felt like arguing with these people, until I came to the realization that this isn't really a math problem.

This is a social statement, and not about how many of us forgot the Order of Operations (PEMDAS ring any bells?) This problem is a statement about how we, as humans, tend to focus on the one part of the problem we recognize and solve it, rather than looking at the problem as a whole. Most people will see "x0" and think "anything times 0 is 0, so the answer is 0."

This is a wonderful statement on seeing the big picture. Do me a favor: Next time you're faced with a problem that you think has a simple answer...STOP! Look harder, because it might not be so simple.

Votes at the time of writing this:
0: 585,787
15: 415,075

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