Few words carry such cultural stigma as “mathematics.” We associate being good at math with an intellectual feat and think of math as some abstract concept. The truth is that we all use math and apply many of its principles everyday. To begin our exploration into “Math 4 Life,” we will begin by looking at the building blocks of mathematics, numbers.
Numbers are all around us, and are more than just a way to count; they are the very language of life and the universe. Just take a moment to think about all the things in everyday life that you use numbers to describe: bank balance; number of Facebook friends; words in your essays; age; weight; the list goes on. Numbers are also a lot stranger than you might think, for example: one plus one is not always two.
Before we delve any deeper into what numbers are it is important to touch on the fact that there are many kinds of numbers. Yes, kinds of numbers — there are more than one! There are natural numbers, integers, real and complex numbers to name but a handful. But don’t worry; today we will only be looking at natural numbers.
Natural numbers are commonly used for counting, and whenever you count something, like chairs at a table, you are using natural numbers! Natural numbers are also whole positive numbers such as one, two, three and 1,412; so “half” is not a natural number. They also have their origins in words. A word that stands for something about what is being described, such as one person, one saber tooth tiger, one club or one really unlucky cavemen, is a natural number.
Natural numbers, however, say much more than just how many of something there are; they reveal something intrinsic to the nature of the things we describe. Take, for example, a table with four apples and the Three Stooges standing around it. If the three people want to have the apples, and there are four apples, in order to maintain equality amongst themselves they must each receive 1 1/3 apples. Problem solved? Not quite. In order to do this, one of the apples must be cut, and so the stooges are not receiving 1 1/3 apples, but one whole apple and a piece of an apple.
Now imagine that the stooges are neither willing nor able to cut the apples. Now the problem gets a bit harder. In order to maintain equality they must throw away one of the apples, otherwise it is impossible to evenly divide the four apples between the three stooges. And so their endless slapping and fighting continues because they can never be equal with each other. One stooge will always have more apples than the other two.
Though stooges and apples may appear to be a very trivial matter, the lesson they teach us is far more complex than that. King Solomon had a similar encounter with natural numbers. He had one baby and two mothers. The problem was not that the baby could not be cut in half — I do not recommend dividing babies into any proportions — but that sewing two halves of a baby together does not a whole baby make; it makes something completely different than a whole baby — and a mess!
The take home message is that he sum of the parts is not always equal to the whole; sometimes it is just equal to a pile of parts. The problem is that there are things in life that cannot be divided, because the process of division destroys the very essence of the item. Life multiplies very well but it does not divide just as easily.
A couple divided is not half a couple — it is two individuals. The division destroys the notion of couple. The stakes only keep on rising from there. Just think about how many things can’t be divided without losing their identities, or aren‘t even possible to divide at all! Cars, people, fruit, countries, memories, ideas, just to begin with! How we handle numbers is a direct reflection of the world in which we live.
So, next time you are thinking about life, know that you are also thinking of numbers, and remember to keep it natural and divide with care, because nobody likes anything but whole babies.