I've just signed up for Tom Henderson's Math for Primates podcast on the strength of this interview he conducted with Technoccult about his theory of punk mathematics. My dad's a mathematician and I love math, but stopped taking it after first year university calculus and stats and feel like I'm losing it by the year. I like Henderson's approach to the subject! Bonus: Tom helped Jane McGonigal and pals make the awesome Superstruct game.
So, the concept I pitched to Nick was, "Let's talk about math from the platform of 'Math that humans are likely to want to know, because it's about other humans.'"
Social conflict. Sex. Beauty.
It gives us an excuse to talk extensively about game theory. And, game theory is a key place to teach humans mathematics, because we seem to have some optimized "cheat detection" in our brains.
Let me give you an example, it's something like, uh…
There are four face-down cards on a table. There is a rule: "If the number showing is even, then the back of the card MUST have a vowel."
Now, given an E, 3, 8, D, what is the smallest number of cards you need to flip over to verify that the rule is being followed?
Maybe I fucked up the puzzle. But, anyway, the answer as I've phrased it is NOT E and 3.
You need to make sure that 8 has a vowel on the back, and you need to make sure that D does NOT have an even number on the back.
Everyone gets this wrong, basically. Well, non-mathematicians always do, and I'm pretty sure I got it wrong because I get every answer wrong on the first try. Punk as fuck.
Now, if you ask the same people a logically equivalent question: "You see four people. Two are drinking beer and two are drinking coke. Whose IDs do you have to check?"
No one says you have to check the ID of the coke drinker. Because who cares how old they are? If it's the same puzzle, but phrased as a problem of possible social cheating, we nail it.
(via Beyond the Beyond)