Two And A Half Men

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Extracted from Colins Blog and
now one of my Random Writings.

Two and a Half Men

I was thinking this morning about the stupidity of using a single Yes/No issue to try to define who and what a person really is. Lots of people do it, and there are, of course, lots of ways to do it.

Perhaps most simple and least serious is a riddle like:

  • Why do elephants have big ears?
    • Because Noddy wouldn't pay the ransom.
This clearly divides the world into those who "get it" and those who don't. You must have read about Noddy to have any chance, and that's pretty much a yes/no (in technical parlance - "binary") situation.

Another less serious one is the simple email tag-line:

  • "Bother", said the Borg, as they assimilated Pooh.
Now you need to know both Star Trek and Winnie The Pooh, but they're both accessible, and the "yes" audience is still pretty large.

Still trivial, but less accessible:

  • What do you get if you cross a mountaineer and a mosquito?
    • You can't cross a scalar and a vector.
OK. If you're reading this you're probably already in a rather small minority, but very few people know enough of more than one area to know that the "cross product" in mathematics can only be done between vectors, and that in biology (probably medicine/epidemiology) a mosquito is a vector.

In 1959 a lecture entitled "The Two Cultures" was given by C.P.Snow in which he argued that the division of society into the sciences and the humanities is a major problem for the world. You can read more about that on Wikipedia:

This division into two ways of thinking can be seen in other places as well. Even within mathematics, for example, we can clearly identify two schools or modes of thought. Fields Medal winner Tim Gowers has written about that.

It's even made it to the "popular" cinema. Richard Gere's character in "Pretty Woman" says:

People's reactions to opera the first
time they see it is very dramatic.
They either love it or they hate it.
If they love it, they will always
love it. If they don't, they may
learn to appreciate it, but it will
never become part of their soul.

This echoes strongly with how I feel about mathematics. Most people can, with some effort, learn to appreciate mathematics, but perhaps some people are designed, built and pre-disposed to love it. The tragedy is that so many people get that love beaten out of them by the reaction of society to anyone who loves the sciences.

So what has this to do with "Two and a Half Men"?

When I first took up juggling seriously in 1984 I was, rightly or wrongly, aiming to learn to juggle 5 balls. It dawned on me a short while later that no one in the club seemed to be practising five or more. In fact, I discovered, of the 80-odd (very odd!) members of the juggling club, there were only two and a half people who could juggle five balls.

Two and a Half?

Yes. There were two who could, and one who was half way through learning. As we all know, one times a half is a half times one, so a person who can half juggle five is the same as a half a person who can juggle five.

No? Yes? Do you "get it"?

This is a glimpse into the mind of a mathematician. It's not a pretty sight, but it's a hint as to how they think.

And finally, there is a show on television called "Two and a Half Men". The two men are brothers, one of whom is divorced with a son. The son is perhaps the "half a man". On the other hand, Jake only comes to stay on weekends and holidays, so he is also only with them (roughly) half the time.

Maybe the show should be called "Two and a Quarter Men".

One of my Random Writings, and originally in Colins Blog 2007.



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