"Math Support Gals" - Core motivations - 1: First-class citizenship.

Mauri Favaron
Posted January 5, 2010 from Italy

This is a contribution I'd like to give to the "Math Support Gals" as soon as constituted. I'll revise it, but think it's of great importance.

The world, in this 2010, is "more mathematical" than we could imagine, for better or for worse.

If you use a credit card, the security of all your transactions relies on the assumption that it is very difficult to factor the product of two very large prime numbers.

In a very near future, you might wear a "state sensitive dress", holding sensors able to detect (for example) your hormonal balance, and changing color to inform yourself of an incoming flue or headache, or even more.

These are just little examples of the tens millions existing. The hard fact is, we are literally surrounded by an enormous amount of devices (mostly invisible) which open and close sliding doors, regulate airports, decide your career, protect you from harm, allow you to communicate, ... They all have one thing in common: a computer somewhere, and a more or less complicate set of rules telling it how to behave - and these rules are essentially mathematical. Designing and operating these devices confers an immense "practical" power, in large part passing unobserved, and which I wish we collectively become more aware of - that is, less passive.

Mathematics is not only the "big tool" allowing a large part of our artificial world to function. It's also a language used to communicate and convince. Think to statistics, for example: if you are about to vote, then you are likely to be bombarded by projections and exit polls apparently aimed at "informing" you, but as often used to manipulate your decisions. Statistics is routinely used as a powerful rhetorical weapon, by politicians and salespersons as well.

The World itself, as fuzzy and irregular as it is, can be better comprehended and, to some little extent, predicted in mathematical terms. Mathematics is a human creation, as any other form of culture (indeed, a fascinating one, once you master it a little bit) - so I will not arrive at claiming "the world is mathematical", as some people do (besides, I'm not "so" skilled to take a definite position). But mathematical models may arrive at level of predictive detail once unthinkable - let's get meteorological forecasts, as one (simple) example. And the immensely complex econometric models underlying the decision of "cutting half a point the dollar's discount rate", for another case.

Practical life, and dramatic decisions you may have to take, also have a deep mathematical basis.

Imagine this story. You live in a village with your beloved, and win your bread literally extracting it from land, cultivating a little field. One day an authoritative-looking man arrives on a flashy car, presents himself as a representative of a big food and agriculture multinational, and tries to convince you that it will be very convenient to use a certain kind of seeds and the treatments linked (maybe locked) on them.

Imagine another (this one has really happened to me). The usual authoritative-looking man arrives on the usual flashy car, presents himself as a bank consultant, and tries to convince you to change your pension plan to a more aggressive investment method.

What will you do?

These people will bombard us al with numbers and "hard facts", but then the decision relies on you. They're paid to defend their company interests, and might try doing so against yours. The decision might have a deep impact on your life, but also your children, spouse, overall community. You might find yourself in a good situation, but also in big troubles.

That decision will rely on confidence with numbers, and a form of mathematical reasoning.

All the same, when you will decide whether a book is good science or rubbish, a good is worth spending a given amount of money, the amount of your wage is fair, and so on.

In short, some mathematical knowledge is necessary, for us to be first class citizens of this world.

It's important, as an instrument to take more informed decisions.

It's useful, to see details of our world so often passing unobserved (and uncontrolled).

Mathematics can be a form of power, to claim, exert with responsibility, and acknowledge.

As any form of power, we can't give it away. In wrong hands can be too devastating. In the right ones, world changing for good to all.

Comments 5

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  • Jacqueline Patiño
    Jan 06, 2010
    Jan 06, 2010

    Another great piece from you, that I look forward to sharing in Spanish also. Can I translate it and publish it in my facebook? It inspires me to work on an article myself. I will post soon.

    Love and hugs,


  • Mauri Favaron
    Jan 06, 2010
    Jan 06, 2010

    Jackie, thank you very much of your kind compliment! I'm sure I'll have the same to say about your article on the subject.

    And, sure you can share my piece in Spanish! I'd be glad of this! Spanish is a beautiful language, but so difficult for me. And same for publishing on facebook!

    After you have posted your article, may you please inform me? It's always a delight reading your pieces, they are inspiring, thoughtful and so gentle.



  • Jacqueline Patiño
    Jan 06, 2010
    Jan 06, 2010

    Mine is Jacqueline Patiño Escobar. Just look for the same picture I have here, and add me.

    Honey, I don´t think I will be posting it this week, as I have too many things to do. But I will let you know when I do.

    Love ya,


  • Sunita Basnet
    Jan 06, 2010
    Jan 06, 2010

    Hello Mauri,

    Yes I do agree with you that math is necessary in our daily. even when we go for shopping it's very important to have a math knowledge so that we can calculate fast.

    When are you going to create this group. I am so excited to join. Love you alot...

  • Mauri Favaron
    Jan 06, 2010
    Jan 06, 2010

    Sunita, dear, how are you?

    I have to thank you again of your warm support, and catching enthusiasm.

    In the moment I'm in wait of a language review from Jackie. That's so fine, as I'm not a native English speaker, and any help to refine the text is welcome.

    Meanwhile, I am preparing (and sharing in advance) some material I may then organize a bit better and post to the group, as a sort of "initial dowry" (I confess: hope that if people see some material, they may feel encouraged to give themselves).

    As soon as I'll open the group, I'll inform you immediately with a private message. I think it's question of very few days (and me to come back home, where I can use a reliable Internet connection - now am using a cell phone, not as quick as I'd like).

    So, forgive me, I've not yet opened the group, but we are here, I promise.

    Sunita, my dear, in the moment I'm afraid you have to limit to my

    A big hug


    (And, who knows, another short post)