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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » Useful application of maths*

Useful application of maths*

I’ve previously mentioned how some mathematicians used maths to prove that the universe hates us and that maths could be the undoing/proof of free will. Both are fairly meta subjects, and not particularly useful unless you are a philosopher.

Now maths have been applied to two very useful and tangible issues: romance and zombies.

First, Romance
:

Oh, we have some supposed criteria in our heads about what makes a “yay”- body type, nose shape, or some such nonsense. But commitment is a very hairy creature, one that barks at us more often than it sings.

So for a long time, mathematicians believed that, given 100 choices (each of which has to be chosen or discarded after the interview) you should discard the first 50 and then choose the next best one. (The assumption also is that if you don’t choose the first 99, you have to choose number 100, which, again, seems rather realistic to me. I know so many people who have chosen the last resort out of perceived necessity rather than, say, happiness.)

The “Discard 50 then Choose the Next Best” method apparently gives you a 25 percent chance of choosing the best candidate.

However, then along came John Gilbert and Frederick Mosteller of Harvard University. I do not believe they were married. However, they came upon the idea that the magic number is, in fact, 37. Yes, you should stop after 37 candidates and choose the next best one. This number was apparently derived by taking the number 100 and dividing by e, the base of the natural logarithms (around 2.72). And it apparently increases your chances of the best choice to 37 percent.

Here’s the real beauty of this calculation, though. You don’t have to limit yourself to 100. This optimization works for any population. So if you have a world of 26 potential life partners, simply divide by 2.72 and choose the next best one.

Now, I know it is sometimes hard to know exactly how many potential partners are in your firmament. But it is surely not beyond some calculation.

We need a little more stability in this world. We need more happiness. And we need just a little more good judgment. It seems that only math can save us.

There is a small word of warning, however. Some psychologists, such as JoNell Strough at West Virginia University, believe that the more we invest (in a gambling and, one supposes, marriage context), the more likely our decision will be attached to disaster.

However, I would be interested whether any of you number-conscious geniuses out there have also used mathematical principles to choose your betrothed. Perhaps you have done it more than once, but we would still love to hear your number-based criteria.

He’s referencing this article up at New Scientist, which is also very interesting if you gamble at all.

And Zombies:

“An outbreak of zombies is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead,” the authors wrote. “It is imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly, or else we are all in a great deal of trouble.”

Having spent a fair amount of time mixing science with beer in the wee hours while trying to finish a thesis, I’m guessing that at some point, a graduate student who had spent far too many hours tweaking a mathematical model of infectious disease in the basement of a Canadian university said something like this: “What would happen if we made it so they could come back to life?”

This was followed by the other math students in the basement gathering around the computer, happily creating a plausible model for the outbreak of infectious zombie disease, and then brainstorming on how to make their model relevant.

“Clearly, this is an unlikely scenario if taken literally,” they wrote. “But possible real-life applications may include allegiance to political parties, or diseases with a dormant infection.”

Seriously, that’s an awesome school project. They figure it would take 3 days for a zombie apocalypse to overrun a city of 500,000 unless dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Have they seen David Cronenberg’s Rabid by chance? The fair city of Montreal pulled through, possibly from their swift and efficient handling of the situation.

* Yes, I realize that maths is a British thing, but I like it, so fuck off.

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