Tuesday, April 27, 2010

MAM Bonus: Interview with my sister

I called my sister yesterday to talk about how much math she uses in her school work. She's a second year architecture student at the University of New Mexico. I originally wanted to use it in a blog post, but we started talking about other math related things and I just thought it was interesting enough to get its own blog post. Now, my sister is about 7 times smarter than I am so I hope you'll bear with me through our somewhat philosophical discussion of math.

So I started off asking how much math she uses every day to design. Turns out, because UNM is more focused on the aesthetics of design, they don't rely on math as much as I had hoped. The prerequisite for getting into the architecture program is Trigonometry, and a required Calculus 1 by the time architecture students graduate from the program. Not too much math, if you ask me. Which is a shame because I know my sister is a math rockstar.

She didn't build this one, but similar models.

So I asked her if she uses math in some or all of her projects, I would assume so because designing on paper or the computer and translating it into 3D models requires some sort of math. She told me one of her first projects involved calculating the angles of the sun in conjunction with building a model. She used her trig skills on this project, and many other projects as well.

Most of her models rely on a scale, one inch on the model represents 8 feet or 10 feet in real construction terms. She also pointed out that they calculate slopes from time to time when they're putting in handicap accessible ramps and making sure it's not too steep a slope.

It would seem that she doesn't use hard math as much as I thought architecture students would, but perhaps it's because of her program, or the fact that she's only a student and not a certified and experienced architect (though I hope she gets there soon!).

So I asked her if she uses math every day. She countered with "can we really live a day without math?" After 27 days of everyday math, I would have to say we really can't. If we are living in civilized society, there is no escaping math. Time and money are the two biggest resources people deal with every day, and both are math and number related.

Yesterday I noticed that the bus system relies on numbers and routes, if you mess up your numbers, you'll end up somewhere you didn't want to (this happened to me one day when I hopped on the 23 bus instead of the 22). It happens! And if you're not paying attention to your numbers, you could be stuck somewhere. A bus rider asked me what time it was. People who pay fares need to know how much is enough and how much is too much for a bus fare. Three examples of math while waiting for the bus. You can't get away from it.

Which bus is this? The 23 or the 22?

My sister and I concluded that math has permeated the organization of society so much that it's nearly impossible to not be dealing with math on a daily basis. Most of the time it's unconscious, we don't think about it too hard. After learning how to tell time, we can easily let other people know what time it is, after learning how money works, we can buy and sell things we need, etc. Earlier civilizations relied on barter and trading before money was invented, but there was still some sort of value and wealth system, a cow is worth more than a chicken, and the guy who has 100 cows is the "richest."

But what about societies and cultures that don't rely on time or money? My sister came up with the basic instincts of survival. If humans are living with others, we need to count and estimate in order to survive. To effectively pool our resources and make sure everyone we're interacting with has enough to eat and drink we have to measure and divide accordingly. Humans living outside our definitions of "civilized" society are still dealing with math in one way or another. And if you're stranded on an island, without anyone to share food and shelter with, I would be willing to bet that you're counting the days until you get saved or perish.

Finally, we then discussed if animals have some sort of understanding of math over survival. At first I'm wasn't sure that animals are aware of groups, sharing resources, and possess number sense. However, after doing some internet research, there is evidence that some species do understand concepts of more and less, and can compute simple math problems. An optimizing Corgi, an example of animal calculus.Monkeys can also perform simple addition.

Hans the math horse

I guess it goes to show that even if animals aren't solving complex mathematical enigmas or doing multivariable calculus that some animals posses math skills. Animals are far more complex than we give them credit for. For all we know, animals may be doing more math than my sister's architecture program. I sure hope not...


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