This caught my eye on a whiteboard near a math professor’s office yesterday: A(x-1) + B(x+2) = x
I was busy, running around setting up a projector which was missing a cord (and still is) for my seminar class. This equation (with 3 unknowns) took up temporary storage space in my head and rattled around in there. Spoke to me. Made me wonder what it modeled. Made me want to find a pencil and solve for x.
Think about the distractions in a
normal typical person’s life, those that entice a human, the most intelligent life form in our world, to stray from a task. Things like Twitter, Facebook, video games, playing with a smartphone, snacks.
So I’m wondering whether maybe I’m the last living person who is distracted by math, and puzzles, and the teasing potential enjoyment of wracking my brain. Am I the sole survivor or are there billions like me out there, but the rest of you are too cool to admit it?
After seminar, I saw the pesky equation-with-3-unknowns again, just waiting and taunting me as I passed by, so I stored it in my head and carried it to my office and solved for x on my whiteboard. It was a simple exercise of the mind and it was fun, like solving stoichiometry problems, calculating formal charge, writing a novel, or designing multistep synthetic schemes.
Upon solving for x, I got x = [A-2B]/[A+B-1], smiled, ate some grapes and tried to get back to my never ending list.
(Go ahead and check me. If you read this far, you know you want to.)
But what does it mean? What does it model? In a quick chart, I input values of A and B and calculated x. No obvious pattern emerged. (I even spent a few minutes exploring in spreadsheet world.) I’d satisfied the itch of solving for x, but I think it might not have a significance–maybe the brilliant math professor just made it up as he walked by the board. If you subtract twice B from A, and then divide by 1 less than the sum of A and B, you’ll get x, every time, no matter the values of A and B–positive, negative, real, or imaginary.
I doubt dogs or dolphins understand numbers, but I’m not sure and that’s not my main concern. My worry? (I hope I’m way off here.) There might be 5 or 6 billion humans who have the intellectual capacity to think and learn and stretch their brains but they don’t. They don’t want to. Or they think they can’t. But they’re wrong.
Maybe other mammals can’t (yet). But humans can.
So you don’t spend the day worrying, here’s a distraction: y/x = (x+y)/y if x = 1, what is y? (and why is y special?)
For my past organic students, give this one a whirl: Design a synthesis of acetone from ethane. (You know you want to.)
OK. Enough of my oozing geekiness for one morning. Carry on.