Sonia-Applied Mathematics — 02 March 2013
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Impossibility does not exist, improbability does

Often when I’m asked what I do and I say “I’m a math major,” I get that look  of despair that is quickly followed by “But what can you possibly do with math?”  If I answered this question every time it was asked, I would never stop talking.

With new fields and new discoveries every day, especially new areas of specialization, people tend to forget that mathematics is the root of almost everything. Close to everything we do is an application of some form of mathematics. While I will spare you the common examples applied mathematics, I want to talk about how math is present in the simplest part of our lives.

Very often, we hear or use the line “There is a one in a million chance.”  Most people may not realize it but the probability may be more feasible than one in a million. I was watching a video on YouTube the other day about the probability of flipping 10 heads in a row and the host said, “Even unlikely events will happen if you give them enough opportunities.”

What are the odds of getting 10 heads in a row while flipping a coin? I know quite a few people who would immediately argue that it’s impossible, but the truth is that it isn’t. I like to think that impossibility does not exist, improbability does. A more proper answer to the question should have been “unlikely.” There is a 1/1024 chance that the coin lands on head 10 times in a row.

Even though this may be a trivial example to many people, it is important that people realize that mathematics is ever-present in their lives. So many people give up on tasks just because they tell themselves that it is impossible for them to proceed. The truth is – nothing is impossible.  Even unlikely events can happen given the opportunity. This ties back to the above video.  It might have taken a couple of hours, but the host did land 10 heads in a row. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. The host of the video gave himself the opportunity to obtain his results and he did.

We live in a world where people don’t necessarily apply what they learn to their immediate lives. A couple of months ago, I wrote about how I used mathematics to help me take multiple-choice exams – and it worked,  I ended up getting an A in the course.

Instead of abruptly giving up on tasks, people should factor in the likelihood of succeeding if given the appropriate chance. This is just one of many examples of how mathematics can build the confidence you need to achieve a task.

Remember, in math, we always have a solution – at least in theory.

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mmiranda2009