Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Scary Numbers

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I don’t know what’s wrong with schools or society that we see this happen, but many people seem to suffer from something that I’d call mathematical paralysis. Even if these people are otherwise able to breathe, think and pronounce themselves just fine, the very moment they encounter something they consider to be related to mathematics in a conversation their mind goes blank. They’ll just start woffling around and saying random things without thinking about them.

An example for that could be seen on German Who wants to be a millionaire tonight. A simple sports question was asked: How many participants are there in the eight-finals of a tournament? With answers (a) 2, (b) 8, (c) 16 and (d) 64. And that just fried the contestant’s mind. After a few guessing attempts the host tried to help. And they could agree that there are two teams in finals, four teams in semi-finals and – after a bit of back and forth – eight teams in quarter-finals. Yet, the contestant’s mind remained blank until the host literally explained those steps team by team.

After that the correct answer was found out but it didn’t really seem like the contestant really understood what was going on. I found that rather puzzling – particularly as the contestant obviously knew all the relevant information, i.e. that the number of teams in each subsequent round is half that of the round before it and that there is only one winner.


No chicken has four legs. So one chicken has five legs.

December 22, 2007, 0:36

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