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Math has never been my friend. In fact, I have disliked numbers since my earliest teachers introduced me to them and they (numbers) started bullying me in elementary school. I slogged my way through high-school math classes, always at or just below average, and finally got an A in college when I realized, Hey, I’m paying for this class, so I might as well apply myself to the work I’m doing. That may make it sound like I’m a slacker when it comes to math, which I suppose is partly true.

After all, I know I’m more than capable of doing math. But after I’ve figured out even a mildly complex math problem, it leaves me feeling like I’ve been fed into a woodchipper. Okay, okay, maybe it’s not that bad. Still, I have a much higher heart rate after doing math. My brain starts to ooze out of my ears. I feel physically tired. Then again, all of that sounds exactly like how I feel after I’ve been to the gym, so maybe doing math is actually good for me, no matter how much I hate it, like working out a muscle.

All of this is to say, despite my hatred of math, I still love coming across quirky theories that supposedly make sense of the world around us. While I probably can’t explain some of these theories to you in depth, I can certainly introduce you to them, and maybe you’ll be as amazed as I am at some of the awesome and bizarre ways that math rules the universe.

I’ll Never Use This, so Why Am I Learning It?

Most of us have had some variation of this thought flit across our minds at one time or another while sitting in an excruciating math class, but compound interest is definitely a concept that most of us will end up using. It affects many of us in one or two ways: either through a mortgage or a retirement account, or both. Einstein supposedly said that there is no force in this universe more powerful than compound interest. There is some dispute as to whether this quote can actually be attributed to him, but it’s still a thought-provoking statement, nevertheless. Compound interest is powerful.

I’ll start with a little miracle commonly associated with the phenomenon of compound interest. Maybe you’ve heard of this humorous math demonstration. It goes
einsteinsomething like this: You’re asked what you would rather have, a million dollars upfront or a penny with the guarantee that your money will double every day for a month. The choice is obvious at first, right? You’d give anything to be a millionaire! No questions asked!

But slow down! Maybe it’s worth it to ask a few questions after all. As soon as you do the math, you realize that while the first option gets you that instant million, the second option gets you over $10 million!

Impossible, you say? Nope! This is merely a demonstration of compound interest’s power. Certainly, this is an extreme example because it assumes a consistent return of 100%, but it nevertheless proves how awesome compound interest can be. Still don’t believe me? Check out this video from Bloomberg News.

From Money’s Infinite Possibilities to the Infinite Monkey Theorem

According to Wikipedia, the Infinite Monkey Theorem is probably my favorite mathematical idea, ever. Quite simply, it states that if you have a monkey in a room punching the keys of a typewriter for an infinite length of time, then that monkey will eventually produce the entire works of William Shakespeare. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. It’s just that you have to ignore the fact that it makes no sense at all. That’s because the monkey is actually a metaphor. And so is the typewriter. And so are the complete works of Shakespeare.

You have to pretend that a monkey can be given eternal life ... and can be trained to hit typewriter keys at random ... and can somehow be convinced not to go insane in the process. But given all of those eventualities, you can’t deny it: eventually, that poor little monkey would inadvertently produce some pretty genius literature. I mean, what else would he have to do with all that time in that tiny room?


Is the math still hurting your head? Do you want to get rid of the headache? Well, you could always swap out your math headache for another kind: a wine headache! That’s because there’s another kind of Infinite Monkey Theorem, and apparently, it involves some folks making wine in Denver and Austin. The website’s slogan is “No vineyard. No pretense. Back alley winemaking at its finest.” Sounds pretty good to me! Check it out here!

Why is this winery called “The Infinite Monkey Theorem?” The Denver section of the website first repeats the definition of the theoretical concept: “The Infinite Monkey Theorem states ‘that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.’ ”

It goes on to say, “Yes we named our winery after an old mathematical theorem. When you think about it, it’s all about creating order out of a chaotic system and, we would argue, Ben Franklinthere is nothing more chaotic than growing grapes at 4,500 ft in Colorado and making wine in a warehouse in an alley in a city. There are an infinite number of variables at play, decisions to be made and possible outcomes. It is the job of our team to create order out of this inherently chaotic system as we craft our ridiculously good wine.” 

And I have to agree: There’s nothing that makes me marvel at the intricacies of the universe more than drinking a bottle of good wine. Benjamin Franklin is often quoted as having said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” According to this website, the quote was actually in regards to wine. But we can all get along, can’t we? I don’t think old Ben Franklin would mind if we substituted “alcohol in general” for “beer” or “wine.” / Issue 189 - March 2018
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