If you try typing “Maths” into the GIF finder on Facebook, you’ll probably find the “Zach Galifianakis from the Hangover card counting scene” that you see dotted all over Twitter. So a pretty realistic interpretation of what you can expect to achieve with a Maths degree then.
But in a wider sense, this only highlights the simple fact that if you’re not studying Maths every day, then the most interaction the average person has with the subject isn’t through mainstream culture. It’s found scattered online or shoehorned into the media. Whether it’s a misleading football statistic on Match of the Day or a generalised set of polling figures on Twitter, Maths is often watered down or placed in a more comfortable environment so that it is more palatable to a wider audience.
Firstly, not that I’m an activist for clearer pathways into actually learning to enjoy Maths or anything….*cough*….
But certainly more can be done to engage, not just the students who want to study the subject at greater length, but those of us who seemingly ignore and disregard Maths after their GCSE’s and have never looked back.
As well as its prominence in a number of video games and their franchises, let’s just consider when Maths enters the medium of film and television, a platform designed for both entertainment and education:
- A Beautiful Mind (2001) centers around Nobel Laureate, John Nash who was instrumental in the development of Game Theory i.e. Nash Equilibrium as a solution to non-cooperative games.
- In the film 21 (2008), which describes the group of MIT students that profited off card counting and other techniques, they set up and explain the Monty Hall problem, which shows the changes in probabilty due to changes in the initial conditions.
- From The Social Network (2010), we can see how an understanding of Network Theory and Elo rating systems can lead to a social media revolution.
- Finally, we recently saw in The Imitation Game (2014) the impact of Mathematical knowledge and creativity when seeking to explore code-breaking and de-encryption methods in the most severe of circumstances.
So as inspiring and innovative as these examples are, we shouldn’t always need Hollywood or a Netflix subscription to discover the wider reaches of Maths.
To be continued.
P.S. This article is a pretty interesting read and goes into more detail about the link between film-making and Mathematics.