Let’s imagine a bright young man named Nart who attends a specialized high school and majors in mathematics. Nart was a web programmer; he ran an online book store with his friends and used the profits to build a library for disadvantaged children. In his free time, Nart enjoys reading books and playing classical guitar. Which of the following do you think will most likely to happen to Nart? Rate them from 1-5 with 5 being the most probable.
A. Nart will become a millionaire.
B. Nart will major in Computer Science in college.
C. Nart will get into Brown.
D. Nart will get into Brown, and then become a millionaire.
One day, I took this test to several of my friends. Here are the average results:
A. Nart will become a millionaire: 1.7
B. Nart will major in Computer Science in college. 3.6
C. Nart will get into Brown: 1.9
D. Nart will get into Brown, and then become a millionaire: 2.8
If nothing is abnormal about this, then you were fooled by the trick of conditional probability. In order for D to occurs, both A and C have to occur. Thus, the chance that D happens must be smaller than that of A and C. But somehow, all of my friends rated D as more probable than A and C. It was likely that the prestigious academic programs and multitude of opportunities that Brown offers had lured them to associate Brown with millionaires…
In our life, more often than not, we rely on our instinct to subconsciously rate the possibilities of options to make decisions. However, as this experiment demonstrates, we are too easily fooled by our own instinct. At the end of the day, that’s why we need Math. Mathematics helps us separate the known from the unknown, avoid the trap of emotion, and abstract real life problems and then solve them with the numerous tools that mathematicians have been developing for centuries.
However, I won’t try to disprove the role of emotion in our life. For example, how Mr./Ms. Brown Admission Officer feels about this essay will be critical to the future of Nart (who has the name that is the reverse of mine -Tran) and decide if his dreams (situations A,B,C and D) will ever come true.