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Hollywood’s math problem

A few days ago, I stumbled on a montage of video clips about hating math. Few things irk me more than when people brag about their inability to do math.

In scene after scene from mainstream Hollywood movies, characters talk about flunking, hating, or being bad at math. What irritates me most about this is that these attitudes appear in the world of the movies, in which scriptwriters mine human life for the bits that are most evocative, easy to connect with, or funny and true. For some reason, disliking math counts as character development.

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In real life, some people do feign a little embarrassment when they are struggling to calculate the tip. Usually, though, that’s just theater; most people seem to confess their ignorance of basic mathematical concepts with the assumption that it will bind them more closely to others. Maybe my exasperation is misplaced, but I do not know people who publicly celebrate the fact that they have a limited vocabulary.

People certainly do not have to study logic and math at the highest level. But the kind of analytical thinking that people use to reason their way through a problem set can be pretty useful in other areas of life.

And usefulness aside, basic mathematical principles provide another way of looking at the world that can provide a new perspective for appreciating how things work.

Carolyn Y. Johnson can be reached at cjohnson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @carolynyjohnson.
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