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Understanding life’s path takes a little simple math

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“Whatever the essential no. 1’s are in your life,  find out what the “math’ is and have the discipline to attend class, do the homework, and when necessary find or ask for some help,” Barlow Packer writes.

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The advice to stay on the “road” in pursuit of your goals and aspirations is a way to open the door to satisfaction, joy, love, fulfillment and even material rewards. But it takes consistent effort and focus on what is essential. As a close friend, Boyd Matheson, wrote, there is “Nothing like a global pandemic to get you thinking about what matters most. The forced physical isolation and disruption from the ‘daily drill’ have created solitary moments of introspection and opportunity to define what is truly essential in our lives.”  The old saying, there is no free lunch, also reminds us that the challenge of achieving our goals often comes at a price as work to follow the steps that are essential to succeed.  

On the first day of a college trigonometry class, I asked my professor what I needed to do to get an ‘A’ in the class. His answer was threefold: “Attend class, complete each homework assignment, and ask for help when you need it.” 

He assured me those efforts, would earn me an ‘A’ in the class and promised, and this was a surprise, that I would actually look forward, with confidence, to the final exam.”

With the necessary effort, not only did I ace the final exam and earn my ‘A’ in the class, but I also gained a greater understanding of and appreciation for mathematics. I learned to see the truthful objectivity and the certainty of mathematical outcomes. Additionally, I discovered ways in which mathematics could be likened to the steps I needed to accomplish any goal.

There is a mathematical equation or formula known as the Collatz conjecture. Its rules are simple: (1) Choose a number. (2) If the number is even, divide it by two. (3) If the number is odd, multiply it by three and add one. 

Let’s see what happens to any number. As an example, let’s use the number 15.

To begin,  15 (odd) x3 +1=46,    46 (even)÷2=23,    23x3+1=70,    70÷2=35,    35x3 + 1=106,    106÷2=53,  (Your doing great.) 53x3+1=160,    160÷2=80,    80÷2=40,   40÷2=20,   20÷2=10,   10÷2=5,  (Almost there.)  5x3+1=16,  16÷2=8,  8÷2=4,  4÷2=2,  & 2÷2=1.

The amazing mathematical certainty of this conjecture is that whatever number you choose if you follow the rules, you always end up at number 1. 

As you noticed, on the “path” to number 1, the numbers wandered all over the place. Such is life. We often get diverted, or pulled, wandering here and there, but if we stay with the rules, we will get to 1. The outcomes or the 1’s we desire in life can be as certain as the outcomes of a mathematical formula. 

There is math all around us. The complexities of planets, stars, and galaxies in orbit, combined with the force of gravity, just keep revolving. I couldn’t ever understand the math required just to put the space station in orbit, but because NASA mathematicians got the math right it worked. And mathematically how amazing is it that every June and December, on a precise day the Earth miraculously reverses the tilt on its axis, and like clockwork, we head back to another summer or winter.

Galileo in his book, “IL Saggiatore,” in 1653, wrote that the universe is “written in the language of mathematics,” and in many ways so is each of our lives. We pay bills, we reconcile bank accounts, we track overhead, we project our investments, we calculate budgets, tips, and taxes. By taking the time to calculate the math of living we can be successful because, like math, there are rules which are necessary to follow. Whether it be a school class, an athletic achievement, a career pursuit, a health goal or even improving the quality of a relationship with a friend or family member, there are strategies, criteria, and standards that need to be followed or it will never happen.

Whatever the essential number 1’s are in your life, find out what the “math” is and have the discipline to attend class, do the homework, and when necessary find or ask for some help. Follow the rules for that specific outcome, and just like the Collatz conjecture, you’ll end up at your 1.

Barlow Packer is a retired dentist, author and teacher.