The Purpose of Mathematics

In looking to discover an intelligible meaning of mathematics for a layperson, I came across one in an online learning platform called vedantu.com and it appealed to me the most. Verbatim, this is what is said about Mathematics:

Mathematics is the theoretical science of quantity, number, and space, either as abstract concepts (pure mathematics) or as applied to other disciplines (applied mathematics). It further goes on to say it is the science of structure, order, and relation that has evolved from elemental practices of counting, measuring, and describing the shapes of objects.

The previous definition suggests that we use mathematics in every aspect of our routine lives though mostly unknowingly. The most standard usage of mathematics in our lives is perhaps in our homes, when starting a family and deciding on the shape of the body a potential spouse should have or the number of children that partner should help us with. We in addition use mathematics a lot when deciding on the resources required to maintain ourselves and our family together. That is applied mathematics and everyone uses it regardless of their level of education. Mathematics is, therefore, a part of everybody’s routine lives.

What inspired this article is not the promotion of mathematics but rather how the application of it can assist us in solving the puzzle of the challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In some of the branches of mathematics, we learn about addition, subtraction, division and multiplication. Furthermore, we learn about X and Y, variable symbols that must be given value in a formula to generate a result that can be applied to a given situation.

In other words, X + Y, X – Y, X * Y or X / Y only become useful to us when the X and Y are given a value. For example, the addition of a male and female may lead to procreation. A family is produced, children are born and a community built. X and Y are given the value of either male or female in order to arrive at the previous result.

In our ordinary application of mathematics, X and Y can be given any value to help us arrive at a positive result, a negative result, a small result or even a big one depending on the values we put in and how we use them. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division produce different results for the same values.

Thus, we learn in society that negative results are produced by increased negativity. In other words when a negative value is higher than the positive value, it can only give a negative value. When we want to increase a positive value, we cannot multiply it by a negative value and expect positive results. If one has three children and wishes to please them all equally, the value at hand must be divided by three. That is what produces balance.

In recent times, in the application of the laws of nature and pure mathematics, humanity engaged in activities, contrary to the dictates of mathematics. In many of our ways of living we sought to generate positive results using only negative values. In our daily actions we sought to overcome the challenges of daily living, using only negative values and as a result, we ended up with more hunger, more poverty, more violence, more crime, more conflicts, and more everything that is purely negative.

We see for example in our society people who seldom give without expectation. We see in our society people who steal from the poor and vulnerable then blame the government for the increase in crime. We see in our society people who are blessed with money but seldom assist the needy. We see in our society people who make a living only from taking advantage of the poor and vulnerable.

I am talking about the folk who is only content to squander his money on women, cigarette and alcohol with no regard for what the results; the consequences would be and when he is ensnared, condemns the government for his failures.

I am talking about the woman who decides to father more children than she can manage and when trapped, condemns the government for not doing anything to support.

I am talking about the Westerner and Chinese who comes to Africa and seeks merely to take without giving back in the similar proportion what they have benefited.

I am talking about the white farmer who seeks merely to make use of black labour without ensuring they are empowered to look after themselves.

I am talking about the charity organisation that distributes aid in Africa not ensuring that the people in need are prepared to stand on their own.

I am talking about the religion entrepreneur; I mean the bishop, the prophet, the pastor who can heal all diseases, expel all demons of poverty but is nowhere to be found in the face of Covid-19 and its effects.

I am talk about the modern day journalist who finds comfort only in excessive negative reporting in total disregard of the consequences of such actions on society.

These are but a few examples of how for a long time we have been giving negative values to the variables X and Y and yet expected positive results to come off them.

Unlike the scientist who derives value in mathematics only in scientific discoveries, the ordinary person ought to use mathematics to improve the living conditions of humanity. To continue to exploit the poor and vulnerable shall only lead to suffering as created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

No doubt, there is enough for everyone to be born, to eat, to grow, to study, to work and to live happily on this planet. The social ills and imbalances are caused by some of us who have taken comfort in breaking the laws of nature in mathematics. These social ills are caused by those who have experienced pain in sharing equally the values imparted to them in solving the equation of life.

A promising future awaits us. A bright future awaits our planet but it is up you and I how we decide to manipulate the values given us. Should we continue to use them negatively, we shall get only negative results but my wish is that as from today, we become better at applying the basic mathematics concepts that will lead to a better life for all.

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