April 2014

Have You Lost That Loving Feeling, For Mathematics?

By Rich Junker

Richard JunkerHow and when did you first conclude that you love math? Now that we are in mid-career, our work often returns the same joy we first knew in elementary school, and at an even more profound level. Yet the focus is usually on pounding out the work, on finding the answer.

How often do you experience the old-time joy of simply foraging, discovering elegant mathematics?

My transcendent realization that I loved math was at age eight, when I found a rubber-banded pack of baseball cards, including one of my idol Ted Williams. How I pored over those statistics on every player, down even to: Bats Left/Throws Right, Born 8/30/1918, San Diego, Calif. Height 6’4”, Weight 198# (when he was the Splendid Splinter*). My first database!

Ted went three for four today, and it’s June 1st. He has 200 at bats so far. He entered the day hitting .412. What’s his new batting average?

*The year he hit .388 at age 38, he had not one infield hit, by then weighing 240#. Had he beaten out just five infield hits, he would have vaulted yet again over the .400 mark. Then again, he was a dead pull hitter. How many ground balls went to third base or deep short?

If you are longing to recapture your recollections of the beauty and elegance of mathematics that first entranced you, I hope you have sufficient slack in your weekly calendar to drop over soon to Barnes and Noble, wander through the Math and Science stacks, and pick off a handful of appealing reads. Haul them to the coffee shop and load up on their caramel mocha or whatever jitter-inducing treat you prefer. Set a spell, as Jed Clampett would invite you.

I did just that a few weeks back. I discovered several gems. If you will pick out a few of your own gems, such as from the brief list below, I am certain you will find several nuggets worth sharing. Each of these books is a work of art, reaffirming the beauty of math in so many facets.

The readers of CompAct will welcome a short article from you, describing a few of your discoveries, weaving in your personal lust for the mixing and massaging of numbers.

Herewith my touts, to get you started:

To close the circle, an article on the joy of mathematics from an actuary hooked to his future profession by a love of baseball must include a good controversy, one that can be resolved only by data analysis:

Who was better in 1941, Ted Williams (the last .400 hitter) or Joe DiMaggio (the 56-game hitting streak)? The Red Sox guy or the Yankees guy?

For the analysis, look to the successor article, COMING WITH THE NEXT ISSUE, My First Database—Baseball Cards. Serial articles worked for Charles Dickens, why not for CompAct?

Rich Junker, FSA, MAAA, CLU, is an actuarial consultant at Junker Consulting in Tampa Bay, Fla. He can be contacted at richardjunker41@gmail.com.