Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dumb and Number

You'd think I'd be better at math. It's reliable and logical.
Math problem you don't ask you to determine what the author was "really" trying to say or worry about subtle themes, metaphors, allusions or motives. There's one answer.
My problem? It didn't help that I had poor clerical skills and the random access memory of a toaster. Worst of all:
Numbers look alike to me.

Single digits are recognizable, but strings of them are trouble. For example, 520, 502, 512 look like the same number. To complicate things, I strongly associate each digit with a color*:

Thus 520, 502 and 512 are pink all yellow. And easy to confuse.

This brought trouble through school. My 6th grade teacher told me she gave me a C in math when I "really deserved a D. " A standardized test later that year put my math skills at the 2nd grade level.
Then came college.
Like all freshmen, I took placement tests to see which math class was appropriate. Would I be smart enough to get into Math 004? Or would I be stuck in no-credit Math 003 (a.k.a. Dumbbell Math)?
I knew I was in trouble when an adviser wanted to discus the results test results with me. How dumb was I? I'd gotten almost everything wrong. I was too dumb for Dumbbell Math!
The adviser said I should hire a tutor to get my math up to speed. Then, maybe I'd be ready for Dumbbell Math. I don't remember the details, but the idea seemed like a bunch of trouble. Maybe I could do Dumbbell math, I thought, but why spend money on a class I won't get credits for? What if I signed up for Math 004...?
I signed up for Math 004. It wasn't slide rule stuff. Just word problems and maybe some algebra. Could I pull it off? Was I crazy to try?
I remember the final exam well. Most people finished much earlier than me. I sat in the near empty room, slowly bushwhacking though the test. If train A leaves at 5 am at 30 miles per hour... If Susie is twice Cathy's age but half of Billy's age... Blah blah blah...
"Only two kinds of people take so long," the professor told someone outside, "Those who do well and those who fail." Uh oh.

Guess who got a B+?!

*1 and 0 are colorless. The other colors aren't an exact match but you get the idea.


Sally said...

wow! colors and numbers associated! Makes math seem like fun. Such an interesting post.

stray said...

This fascinates me that you associate numbers with colors. I heard a report once on NPR about this phenomenon: called synesthesia. Some people perceive musical notes as having colors.

Sally said...

Do you see colors with music too? I know you appreciate opera which leaves most of us at the playground.

Namowal said...

Hi (and thanks) Sally and Stray.
A few years ago I took a long (and somewhat tedious) online test to see if I had synesthesia. It wasn't one of those cutesy online quizes- it showed me numbers and letters (capital and lowercase) over and over (in random order). I used a precise color picker to show what color it invoked. A later test did the same thing, with me "coloring" musical sounds.
The results?
I scored very high for number and letter synesthesia, but not at all for music.

Linda said...

This is beyond wild.
And what a great story about signing up for Math 004 and practically acing it.

stray said...

Do the colors help or hinder?

Namowal said...

Thanks Linda (sorry for the late reply).
Hi stray. It's helpful for single digits and some double digits, but with three or more it just gets confusing.

walterworld said...

Always loved those problems where a train left one town while some other 'Limited' left another...

Once I figured them out!

All credit goes to my big brother who could have been a great teacher if he hadn't been drawn to the (sadly declining) paper news trade...

Thanks as always for the charming posts.

Namowal said...

You're very welcome, Walterworld.