Numbers Are Fun! Or So ‘They’ Say!!

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Numbers Are Fun! Or So ‘They’ Say!!

“Numbers are fun!” insisted successive maths teachers over the years, but in my youth, this “fun” element continued to elude me.

I constantly struggled through my maths lessons. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry…complete torture through the years!

As with most things through the passage of time, I did eventually overcome my hatred of numbers, but I did wonder on more than one occasion

Who were these twisted individuals who thought up these rules?!

Little did I know in my youth that maths wasn’t ‘created’ but is everywhere, and always has been!

Whilst other species might not spend their time agonising over the ‘perfect cuboid problem’ or the ‘Erdős-Strauss conjecture’, mathematical ability is very prevalent in the animal kingdom.

Take for example the common chicken. In a recent experiment it was found that hens can count up to six. Even chicks can do basic sums, far outstripping toddlers’ abilities (the birds tested were 3 days old!).

Five items were shuffled around in a game and the chicks mentally kept track of additions and subtractions and then chose the area with the higher number of items.

If this sounds complicated for the three-day-old bird, think again. The chicks correctly guessed the area with the higher number of items nearly 80% of the time.

Chimpanzees perform even better in their maths tests, succeeding in this sort of task 90% of the time. In their experiment chimps were placed in front of two pairs of bowls, each containing a certain amount of chocolate.

To receive their reward, the chimpanzees had to count and add up the value of the chocolate in two separate bowls, compare it with the sum of another two bowls, and then correctly judge which was the larger. If they got it right (and they did 90% of the time) then they got their reward.

Furthermore, their capacity for learning and retaining information is staggering.

Additionally, bears, horses, gorillas, rhesus, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys, lemurs, dolphins, elephants, birds, salamanders and even fish have all demonstrated some level of numerical skills.

What separates us for them is our use of language. Language allows us to give names to numbers too large to fully grasp (e.g. googol). Furthermore, this allows us to digress into other, more complex areas of study, such as astronomy, theoretical physics and, yes, you guessed it, bookkeeping and accounts!

Language allows us to communicate complex mathematical rules. It allows us to irritate and annoy children with sweat-inducing mathematical problems. But if you strip it all back, the human race is just one of a number of species on this planet with the talent to add, subtract, count and calculate.

Whether or not numbers are fun is in the eye of the beholder; the one thing that is undeniable is that numbers, and mathematics is everywhere; all you need to do is look for it.

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