The BBC documentary “Foolproof Equations for a Perfect Life” was broadcast last night on SBS TV. This documentary, by Garth Sundrem, attempts to show how mathematics can be used to help make rational decisions about all aspects of our lives. Even how to get a date. now where are my old maths books?
Whilst somewhat light hearted and lightweight the documentary did show how the brain can be easily tricked and how, no matter how rational we think we are, we are still prone to make irrational decisions sometimes.
I liked the segment where he got people to meet someone new and just before they met this person they were given either a hot or cold drink to hold. All the people who held the hot drink thought the new person was a nice guy and they would probably employ him. The cold drink holders either didn’t like the new person or were ambivalent towards him. Yes it was a very small sample size and not a very scientific experiment, but if I’m ever looking for a new job I’ll try and get the interviewers to hold a hot cup of coffee first.
Another interesting section was the topic of “loss aversion” where even though we stand to gain more than we would lose, our fear of loss prevents us. They demonstrated this by presenting people with money in two different ways and then asking them to gamble of not. The people who ‘thought’ they were making a loss gambled, even though they had already made as much money as the people who hadn’t ‘made a loss’ . You can see this section of the documentary here.
There are more sections of the documentary on the above link or supposedly you can find the whole documentary in five parts on youtube.
Scientific Blogging also has a nice write up on this documentary.
Overall, interesting and a bit of fun, but not to be taken too seriously. As Garth says himself in the comments on the above link:
Of course it’s pseudoscience! Didn’t you get the joke? It’s funny, when I give book talks, my best audience is mathematicians with a sense of humor and my worst audience is mathematicians without…
To modify an equation from the comments on Garth’s blog:
A + (B+B(n+1) ) + C = D
A = me,
B = Bourbon (or Beer, or whatever your favourite tipple is),
C = Chocolate, and
D = Depressed lonely person
I’m sure there a few of us who live that equation?