Friday, 28 September 2012

By the lake

The other day, as we walked through the forest, she asked me why she needed to know maths -- “math” to Americans. “Why do I need to know maths?” She asked.

Everything is made of maths, I said; people would look at the world differently if they understood more. How many roots do you think this tree has?

“You’d have to uproot it to count them all,” she said.

Maybe, I said, but let’s say the trunk splits two ways below our feet, and each of them splits two ways, how many roots do you have?

“Four,” she said.

What comes next? I asked.

“Six!” she said, and then paused, realising that wasn’t right. We slowly counted through the sequence:  eight. Sixteen. Thirty-two. Sixty-four.

She wrestled with the alien world of exponential growth, and stared into the forest digesting this, taking her first inchoate steps toward a world of interest rates and hockey-stick graphs, and the runaway numbers she will inherit. Eventually, I hope, she will see tendrils of connection between them and the plastic we pick off the ground.

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