Some Mathematical Healing

Mathematics is not often thought of in regards to healing.  Instead, we think of meditation, basking in the wonders of nature, relaxation, living in the moment, letting go, listening to soothing music.  However, lately mathematics has been a source of healing.  The following example will show you how.

Recently, my Dad’s 93 year-old brain has been on the on and off mode.  Sometimes he cannot distinguish between dream and reality and acts with extreme apprehension concerning the circumstances of his dreams.  The more practical side of his mind is obsessed with financial transactions, often spending hours trying to solve problems that seem impossible, but are really quite doable.  It dawned on me that a simple algebra problem might gather Dad’s thoughts in a tighter and more purposeful direction.  I might say that mathematics seems to me like a demanding yet supportive parent.  Like a parent, there are rules that must be obeyed and an order to be preserved.  However, there is also something truly soothing about logical boundaries, and a clear set of rules, which, if followed to the letter, lead to future paths of discovery.  Parts of the mind are held in check,  but others are ever expanding, testing, and exploring.  So too, an effective parent guides the child through progressive steps toward exploration.  With these thoughts in mind, I gave Dad the following problem:  Solve for x:  (x)(x)-7=9.  Dad simplified the equation to (x)(x)=16.  Then he began to test numbers such as 2, 4, 6, 8, to see which ones might work.  He also talked about square roots.  After about ten minutes, he came up with the answer 4.  When I told him that was only half the solution, he was nonplussed.  It took him awhile(with some prodding from me) to realize that negative numbers also exist.  When he resisted the idea, I told him that during our lifetimes we had encountered many negative numbers, and a smile crossed his wizened, unshaven face.  He allowed for the possibility of negative numbers.  He then gave -4 as the other solution.  Suddenly, he said that any two negatives squared would result in a positive, so there would always be two numbers as possible solutions  to the type of problem I was asking in which the x’s squared are equal to a positive number.  It amazed me to see how his mind was able to move to such a generalization, so I cried out,  “Bravo!”  Later that evening he was able to solve a financial problem that he couldn’t solve earlier.  Temporarily at least, my Dad’s mind had climbed to a new level of thinking.  I thought this was as an excellent example of mathematical healing and that is why I decided to share it with you.

About Robert M. Weiss
From an early age, I've taken great pleasure in reading. Also, I learned to play my 78 player when I was quite young, and enjoyed listening to musicals and classical music. I remember sitting on the floor, and following the text and pictures of record readers, which were popular in the 1940s and 50s. My favorites were the Bozo and Disney albums. I also enjoyed watching the slow spinning of 16s as they spun out tales of adventure. I have always been attracted by rivers, and I love to sit on a boulder with my feet in the water, gazing into the mysteries of swirling currents. I especially like inner tubing on the Rogue River in Southern Oregon. Since my early youth, I've been interested in collecting minerals, which have taught me about the wonderful possibilities in colors and forms. Sometimes I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks must have felt when they began to discover physical laws in nature. I also remember that I had a special passion for numbers, and used to construct them out of stones. After teaching Russian for several years, I became a writer, interviewer, editor, and translator. I continue to delight in form, and am a problem solver at heart.

6 Responses to Some Mathematical Healing

  1. berlioz1935 says:

    A great story, Robert. It proves there is hope for us old people. I hope my son will have the same patience, you showed towards your Dad, one day towards me. It would be easy to put us down as old codgers.

  2. auntyuta says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Robert.

  3. rommel says:

    Possibly my most favorite post of yours. I’m not just being biased because I love Math and I do find solace in doing Math problems. Your story is just a whole ‘nother level…. 😀 … that may not be comprehensible to some. 🙂 I’m facebooking this some time on my fb page.

  4. Thanks, Rommel! I’m glad that you realize there is another level to the story.

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