Monday, November 26, 2012

Maths and the Languages

Ever wonder why the Asians are inherently better in Maths than the Europeans and the Americans? Malcolm Gladwell gives a very interesting and thought provoking analysis of this phenomenon in his book "Outliers" (It's a MUST READ if you ask me, a lot of interesting stuff mentioned in this book!). The basic funda over here is that the way the language number naming system is structured makes it easier for an Asian to do 2 things :

1) Memorize more numbers than what an American or European could.
2) Easily do basic calculations (Additions, subtractions) on the top of your head, or quicker than the Europeans/Americans.

This got me thinking. Does this work in the Indian Context as well? Do the difference in the number naming systems in Hindi and in any of the South Indian Languages (Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada or Telugu) have an effect on our conception and understanding of Math? Can being good in Math also be rooted in the group's culture? Let's put it to the test.

I'm taking Malayalam as an example, but for all the south indian languages, the number systems are similar.

The Malayalam number naming system is logical in nature. 11, for example, is said as "ten-one", whilst the tens (other than 20) are said as "three-ten","four-ten" etc. (30 : Muppathu "Moonu-pathu")

Hindi, on the other hand, has a much more complicated logic in their numbering. Hindi cardinal numbers up to 100 have no specific standardization. Up to 20, the numbers are unique. After that each tenth number (such as 30, 40 etc) is unique. The rest of the numbers take the form of prefix of incremental digit and the base of preceding tenth number. However these prefixes and bases vary slightly and random manner.

Now, if we were to ask a South Indian youngster (a seven year old) to actually mentally calculate the sum of two numbers (say 17 + 42), it would actually be easier to do so in Malayalam, as he would automatically say "one-ten-seven" + "four-ten-two", thus getting "five-ten-nine". However, as a Hindi speaking youngster to add the numbers, and he would have to convert the words to numbers, and only then would be able to do the math. 

This would show that South Indians are able to learn the basics of Mathematics much quicker than the North Indians, and would thus, on a whole, be better off than the North Indians in Mathematics. And this has always been the general perception as well. (Well, please do correct me if I am wrong!).

On the other hand, the Chinese, Koreans etc. have an even more logical number naming system, and are thus able to grasp and learn mathematics even faster, which is why you see the Chinese always doing better than the Indians in exams like GMAT

Thus, it goes to show that what is perceived as an apparent attraction to a subject may have a more culturally rooted reason to the pattern. So don't worry if you are not good in Math, you can always blame your forefathers!!

Do comment on your views, would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

So what has changed???

There used to be a time when life used to be much simpler. All you had to worry about were those meddling assignments and exams. The rest of your life was all about playing badminton, drinking beer, having food, playing Counter-Strike, flirting with the opposite sex and partying through the night. The hardest you had to do was to try to stay awake in class and try to sleep at night. You had all the time in the world to do whatever you want.

And then came placements. The single biggest phenomenon that would change your life forever. It's the gateway to, what we see at that point in time, infinite prosperity and happiness! 

Two years hence, after getting into the harsh reality that is the corporate world, I ask myself this one question.

So what has changed???

Let us take each point from the first paragraph and scrutinize.
  1. All you had to worry about were those meddling assignments and exams : Well... these ain't there no more! However, these have been very conveniently replaced by ratings and salary hikes. The difference? Getting lower marks in your assignments and exams never made you sad.
  3. The rest of your life was all about..... : Life? Do we have something called that now?!!?!?!
    • Playing Badminton : That's not there now. It has been replaced by Table Tennis. You just never lose those damn calories with this game, though.
    • Drinking Beer : This neither. However, the pot belly has come!
    • Having food : Oh yes. This is a basic necessity, after all. But, with your newly profound sedentary lifestyle, with you having to use your brain (Apparently!!) more, having this is going add to that belly!
    • Playing Counter-Strike : ummmm..... what's that game, now?
    • Flirting with the opposite sex : This is possibly the only thing keeping us sane while in the corporate world. Especially when you are single and very much ready to mingle. Or even for that matter if you are taken or married. The fact that your day becomes much brighter just by seeing that pretty face makes you believe that there is something to always look forward to in this chaotic konundrum called "life".
      Wouldn't you just love it if you could see her everyday!! 
    • Partying through the night : If partying means "spending long hours outside your home making that presentation for someone else to present", then yes, you would be partying through the night. Every night.
  4. The hardest you had to do was to try to stay awake in class and try to sleep at night : Well, now its just the opposite. You just end up staying awake through all the meetings and by the time you reach home and just touch the bed you are fast asleep dreaming about that person in office. Ah! The one thing that make your dreams sweet!
  5. You had all the time in the world to do anything you want : Well, how that has changed!!! Weekdays in office, and by the time its the weekend, you have time to only catch up on the sleep you lost during the week.... and *poof* its Monday and time to run off to work again! Or Sunday, if you are in the Gulf.
So yeah, quite a lot has changed. But then, I remember those wonderful words spoken by those souls who were "Waiting for the end" and were "Not Alone".

"But in the end, it doesn't even matter....". (Though, if you really look at it, it DID matter to these guys, because without that song, they wouldn't have gotten to where they were!!!! Ah, the irony of life!!!).

And with that, I take my leave to wake up to a new tomorrow. Cheers!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The return of the Konundrum

One year and one month. Since my last post. Talk about stagnation!

It's high time this place started "happening" again!