Math equation priorities: rules for life UPDATE: Pornchai Max to the rescue


  • I would say 60. I would say, in this case, to do things linearly.
  • Others would say 15, citing a “rule” that multiplications are operated before all else.

Just to say, that latter “rule” seems stupid to me, as there are a thousand and more analogous situations. Is “addition” to be trumped just because it is a simpler operation? I bring this up on behalf of a friend.

UPDATE:  I asked Father Gordon to ask Pornchai Maximilian Moontri about this, seeing that Max is a noted world class mathematician:

Dear Fr. George

Considering your equation quandary, I have consulted with a noted mathematician, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri. He says that the answer to 5+1×10= could be either 60 or 15 depending on where you are in the West, we read equations from left to right. And in many Asian cultures they are read from right to left, so in China 1×10=10 and plus 5 would equal 15.

There is also a view from quantum mechanics which would be my cup of tea. Of course you probably think that quantum mechanics may refer to guys who can work on more than one car at a time.

Fraternal blessings,
Father Gordon

Back to the original post:

Mind you, I have a total mental block with math after my experience as a junior in high school when the teacher prepared a kind of public cage-fight to the death between he and I without letting me know it would be me in the cage. I think I mentioned this previously. For a month or two he told the class, every class (I think three or four times a week) that on a specific date no one is to miss class, even in the event of a family death. Everyone came. “All books, notes, everything on the floor,” he said.

Then he presented a super-complicated math problem, you know, with all sorts of numbers and letters and parentheses and square roots and symbols on both sides of the equation. He didn’t write this on the board, but in the air. We just had to remember it as he “wrote” it out while he described the invisible formulae. Then he called on me for a solution.

I was as sick as a dead dog, but, since I was somehow alive, and death was no excuse, I was present. Other students objected, telling him to leave me alone, that I was obviously sick to death. He insisted on me and only me answering. “54” said I. It was correct.

This was repeated twice more, with the second time seeing more of my classmates object, with the third time the class being an uproar against the teacher. But I said, “27”, and was correct, and “9” and was correct again. Something like that.

It was a bit of a Will Hunting janitor doing math at MIT experience. But, confused teenager that I was, I didn’t know if this was meant to encourage me or meant to have definitively smashed me into the ground. That’s when the mental block for math was dropped on my head. It might as well have been made out of cement:

crane cement block.png

I guess I’m altogether too sensitive and entitled or whatever. But that blindsided me. Never again, thought I. The usual being naive vs a general mistrust kind of dynamic turned into a much more helpful situational awareness, which looks for the best and is always prepared for the worst. I’m still learning about that.

Doing up addition of facts before escalating a situation by multiples of whatever is, I think, important. But, back to that equation:




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7 responses to “Math equation priorities: rules for life UPDATE: Pornchai Max to the rescue

  1. pelerin

    Interesting! I too have always had a definite metal block when it comes to Maths whereas my brother became a Maths teacher! I was not only ‘thrown out’ of the Maths class at school but subsequently thrown out of the simple Arithmetic class I was sent to as well! No hope there. However I do remember the rule about multiplication taking precedence which had to be bracketed before working out and consequently to my surprise immediately answered 15. Mind you I am at present recovering from a fall in which I banged my head – perhaps I have now been turned into a mathematical genius!

  2. Parentheses, exponents, multiply, divide, add,subtract.(Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally) Answer is 15 🙂

  3. nancyv

    ha! Rules! Flippant answer: who needs ’em?! Real answer: We do.
    I also thought 60 first glance.
    habalady’s dear Aunt Sally really takes you back!

  4. pelerin

    Father George – but we were told to always imagine the brackets and act accordingly even if they were not there!

  5. joisygoil

    Algebra II was my nemsis. I too got kicked out of the class and was told to show up for tests only. Huh? The rest of the time I was supposed to go the library and get lost. Well, guess what? I failed the class and therefore had to go to the rectory and get my report card from the Pastor. I guess he was susposed to put the fear of the Lord in me. But he simply asked, “why don’t you just drop the subject?” I told him, ‘I already tried to do that but the nuns wouldn’t let me drop the class’ He said, ‘this is obviously a loose/loose situation for you,’ and invited me for a cup of tea and some cookies. This happened every marking period that year. Father and I and the housekeeper became good friends.

    And years later I took an insurance course and the co-worker who taught the class finally helped me ‘figure out’ the algebra section.

  6. Aussie Mum

    Having been taught the same rule as pelerin and habalady I see the answer as 15. I don’t like working with numbers either and dropped Maths as soon as I could due to a sadistic lay teacher who made that subject an ordeal for everyone in the class.

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