Early Math Matters

Discover your Mathematical Intuition

Posted by Gunjan Agarwal

We always say that “my sixth sense is allowing me to do this or my sixth sense is not allowing me to act upon, and so on”.

What exactly is sixth sense?

Do we all have it?

Yes, each one of us is blessed with this innate ability, which is also called Intuition. It is the inner voice that speaks to us from those lucid gut feelings that aren’t always taken seriously.

It is the mother’s intuition that tells her why the baby is crying, without listening to his words. When my two- wheeler starts making disturbances, it is the mechanic’s intuition that tells him what and where the problem is. It is the doctor’s intuition that tells which diagnosis and which standard test need to be applied for the patient.

Is it that intuition is learnt and taught? Or is it a gift from God?

Intuition is all about understanding through experience. 

An experienced doctor knows what medicine needs to be prescribed to a particular patient. Based on his(er) intuition, (s)he suggests specific tests. Where, a less experienced doctor might not get this flash of intuition and may ask the patient to do a wider range of tests.

You(Parents) are the expert on your child. How to react in a particular situation, that comes automatically to you for your child which may not come by another person who knows your child less. No one knows your child better than you. The expertise is gained by spending lots and lots of time with your child that has translated into ‘gut feelings’ about how to respond in certain situations.

Solving math problems also requires intuition “- Shakuntala Devi

This statement might be a surprising one to you. We see maths as a memorising formulae, using a logical, step by step approach and that was it.

But, I strongly believe in the statement.

Let me give an example to you,

How would you solve the problem?

If 5 tyres were used on a car which has travelled 20,000 miles, how many miles would each tyre sustain, if all the tyres were used equally in sustaining this mileage?

What is the answer that you get?

If you solve purely ‘logically’, you might have come up with the answer 4000 miles by dividing 20000 by 5. By a simple formula of division, the answer that has come up is wrong!

I have asked this question to several people. But, you were not different from others. So, no wonder for being wrong!

Here is what you might have not seen relationships. Say, you might have wondered if the car in this problem runs on five tyres instead of the normal four!

The intuitive person, however, will work it out in this way to arrive at the right answer:

-When the car travels one mile, each of the 4 tyres sustains one mile’s use.

– So when a car travels 20,000 miles, a total of (20,000 ×4) 80,000 tyre miles are used.

– Since the mileage has been gathered on 5 tyres, each tyre has used

 80000/5=16,000 miles.

Another intuitive person may solve the problem in a different way: 

Since 4 out of 5 tyres are used: 

4/5 × 20,000 =16,000 miles.

What was your key takeaway from the exercise?

You might be very Happy to see that you have mathematical intuition if you got the correct answer.

But, don’t be disheartened if your answer was 4000 miles. Initially, you might have just thought that it’s simply division. Without stopping yourself to think, you rushed to give the answer by applying the formula. 

Had you stopped yourself to analyse it once? I am pretty sure that you might have realised that something is wrong that you are moving but you have not paid attention to your instant response.

Your instant response is the HUMAN FACTOR. The image of maths is prevalent only as a mechanical process. But, it is this human factor, that I am putting it on!

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