# CH1 L11: The possible and impossible

1. After running away from the tiger [1], when the stress hormones dropped and you felt safe, you’d start to explore the environment and see the following thing [2]:

1. How would you react to it?
2. You should know that in your world, still, everything was possible. So, there’s a chance that the thing you’d seen before, had moved to the new place (!) [3]. To survive, your brain would actually prioritize the more dangerous possibilities. Then you’d feel a higher level of fear knowing that your last experience with it was painful [4].
3. A fan of the website questioned the storyline and how related it is to mathematics. The important point in this part of the journey is to be aware that how our brain has grown to realize the impossible which is a crucial insight we need to have while solving problems.
4. First of all, that’s what I tell my students: “There are two types of mistakes: minor and major. A minor mistake would be saying that 12 × 15 = 170, but the major mistake would be 1800. Because you should be aware that 12 added to itself 15 times can’t reach 300 (12 × 20 = 240) let alone 1800. So if your answer is 1800, it clearly indicates that you don’t have the sense to detect the mistake. Everyone makes mistakes but you must be sensitive to it. If your answer to a question about probability is 1.2, you’re expected to immediately say that it’s wrong [5].” That’s why I am taking you on this journey to show you how we think so we can be aware of its strengths and weaknesses.
5. Secondly, realizing the fact that our ancestors were in the state of constant fear [6], thus they couldn’t think clearly. But forming civilization which brought a relative safety and security enabled them to think about and develop knowledge and technology.
6. The third point is we’re usually worried about unlikely or impossible things such as an irrational confrontation that they might happen in future. To protect us, our brain sometimes thinks about the worst case scenario to be prepared for what might not happen at all. So, staying at that level of anxiety can be exhausting and in some cases paralyzing. We should know that emotions come and go like floods and no one can plant in a flooded land [7].
7. Finally, to answer this question “why do so many students struggle with math and generally learning?”, I started to think and research about the brain. And I’ve realized that apart from the content of subjects, there are many factors hindering students from learning which I’m sharing with you one after another. The fact that not only we’re not aware of our limitations (limited energy [8] and working memory [9]), but also, thanks to the media (especially Hollywood), we might think that our energy and brain ability is unlimited which can create an unrealistic assessment leading to a tragic failure like Don Quixote’s [10].
8. That’s why I thought that there’s a need to create a reliable foundation to become a thinker first (which is a Herculean task), then it would be easier to think about mathematics or other subjects.
9. Let’s stop here and as the exercise, I recommend you to continue the thought experiment. How would you react if you thought that the thing was chasing you? We’ll continue the journey in the next post.

Exercise 11:

1. Think about what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle [11] said: “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”

Footnotes:

[2] I recommend you to start from the beginning because we started experiencing the thing from the second post.

[4] Link to the post in which you got a puncture wound by a thorn.

[5] Probability of an event is a number between 0 and 1 which will be discussed in the section about probability.

[6] Earlier we discussed that while we’re anxious, our body stops functioning to save more energy for the problem. So metabolism might stop which in a long run can cause stomach ulcer. Link to the post about fear.

[7] For more information, you can check out the link: a talk by Dr. Joan Rosenberg about waves of emotions and how to deal with them.