Venn can we talk?

February 26, 2018

 

Remember those glum days in algebra class where you were daydreaming about your latest crush and wondering vaguely, "When am I ever going to use this stuff in real life"? Hold that thought!

 

When was the last time you thought you and someone were hopelessly disconnected? You like sushi and she likes mac 'n' cheese. You read Dickens and she follows KUWTK. You're a couch potato and she's a gym rat. Disconnects like these are common, even among good friends who otherwise feel connected. But even when we belong to different groups, there is overlap. English mathematician John Venn figured out an elegant way to represent this concept with his now-famous diagram of two overlapping circles surrounded by a rectangle. And -- flashback to 8th grade -- here's the formula: T = G1 + G2 - B + N. 

 

Say you work at a company (where T is the total number of workers) and it's lunch hour. Group 1 (G1) is the sushi lovers, G2 the mac 'n' cheese lovers, and N is neither one of those -- they like something else. Some workers bring their lunch and eat at their desks, but just a short walk down the block is the highly regarded Sumptuous Sushi and Marvelous MacNCheese Bar. And that's where a sub-group of workers decides to head out for lunch together because it's a beautiful day and besides eating their favorite food, the fresh air and short walk would do me some good. We workers are B, the overlap between G1 and G2. Algebra!

 

 

No matter how far apart you feel from someone you love, or a neighbor, or someone in your community, I'll bet you there is something you both have in common. It may be anything -- a person you both love, a hobby, a commitment, a belief. It may simply be the air you breathe or water you drink or planet you live on. If you are distressed by feeling disconnected, stop and take a moment to examine where you might find common ground. It's not necessarily easy to do but it's worth your while. Because the connections we make sustain us. Indeed, at the planetary level, they may be what saves us from ourselves. See? Algebra. And it might even be the key to world peace. Pretty heady stuff, huh? 

 

And by the way, if you're wondering what your 8th-grade crush is doing today, you can thank this very same algebra for the complicated algorithms powering Facebook where you found out that you made the right decision to move on.

 

Here's a fun Google Doodle that celebrated Venn's 180th birthday. Enjoy!

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