Understanding the Exponent, and Other Ways Math Illiteracy Screws You Over

The Modern Survival Guide #70

  • Time management, and how that runs our lives
  • Measurement conversions, and what they mean for making things
  • Percentages, and how they affect our worldview
  • Probability equations, and what they do to our standards for risk
  • Exponents, and what they do to our investments (and debts)

Time Management, and How it Runs Our Lives

Let’s start with a look at time management, and basic arithmetic. A lot of people think of time management as a function of willpower, but it’s actually more of a function of math. Just willing yourself to be on time doesn’t work. Calculating how long it takes to do things and then using that information to plan your day, on the other hand, does.

Measurement Conversions, and What They Mean for Making Things

Just about everything in life is measurable, and some things in life are intentionally designed to be measurable. Building materials and cooking ingredients, for example, are typically marketed, packaged, and used in standardized quantities.

Percentages (And How They Affect Our Worldview)

What does it mean to consume 200% of your daily value of vitamin C in a glass of orange juice? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? What does it mean that 40% of the electorate thinks the President is doing a good job? Is that a good statistic or a bad statistic? What does it mean that 90% of the tap water tested in Flint, Michigan is below an “action level” for lead content? Is that good water quality or bad water quality?

Probability and Risk Ratios

Most people are not good at probability assessment — they’re not good at looking at a situation, figuring out what is likely or unlikely to happen, and then acting based on that information. But in an increasingly complicated and uncertain world, probability becomes a very important thing to grasp, because life is risky and living long is all about decreasing the risks.

Exponents: What They Do to Investments and Debts

Last but not least, it has been said that compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe. However, unless you know how compound interest works, that statement is just elitist gibberish. So let’s talk about exponential progression.

Where A is the ending amount, P is the principal, r is the interest rate in decimals, n is the number of compoundings per year, and t is the number of years

Everything is Math, Deal With It

Wrapping this up, let’s just accept it: almost everything that we do, day to day, has math stamped all over it. Even if you don’t think about it, or perhaps especially because most of us don’t recognize it, it’s important to realize that math is everywhere and everything.



Searching for truth in a fractured world.

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