26 September 2011

Questions of amusement

  1. A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.
    How much does the ball cost?
  2. If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take
    100 machines to make 100 widgets?
  3. In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size.
    If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it
    take for the patch to cover half of  the lake?
If you don't get these right (I'll park the answers at the bottom somewhere). Don't fret. Most people don't get more than one and a half correct on average. Even MIT and Harvard kids don't get all of them right on average. I find this sad and pathetic, but that's only because I'm a heartless elitist who looks down on your stupidity.

What's of interest is that apparently there's a correlation between the number of incorrect answers and the professed strength of religious faith expressed. It's possible to correct for variations in IQ, religious upbringing etc between the very religious and the rest of us (including the non-religious). A result like this doesn't really surprise me. It continues the general impression I've formed from observing the highly religious. Counter-intuitive, complex interpretations (or answers) are often viewed much more skeptically than the simple and obvious "truth" (common sense?) by such people. More specifically it continues a general impression that most human beings, not merely the very religious among us, are in some sense primed to look for patterns and simple explanations in the events around us. Something ordinary happens at a particular time rather than at some other time, it gains extreme significance and meaning. Clouds have faces and bunny shapes. God makes it rain or windy or sent us a flood. A particular star alignment gives one person certain personality traits somehow distinct from others thus creating astrological charts. And so on.

These explanations will suffice until they are tested and shown to be useless. They exist because we're good at attempting to come up with "good explanations" for one. We're attempting to use reason (which has its own evolutionary purposes for a social animal like a human being). And two because in an evolutionary sense, it is more useful for survival purposes to look for hidden physical causation to some strange event (a tree moving, a shape in the distance, etc), than not. The caveman who didn't see the bear or lion out there got eaten. The one who saw a lion when there wasn't one did not. Essentially. Bad explanations will work perfectly well until they come into contact with better ones (or upon contradicting evidence).

So. Don't feel bad. The guy who gets all three of those right and looks a little funny at you for even thinking the answer to the third one was 24 or the second one was 100 or the first was 10 cents... that guy would probably be lunch 200,000 years ago and you would get to go home and steal his harem of women. Or something like this.

Speaking of which, the answers are 5 cents, 5 minutes, and 47 days.

(Also, that's one humongous lily pad patch and lake. Basically, go round up all the lakes on the planet. Reminds me of the folded paper problem. Ask someone how many times you would have to fold a piece of paper to get it to reach to moon, or conversely how big a piece of paper would be if you could fold it in half 40+times, and I guarantee you'll be amused by far off they will be. Logarithmic rates of increase are fun.)
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