Seven Mathematical Sins

October 14, 2013 at 1:18 am Leave a comment

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Lust.

Greed.

Envy.

Pride.

Sloth.

Gluttony.

Wrath.

These are the seven deadly, or mortal, or unforgivable, sins. Call them what you like, a deadly sin always has three characteristics:

  1. It concerns a grave matter.
  2. It is committed with full knowledge.
  3. It is committed with both deliberate and complete consent.

I’m having a good weekend. My plane landed in New Orleans on Friday afternoon, and I committed five of these sins before I arrived to my hotel. I look forward to knocking the remaining two off my list before the weekend is over. It’s pretty easy to love the Big Easy!

It’s no coincidence that there are seven deadly sins and seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island. Yep, you read that correctly. The cast of characters on Gilligan’s Island is isomorphic with the set of sins.

{Gilligan’s Island Castaways} ≅ {Seven Deadly Sins}

Can you match them up? If you don’t have access to Nick at Nite, you can watch the intro from the first episode of Gilligan’s Island on YouTube, or use this list of characters from the show:

  • First Mate Gilligan
  • Skipper Jonas Grumby
  • Thurston Howell III
  • Eunice Lovelle Wentworth Howell
  • Ginger Grant
  • Mary Ann Summers
  • Professor Roy Hinkley

In contrast to a deadly sins is a venial, or forgivable, sin, which has the following characteristics:

  1. It does not concern a grave matter.
  2. It is not committed with full knowledge.
  3. It is not committed with both deliberate and complete consent.

So, if you stuff yourself silly at dinner tonight with a full rack of ribs and four helpings of mashed potatoes and then willfully choose to have a slice of key lime pie for dessert, you would commit a deadly sin: with full knowledge and complete consent, you engaged in gluttony, which is a grave matter indeed. (Not to mention disgusting. Who pairs ribs and key lime pie? Yuck.)

On the other hand, if you accidentally sleep with your wife’s best friend while intoxicated, well, that would be a forgivable sin: you were too drunk to know what you were doing. (Though you may still be allowed entrance to Heaven, I recommend you keep this transgression a secret from your spouse.)

But I digress. This is a math blog. Let’s talk about mathematical sins.

Seven Deadly Math Sins

  1. Claiming that division by 0 is “impossible.”
  2. Omitting the middle term when expanding (a + b)2.
  3. Using ASS as justification for a proof of triangle congruence.
  4. Referring to the answers in the back-of-the-book as “my good friend BOB.”
  5. When a student fails to understand your explanation, thinking that you can help by saying the exact same thing louder, slower and closer.
  6. Distributing a factor outside parentheses to only the first term within parentheses.
  7. Trying to break the ice with a math joke at a cocktail party, and then spending the rest of the night explaining the joke to everyone who didn’t laugh.

Seven Venial Math Sins

  1. Believing that the reciprocal of sine is cosine and that the reciprocal of secant is cosecant. That would be consistent with the reciprocal of tangent being cotangent, after all.
  2. Enunciating the p in asymptote.
  3. Failing to remove double-counted elements when solving problems like, “How many two-digit integers are multiples of 3 or 5?”
  4. Using a subtle double negative, such as, “Horatio cannot help but invert the first term when dividing fractions.”
  5. Believing that multiplying always produces a greater result (or dividing always produces a lesser result).
  6. Cancelling a variable from both sides of an equation and losing a solution, such as solving 2x2 = x by dividing both sides by x to give 2x = 1, and concluding x = 1/2.
  7. Using a Klein bottle to hold your beer.

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The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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