As If Your Life Depends on It
It was early Wednesday morning (or late Tuesday night, depending on how you look at it) of Finals Week. Yes, I should have been studying — or sleeping; it was 3 a.m., after all — but I was young and in love, and wandering through the quads and into unlocked academic buildings on Penn State’s campus with my girlfriend held far more appeal than the problems and theorems in my linear algebra textbook. I remember a light snowfall and how beautiful she looked in the lamplight. I remember my surprise when I pushed on the main door to Sparks Building and it opened. But what I remember most from that night is a quote that a psychology professor had borrowed from a student’s paper and taped to her office door:
Many things depend on many things.
I don’t remember that girlfriend’s name. And I remember very little from my linear algebra course. But I’ll never forget that quote, and I’ve repeated it many times in business meetings.
de·pen·dent n. what hangs from de necklace
Dependence is a topic that rears its head frequently in mathematics, from algebra to probability, and it’s useful in a variety of contexts.
Football, for instance. Redskins safety David Bruton showed his understanding of dependence during a recent radio interview:
I’m between 225 and 230 [pounds], depending on what I had for lunch.
And measurement. Comedian Ron White understands dependence, too:
Now, I’m between 6’1″ and 6’6″, depending on which convenience store I’m leaving.
Some things aren’t really dependent at all…
The economy depends on economists in the same way that the weather depends on forecasters.
And some things are subjective…
Your true value depends entirely on what you are compared with.
Some things depend on whom you ask…
A teacher said to her student, “Billy, if both of your parents were born in 1967, how old are they now?”
After a few moments, Billy answered, “It depends.”
“On what?” the teacher asked.
“On whether you ask my mother or my father.”
And other things on your perspective…
How long a minute feels depends on what side of the bathroom door you’re on.
The location of an animal?
Where can you find polar bears?
Depends on where you lost them!
But the better answer to that joke is, “Just check their polar coordinates!” (You’re welcome.)
This post wouldn’t be complete without an obligatory old-person joke…
An old man is flirting with a woman at the senior center. He asks her, “If I took you out for a night of wining, dining and dancing, what would you wear?”
The old woman replies shyly, “Depends.”
And finally, one last math joke…
How many math professors does it take to plaster a wall?
Depends how hard you throw them.