A TED Talk A Day, Day 20: An entertaining talk that, yes, jumps between mathematics and sex/relationships, and contains a surprisingly simple and useful tip to trigger different thinking modes.

1 of 2 equations that predict the likelihood of couples staying together.

1 of 2 equations that predict the likelihood of couples staying together.

  1. Above are 2 mathematical equations that can predict with 95% accuracy whether couples will be together in 6 years time! To use it we look at newly-weds talking about areas of contention (e.g. in-laws, money), and take into account how they respond to each other. In the equation W represents Wife, and H represents Husband.
  2. Counter-intuitively, couples that responded the least to each other, had more successful marriages! Couples who compromised the least ended up being together the most. This is based on an “influence” factor at the end of the equation.
  3. Instead of empathy, the cornerstone of most marriage advice, the equations suggests that “having high standards, and finding ways to reach for those standards are the way to go”.
  4. Mathematics these days reaches far beyond the physical sciences, to areas like biology and medicine, or the social sciences. Even equations relating to how to create the perfect chocolate.
  5. One key factor is whether we overestimate our partner’s qualities.
  6. Mathematics also informs research accuracy. For example, studies of how many sexual partners people have had reveals a great difference between men and women… yet that doesn’t make mathematical sex. The number should be roughly the same on both sides, so somebody’s got to be lying.
  7. Thinking about love before thinking about something else improves the ability to think in a creative/global/big picture way.
  8. Think about sex first, on the other hand, improves process/detail-oriented thinking.
  9. Now more about mathematics: it’s actually about pattern-recognition and precise, abstract thinking.
  10. Mathematics originates from nature: pattern-recognition is at the core of the animal kingdom — it is required for animals to survive. The seed of the concept of numbers is also there: a pack of animals can identify if another pack is larger than theirs; and a rat can press a level an approximate number of times to get food.
  11. However, past a certain number, neither rats nor humans are naturally able to continue counting and working with numbers; but language gives us the ability to extend that. We went further to abstract mathematics, like in algebra. In naming things we also got the benefit of ideas like cause and effect, and temporal reasoning.
  12. Mathematics is also clear and precise in it’s operation, every step of the way. This makes it both useful, and also hard, because it tames those innate “numerical” sensations in the most precise possible.

Suggested action step: No question I will think about love before I need to do big picture planning, and thinking about sex before doing detailed work. That was easy.