Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Blondes, brunettes, and the real meaning of MPH

Gordon has reminded me of this 6-million-views viral video from December 2011. A young husband, while driving, asks his young blonde wife how long does it take to drive 80 miles if you are traveling 80 miles per hour.

This is the result he recorded, while driving. Just to be sure, she was upset but their marriage is OK. Because there may be climate alarmists or string theory critics reading this blog entry, I feel obliged to say that the right answer is one hour or 60 minutes.

The video is hilarious but what does it tell us?

Just to be sure that you know that I am discriminating against blonde women, here's what a brunette has to say about the difficult mathematical problem:

You may see that the hair color isn't what makes the qualitative difference. One more video supporting this point. An equally confused brunette still learned how to drive a car. Blondes still rule, including this someone's roommate's girlfriend who tried some math-oriented methods but still failed and this one who thinks it's always a mile per minute because that's how it is. If you think that only blondes and brunettes are affected but if we tried e.g. an eskimo redhead, she would know how to solve it, try this one. She offers the right answer but the logic is complete bullshit.

Lauren Reeves is another blonde (a hottie) who tried to defend the original blonde and said the same stupid thing. In this case, it's being debated whether she's actually joking. I am not sure but I do think she is joking. She is an actress of a sort, a self-described improviser, a kind of a public Internet intellectual who is able to control her Twitter account by herself, so I would guess that she actually knows how to solve the mathematical problem and she is just making fun of the original blonde.

Sheldon Cooper meets Stephen Hawking, the second smartest person in the world, on Thursday: don't forget. First pictures above. See also the brutal promo. Or 77 seconds.

Of course, 7-year-old boys such as this one or this one typically know how to solve the problem even if their mothers don't know the difference between the vertical and horizontal orientation of a camcorder. ;-) A 3-year-old boy has only shown a similar performance as the 20-year-old babes. However, a 3rd grade boy added a clear explanation of the right result, too.

There are tons of replies and parodies on YouTube, of course. (For example, one more blonde who is not a rocket surgeon adds some more considerations what could affect the timing: staged.) If you already feel depressed by the immense stupidity of the women, here's one bright girl, Amanda Borowy:

(You may also try a blonde who ruined a video by offering the right answer.)

My feelings are the same as those of the schoolgirl above. How can someone possibly misunderstand that if you go 80 miles per hour, it takes an hour to drive 80 miles? Why the hell is the original blonde and others thinking about tons of irrelevant things that have clearly nothing to do with the simple question?

That's a very interesting question. Can you empathize into her way of thinking which is surely representative of hundreds of millions of women and not only women in the world?

Well, I can't quite empathize but it's clear that the blonde only uses the language to express some rough emotions and needs and the coherence length of her understanding is just several words. So when you say "miles per hour", she starts to be thinking in a particular way but it's always the same way. What she thinks when you say "miles per hour" is how quickly she is able to run or move or drive and she has probably said many sentences in her life that have something to do with it.

But if someone asks how long does it take to go 80 miles if your speed is 80 miles per hour, you must combine a huge number of words, something like 17 words, and the interrelationships between all of them matter. Since the blonde doesn't have enough memory in her CPU – one needs at least 100 bytes to do so – she just tears the complicated sentence to pieces and starts to instinctively reply to the pieces.

The piece "miles per hour" may stimulate her to talk about brakes and running and tires and all things like that because she has heard those things being mentioned in the context of "miles per hour" throughout her life. To figure out that tires and other things have nothing to do with the simple math problem, you need to squeeze the whole math problem into your mind "simultaneously" and search for patterns in the entirety of this problem. Dogs probably can't achieve this goal, either. Much like blondes, they only react to words and very short sequences of words. A sentence with 17 words is just too long and the only way to react to it is to react to individual pieces.

The absence of the desire or ability to look for patterns in longer sequences of words (or another type of information) also manifests itself in many other ways. You may have noticed that people who are "not exactly into maths" expect each "function" of a computer or a cell phone to be activated by "one particular button". The idea that one has to press many buttons in the right order is already very abstract. In some sense, the more capable a person is to think abstractly, the more he or she thinks that the "real things" are hiding in patterns and information and not just in the "objects", just like John Wheeler liked to emphasize.

Of course, even if the blondes could remember the whole sentence – 17 words or so – they would probably lack the functions in their CPUs that are needed to convert the words into the actual information and reprocess the information so that it is replaced by an equivalent information, and so on. Math is tough and thinking is hard, especially if you need to design and manage your thinking and algorithms yourself. That's why we may see that by their proclamations, these women articulate lots of misinterpretations of the propositions they have heard. For example, if you say that it takes 1 hour to drive 80 miles if you drive 80 miles per hour, some of them believe that you are also automatically saying that your speed is 1 mile per minute regardless of your speed :-), especially because an hour has 80 minutes and a mile is the same thing as a minute, which is exactly what she wanted to disprove. Well, you're not saying anything of the sort but with the limited resolution of the blondes, they may think they are. It's because you are saying that "the problem is easy" and their misinterpretation is the only way how they can imagine that things could be easy; they're actually not able or willing to remember and process the thing that you are actually telling them.

It's one of the miracles of Nature that many such women are still capable of giving the birth to boys – and girls – who can sometimes calculate. In some cases, they may compute vastly more complicated problems than one that was asked in the viral video's car.

I am sure that many readers have been tutoring and you may have some experience with people who just don't get it. One may be an extremely patient teacher but there must ultimately come a moment at which you realize that it's a waste of time and torturing for both sides to be trying to teach maths to someone who isn't hardwired for that.

It's better to leave those tasks to others and it's important that kids who can actually learn maths aren't being dramatically slowed down by their classmates who don't get it. In recent years, it became politically correct to try to teach the same things to everyone and adjust the education according to the weakest student, to search for the greatest common denominator. I think that this is a very unfortunate policy because the weakest mathematicians in the class will almost certainly fail to return the investment – that may be quantified as the tuition or the salary for the teachers – while the students who are good at maths are those who matter because they may be returning the educational investment many, many times.

Needless to say, this comment applies to all subjects and skills, not just maths. Education must be viewed as a sort of investment but much like any other investment, it may become very stupid if you invest into things that are almost guaranteed not to return the value that you invested. It's necessary to distinguish between various types of investments and it's important to approach individual students or different groups individually.

Some people who say that education is an investment thinks that it means that it always pays back. But it doesn't; even many of the "real world investment" don't. A mindless slogan that "something is an investment" shouldn't prevent sensible people from asking whether or not such an investment is actually a good idea. Most of the education that we observe in the society today is just a waste of time and money. It will not get repaid and it actually helps to diminish the academic standards and the quality of education for those receivers of the education who actually matter.


  1. I regularly follow your blog, and most of the times I agree with you. Today no exception!
    Totally agree.
    Some years ago I used to give private math and basic physics classes to high school students. One of them was incredibly poor in math and in every kind of abstract thoughts, probably worse than the blonde girl in the first video (just to give you an example he had difficulties to distinguish between a negative number and an odd number). Well the result was that the rest of the students which were not excellent at all but still
    pretty good, spent most of the time to discuss on non-sense and stupid questions that arose around the answers of that guy.

    It was quite a pity that smart guys who just wanted to learn a bit more and a bit better could not do that.

    Now, if you multiply my short experience on a small number of students by decades and the entire world population...well you know what I mean.


  2. Exactly, Antonio! I have some similar experience and I am sure it's even much more frequent among folks whose "classes" haven't been particularly selected.

  3. A brunette goes to see her doctor, complaining of generalized pain.
    "There," she says, gingerly pressing a finger against her forearm. " And here," touching her chin in the same way. " And my legs too. It hurts everywhere."
    The doctor thinks for a moment. "Did you used to be blonde," he asks.
    "Why yes. How did you know?"
    "You have a broken finger," he replies.

  4. And here's an appropriate physics paper, quantum mechanics without h-bar:

  5. Why expect anything different? Opinions like this ensure a self-fulfilling prophecy in which women are excluded from science.

    The majority of young girls are plainly discouraged from "traditionally male" domains. Naturally they tend to avoid such hostile environments. Boys are no different in this regard - it's not "manly" to be a male nurse/fashion designer/prejudice du jour.
    Additionally, society in many ways gives attractive women a pass. Physical beauty is often all that is needed to meet one's needs and then some. This undoubtably hinders one's drive to excel.
    To these barriers add constant messages, both implicit or explicit, reinforcing absurd views that women should stay home, shut up, and have babies.

    The fact is, these are unique challenges that men do not experience, and cannot fully comprehend.

    Teperament theory provides plenty of evidence confirming women are as capable and interested as men, given a welcoming environment. No one claims every woman is suited to math and science, but neither is every man.

    Of course none of this is remotely relevant to the subject video. Some people are simply hopeless. But...

    Using one random Internet video as evidence of female inferiority is equally as dumb as her (non) answer. That's about the worst possible argument from a scientific viewpoint. Video girl is ignorant and stupid; what's your excuse?

  6. Dear dfx, you can't change fundamental and hardwired things such as the ability or inability to do maths by occultist methods such as "self-fulfilling prophesies". It's just complete nonsense – much like if you wanted to double the number of bits, 32/64, in an Intel processor inside your PC by telepathy – and one may prove that it's nonsense by dozens of methods.

    If someone may excel in something where she is not expected to excel, it usually strengthens her drive to excel because the rewards are higher. There are tons of examples that this is a dominant mechanism here; at least, for men this works very often (which is one of the reasons why men more often than women tend to undergo risky things and go further than average women).

    But even if this "extra motivation" were a minority mechanism, it would still be enough to flood the technical sciences with many more women than what we see. There are tons of people and companies that had a bad name in something but became good, too, which also improved their name. And the improvement had to come from them, not from searches for culprits outside. You are essentially saying that this never happens which is clear BS.

    All your detailed comments are bunk, too. Women aren't repelled by "traditionally male" disciplines just because they're traditionally male. In particular, female fans are attracted to ice-hockey and many other things that are "traditionally male". After all, women have lots and lots of advantages in environments in which they're rare.

    It's also bogus that physical beauty of women is what prevents them from excelling in general, as tons of beauties who became top musicians and many other things can attest to. Beauty probably makes it easier for them to excel in anything. They don't need to excel much but they also have fewer obstacles preventing them from excelling.

    Let me be more on-topic now. This was about a particular blonde and her opinion about the unit MPH. She was clearly not harassed; she is loved by her husband. She was allowed to present her opinions about the units of speed in as free an environment as possible and she did so. The only problem is that she just has no f**king clue about maths. This has nothing to do with self-confidence or traditions or hostility of the environment. At school, the math teachers should have been much more hostile to her in order to squeeze basic things such as MPH into her skull. They failed much like she did. This woman's example contradicts all your theories, much like the example of a majority of women in the world or the fact that no Fields Medal winner so far has been female.

    "Using one random Internet video as evidence of female inferiority is equally as dumb as her (non) answer."

    I have never said that this is a proof of women's worse skills in general. Still, it *is* anecdotal evidence and you're denier of facts if you suggest it's not. I am sure that most of us have met huge numbers of women who were saying very similar things about very similar quantitative concepts. It's pretty much normal. You're just being dishonest if you pretend it ain't so and this woman is an exception.

    "Video girl is ignorant and stupid; what's your excuse?"

    It is an entertaining video that shows some facts including many details, however inconvenient it may be for nasty ideologues such as you. I don't need any excuses; I have won the freedom of speech – especially the freedom to say the truth that may even be inconvenient for left-wing ideologues – in 1989 when we defeated your Marxist soulmates during the Velvet Revolution. If I will need further "excuse" for jerks like you, the excuse will be that I will ban you.