Science & Tech

Math in Your Everyday Life

Terence Tao

Lesson time 07:57 min

Not every problem requires a formula or mathematical training to find a solution. Terence shows you how you can apply math in everyday situations, such as wine measuring, and offers suggestions for enjoying the process of learning.

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Topics include: Math in Your Everyday Life How to Hang a Curtain Math = Creative Freedom An Unexpected Approach


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I think a good way to connect to the mathematical side of your brain is to find a hobby or something that you are passionate about and are willing to tinker with. Some people will like playing mathematically-themed puzzles, like Sudoku puzzles, very popular. As a kid, I liked playing with computer games and logic puzzles. If you like fixing up old machinery or something, the challenge of making some broken piece of machinery work, that kind of problem solving but that shows up in that it actually is very parallel to mathematical thinking. If you are a cook and you're following a recipe and the recipe is four people but one day you have to cook for six people and you have to change all the amounts of ingredients, or maybe the recipe requires you to cook something for an hour and a half, but you only have an hour. That's a mathematical problem. How can you use resources most efficiently? I think we bump up against mathematics all the time. Now often you can kind of wing it. An experienced chef may have some rules of thumb. But having some mathematical training can help you avoid a disaster I think. At least give you some sort of first approximation as to how to adapt to an unexpected situation. I think we could all play a little bit more with trying little tasks first before moving on to big high stakes tasks. I think mathematics is such an extreme example where it doesn't matter how many times you fail to solve the math problem that there's no real penalty other than waste of time. But it's not even really a waste as long as you learn something from it. The more you expose yourself to doing tasks in a fun, challenging way, enjoying just the challenge. You know, I enjoy the challenge of assembling furniture from very unreadable instructions. I mean, I don't want to do it for a living or anything, but almost anything in real life can be turned into a little problem. And finding situations in life where the stakes are low, it's OK if you screw up, you just start over. And just getting into a mindset where the goal is not necessarily to solve the problem quickly or efficiently, but to enjoy yourself and to draw lessons from it. One of the basic techniques in mathematics is, if you have a complicated problem, you isolate a simpler version of the problem. Solve that first, and then once you know how to solve various simpler sub cases of the problem, try to put them back together again and solve the full problem. Just to give you one example from my own personal experience, I once had to put up some curtains on one of my windows in my house. And you had to stand on a chair and there's this heavy rod and there's a bunch of curtain rings and there's a heavy curtain. But maybe because of my mathematical training, the way I approached this was I first tried to assemble the curtain on the ground. And then I practiced how to assemble each piece on the chair. So I would take just the rod and see how to put the ro...

About the Instructor

A MacArthur Fellow and Fields Medal winner, Terence Tao, PhD, was studying university-level math by age 9. Now the “Mozart of Math” is breaking down his approach to everyday problem-solving—without complex equations or formulas. Learn how to deconstruct challenges, use storytelling as a tool, and discover solutions, whether you’re trying to level up in a computer game or just catch your plane on time.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

Terence Tao

World-renowned mathematician Dr. Terence Tao teaches you his approach to everyday problem-solving—without complex equations or formulas.

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