Fermat’s Enigma for the Common Man

October 2, 2005 at 9:13 AM | Posted in Notes on Society | 1 Comment

I live in a .  . . .quasi-suburban area.  We are in what used to be the middle of the country, but with the metropolitan expansion it has become the rural edge of the area.  We have a Super-Duper Walmart, which makes everything better.  More on that another time.  Me and my seventeen year old son made our daily trip up to Wally-World one day, and there was someone having a fund-raiser BBQ outside.  We decided to get some after we were done in the store.
Several things about the whole setup aggravated me, but I was once again a helpless pawn.  We are standing in line behind one person, and she is BLOCKING the one and only little sign with small print containing vague references to what they have and alluding to the possibility of prices.  It is a very casual setup, like they had had the idea for a fundraiser earlier that morning while they themselves had been in line at Wally’s Supermarket o’ Fun.  So the woman in front of us orders all of these small items, hotdogs and brats and burgers, and they pile them on one big plate to cover with foil.  She asks the lady getting the food, "How much is that?"
  She answers, "Well, you have ten things here, and they are all $1.50 each."
  "Right."  The other woman responds. "What’s a dollar fifty times ten?"

The lady holding the meat  looks around, says, "We don’t have a calculator."  
    At this point I look at my son, and see the disdain for idiots boiling inside him.  He has little to no tolerance for stupidity.  I can’t wait for him to get his first job in foodservice.  I silently signal him to remain an observer.  

  The customer says, "Oh.  Wait."  She deftly starts counting to ten on her fingers as she says, "Dollar fifty, three, four fifty, five–no wait, six, seven fifty–" 
  After a painfully long time later, she finally arrived at the correct answer, where we had been sitting, agonizingly, waiting for her.  I guess it’s a good thing she had all of her fingers.
  My son said to me, "I feel sad."  The lady looked at him quizzically, then turned and got her food and left.  It was probably the expression she goes through life with.
  But I know what he meant.  "For humanity?"


I wanted to enlighten you as to the meaning of the title. Fermat (pronounced Fer-may) was a mathemetician several hundred years ago, and he developed a certain theorem, but no proof.  I won’t go into it here.  People have worked on this complex mathematical formula for hundreds of years. Some committed suicide, a few were committed to insane asylums. Whole new areas of math were created. It might not be your thing, because you either get math or you don’t.  Google it if you want more information.

(And I don’t mean simple math, counting, money, and algebra. I mean the higher stuff, that makes calculus seem simple. It really is not for everyone. I don’t even get some of it–hell, most of it–but I have an appreciation of it.  I am a fan of math.  I’ve had calc and differential equations, and studied non-Euclidean and Fractal geometry.  I’ve read history books about math.  It is a pretty geeky thing to do.)

But the situation, when it happened, made this thing dawn on me: I live in an area where I can rise to the top, and rule, as the smartest person in the county and make them all do my bidding.  If they don’t lynch me for witchcraft first, because I can use power tools and still have all of my fingers.



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