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chThis podcast is all about helping people find answers to spiritual and doctrinal questions. And I asked myself, how do I go about getting the right answer, as opposed to just SOME answer. If life were a math problem is there a calculator?
When a child is first introduced to basic mathematics, such 1+1=2, that individual is being taught the power of reason to come up with answers. For years many have assumed that this basic equation is correct, and in basic mathematical terms, it is and always will be correct. But in reality, even this simple equation can be questioned to the point that the answer may cause someone to even doubt their assumption that 1+1 may equals 2.
For example, one apple, plus one orange, does not equal two apples, or two oranges. That simple redefinition of what is being added may cause someone to think that even the simplest of equations don’t make sense anymore. What a shocking realization! Oh no, now what? Is the rest of math wrong? If 1+1 doesn’t always equal 2, I guess the universe is a random and chaotic existence that has no order, and no meaning. Call it a math crisis, right?
Some have called mathematics, the absolute truth. That is because 1 + 1 should always equal 2. However, as was just demonstrated, depending on how you view the equation, you can come up with a very different answer. One might even ask, “Is there an absolute truth after all?” It seems that even math has nuances to it making even something as simple as 1+1 may not always appear as equaling 2.
However, when this equation is stripped of it’s redefinition of being one apple and one orange, the equation becomes true again. 1+1=2 is true when we are dealing with simple numbers. When the numbers are what they are supposed to be, a numerical value, the math works.
In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, members, and even church leaders, will speak of the doctrines and teaching of the Church as being the fullness of the gospel, the gospel is TRUE! There are those that view the gospel, or the Church and its doctrines, as simple 1+1=2 kind of thinking, and there are those who see it in grand complexity, but still know that even complex equations have a true answer. Then there are those who question that simplicity, they look for ways for that approach to appear flawed, incomplete, or incorrect. In an effort to do this, certain redefinitions take place, certain inferences or qualifiers can be attached to those things which are simple, in an effort to disprove even the simplest or fundamental of assumptions.
What then is the source of truth, how can we “prove” truth?
Calculators are an interesting device. Calculators are used in various forms as a way to assist the mind in coming to a mathematical answer. They are not swayed by hypotheticals, they are not influenced by false assumptions. Inside a calculator are the answers to a near infinite possibility of equations.
In High School, as students begin to venture in to more complex equations, the students may use scientific calculators. When entering this world of more complex mathematical equations many of the buttons on a scientific calculator have little to no meaning. As one learns the functions behind the various buttons, (cos, tan, x2, etc.) you also need to learn the order in which those buttons can be employed in order for the equation to come to the right answer. One must also learn things like the “order of operations” or the order in which the various equations need to be approached in order for the correct answer to come out. Trying to find the answer without using the order of operations will likely give you a vastly different answer than just going through an equation from left to right.
When I first learned about these things I thought, “How dumb! Why does math have to be so complicated, why do we have to remember all these rules and orders…” Then I asked the same question that so many seem to ask, “When am I ever going to use this in my real life?”
Well, here goes one application with math to be used in real life, and it has very little to do with math, directly. Think of this as a metaphor. Call it the “Parable of the Solar Powered Scientific Calculator” if you will. I won’t take the time to apply the metaphor, that’s up to you and hopefully the spirit. But listen with your spiritual ears.
Math is about finding answers. For many, the quest for discipleship, or even a higher spirituality is also about finding answers. Just like in math there is a source for all spiritual truth, a source that, when employed correctly, can help us find answers to the questions for which we seek an answer. But just like a math problem, we need to understand some basic principles of operation before we can get the correct answer. We need to ask the calculator the right equation. And just because we think we are using all the tools we have, doesn’t mean that the answer that we read on the little screen is the correct answer.
It is not uncommon to push the wrong button, or skip a step, or do something out of the order of operations. When this happens it is not the calculators fault for getting the wrong answer, it is user error that is likely to blame. That doesn’t mean a person is stupid, it just means give it another go and try something else. For me I have to write down every step of the equation as I go through it, even when using a calculator. Because the in between calculations that some algebraic equations would present, open up an exponential set of opportunities to miscalculate. Also I typically need to go back and check (and sometimes re-check) the answer that I ended up with just to make sure. I rarely take the first answer as the final answer. I would go back through each step after I came to an answer to make extra sure that I did each step in order and that I did each step correctly. If even one part of the equation was off, it would likely throw off the entire process and I would come to a vastly different answer than the right one.
That is the also the hard thing about math. You often come to an answer, but that doesn’t mean it is the right answer. Rarely do you get the dreaded “Big E” that comes up on the calculator where you know you have made a serious error. Most of the time, you do get a numerical value, but just because it is a number doesn’t mean it is the right number. Double check each step of the equation and make sure that step was completed correctly, write it down, and proceed through each step, in order.
I also have to tell myself that than no matter how many times I come to the wrong answer, it doesn’t automatically become the right answer. I have to remind myself, I am not inventing math, I am not creating new logic, I am learning the principles of math that are unchanging and applying them to the equation to get the right answer. With math we are not afforded the flexibility of going with the number we feel is right.
If you were anything like me in high school, the math book could have words explaining how an equation was done, but that didn’t mean I understood how to do the math. A teacher was often far more effective in explaining what each step meant, why each step was important, and so on. Good teachers helped math books make sense. Over time I could see the value in learning statistics, geometry, and yes, even in algebra.
In time, and with some help from others who know math far better than myself, I learned how to answer mathematical questions. I had great teachers, I had a scientific calculator, but I needed one more thing. I needed light to give power to my calculator. Every now and then, my solar powered calculator would need to be in the presence of light in order to charge it’s battery. Without that light, it didn’t matter how much I pushed those buttons I would not get an answer.
Ultimately, I learned to trust my teachers, I learned that a calculator was a powerful tool, but a tool that needed to be used and understood in the way it was intended. Eventually I would learn the right answer.