Wolfe’s Woofer: Memory and Mathematics

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

“My field of study is gerontology, the science of aging,” Mark said. “We’ve been researching how memory deteriorates with age.”
Mark, my Canadian friend, vacations in Belize at least once a year. We were having coffee on the deck of the Holiday Hotel while we caught up on old times.
“I’m not sure I understand.”
“Here’s an example,” Mark said. “We all learn the multiplication tables for mathematics. Old people forget them. Young people with fresher memories can answer math questions much better.”
“I’m not sure about that,” I said.
“I’ll prove it.”
Mark stopped a tourist who appeared to be around 60 years old and said, “Sir, would you please answer a simple question for me? What is 3 times 3?”
“268,” the man replied.
“See?” Mark said, when the man was gone.
He stopped another man and asked the same question.
“Uh. . . Let’s see,” the old gentleman said. “3 times 1 is 3 and 3 times 2 is 6 so 3 times 3 is. . . uh. . . Monday.”
“That was kind of sad,” Mark said. “Now let’s try a young man.”
Vernon, who usually works on job sites for me, came walking in from the beach and up to our table.
“Mr. Dennis,” he said. “I can’t work tomorrow because I’m taking Yolanda to the doctor in Belize City.”
“No problem, Vernon,” I said.
Mark said, “Young man, will you answer a question for me?”
“Now then, Vernon. What is 3 times 3?”
“Anybody knows that,” Vernon said. “3 times 3 is 9.”
“How did you come up with that answer?” I asked. “From the multiplication tables?”
“No, I did it the easy way,” Vernon said. “I subtracted 268 from Monday.”


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