The Math Problem That Befuddled Me (and why I was delighted by it!)    by   Ruth Utnage

I am reading a book by Daniel Kahneman titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and in chapter 3 “The Lazy Controller” he proposes a math problem, here it is:

“A bat and a ball cost $1.10.
The bat costs one dollar more than the ball.
How much does the ball cost?”

I was like most and went my gut reaction answer, even after thinking about it, of $.10. However, that is wrong. Before I give you the correct answer, I want to tell you why I was delighted to be befuddled.

I was very happy about being wrong because of the context of the problem. I understood by the reading beforehand that my brain was going to be fooled by the following problem and that many people were fooled in the precise same way. When I was sure of myself that I knew the correct answer I read on and, much to my amusement, I was wrong. What excited me about it was that I was about to find a space in my brain that needed help, intuition and decision-making.

Intuition and decision-making has been something I have always felt was a little lackluster in my life, it’s a source of low self-esteem for me. When I read that chapter and missed that problem it was pointed out to me by the text precisely where my thinking error was, which in turn, pointed out that just because I know I am right, doesn’t mean I actually am. In short, I seen a way I can improve, and I like to improve.

You see, my time in prison has been all about finding and correcting my thinking errors. This has enabled me to seek criticism and embrace it, even when it isn’t easy. A flaw was pointed out and then I got a success when the answer was revealed to me and Voila!, it made sense, I was seeking to improve.

Then, the problem made perfect sense to me and others similar to it. To be honest, story problems have been the one thing that holds me back from math. Algebraic coin problems have always been the point in which I say, “this is stupid, if I can count the damn coins to tell you how many nickels and quarters exist in my pocket making you guess the total if each is just a waste of time.” I have found them to be officious and, at times, mean. But now I can see a different light, problems that challenge my mind is an opportunity to prove I am not static. This delights me.

I went on to ask most of my coworkers about their answer to this problem and none got it without help and a few are still thoroughly convinced that the right answer is wrong, even going so far as to get irate and especially defensive as if I was attacking them. Even after I broke it down step-by-step, they still walked away angry at me.

Most everyones intuition, including my own, said $.10, but the answer is indeed $.05. The ball, if the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, and they both equal $1.10, is precisely and unequivocally, $.05.

And I love that I learned something about my mind: Just because you think something is true, doesn’t mean it is.

With Love
Ruth Utnage

Feel free to contact me, a little human contact is always welcome

Ruth Utnage fka jeff 823469 C-601-2
PO Box 888
Monroe, WA. 98272

or via Jpay email service (you have to use my birth name, but, please do not call me by it, my new legal name is Ruth)

Jeff Utnage