Dim the lights. Chill the wine. Put on some soft music. And then, define the reciprocal of N.
It sounds like a mood-killer, right?
Mathematician Jonathan Farley agrees. However, the 40-year-old University of Maine associate professor also believes in the essential truth of numbers, even if they cramp one’s candy-and-flowers-fueled bliss.
“This algorithm gives you the highest probability of finding ‘The One,'” Farley said
His formula — which begins with “N” and ends after some college-level computing with a choice of mate — isn’t really his.
Rather, it was the creation of mathematician E.B. Dynkin. And it wasn’t meant to find love. It has the seductive title of “The optimal choice for the instant of stopping a Markov process.” It was meant to increase the probability of making the best decision given several possible answers.
But it has a prominent place in a lecture that Farley has created called “How to Fall in Love with Mathematics.”
“I’m almost certain that nobody applies this,” Farley said.
His lecture hopes to draw students to re-examine math. After all, there are plenty of math problems yet to solve, he said.
It’s also a combination — math and love — that’s growing in popularity.
Australian mathematician Clio Cresswell had a best-seller with her book, “Mathematics and Sex.” A University of California Berkeley professor has made an erotic film about math, titled “Rites of Love and Math.”
And a growing number of stories by or about Farley, listed among UMaine faculty as an associate professor of computer science, cite the same comparison.
It’s been building for a long time, he said.
“When I was a graduate student at Oxford, my friend Nick told me about a formula that women could use to determine how many marriage proposals to reject before accepting one,” he said. Years later, he read Cresswell’s book and saw that the formula came from Dynkin, a particularly well-known mathematician.
The formula can be tied to lots of situations.
“We try this strategy in other areas,” he said.
“Suppose you’re shopping for Valentine’s Day presents at the mall, and the parking lot is almost full,” Farley said. “You don’t want to walk too far to the entrance, so you might pass by the first space you find, because it’s too far away, and the second, to see if you might find a closer one later on; but then you’ll just pick the next best space. The theorem says that if you use this method in your love life, you have the best chance of finding The One.”
Along those lines, Farley has created his own syndrome, named after former porn star Sasha Grey.
In 2007, newspapers reported the results of a study that said men had seven sexual partners on average and women had four. Respected mathematical economist David Gale complained that it was impossible for the two averages to differ.
Farley figures Gale was wrong, he said.
“The study referred to the median, not the mean,” he said. “It is possible for the estimated means to differ for men and women if your sample misses women who had a large number of partners.
“Depending on the number and sample sizes of studies that have shown different mean values for men and women, we can try to estimate the number of partners that the unsampled ‘Sasha Greys’ must have had. The math suggests that either the means are the same for both sexes or people are doing something they aren’t talking about.”
Has all of this helped Farley find love?
Not really. He is still single.
He never tabulated his own spousal candidates or calculated when he should have proposed marriage.
“Maybe I should have,” he said. “I might have been married 10 or 15 years ago.”
Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.