Math and the Middle East: Some Things Never Change

Every now and then you’ll hear a news item about someone’s math problem being controversial (involving slavery, etc.)  This gem has been around for a long time: it comes from Marvin Marcus’ A Survey of Finite Mathematics (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1969).  It’s purpose is to illustrate the use of combinatorial matrix theory, and (stripping away the technical details) goes like this:

Five hostile Middle Eastern countries have long-range weapons array with respect to each other as follows: each country has its weapons aimed at two different countries and is the target for the weapons of two different countries…if all the countries fire their weapons at once, is it certain that they will all be destroyed?

The matrix analysis he undertakes comes to the following conclusion:

Hence it is certain that if the countries start firing they will destroy one another in some order.

Some things never change…and there is no consideration to the collateral damage to the neighbouring countries.

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