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Reduced Math

Simon Bridge September 15, 2011
Abstract Students who struggle with math may find solace in the idea that the purpose of math is to avoid doing math. This simple principle is often neglected by math teachers. In practice a rudimentary knowledge of arithmatic and numbers can be built into a powerful mathematical toolset.

The purpose of studying math is to avoid doing math. The purpose of this paper is to build a powerful mathematical toolset while doing as little maths as possible.



Basic four-function arithmetic, the kind you find on simple calculators, has four way to combine two numbers: × multiplication ÷ division + addition − subtraction The trouble comes when you want to use more than two numbers; consider: 5−3+2= (1)

Is this 4, 0, or something else? If I do the subtraction first it is 4 and if I do the addition first it is 0. If only there were some way to remember which order we should do this! B.O.D.M.A.S. The mneumonic for remembering the order of operations confuses people no end. Taken at face value this means that the addition must come before the subtraction vis:




This is what 13 and 14 year olds come away doing, I’ve even seen this in text books. But this cannot be true and I’ll prove it. For any two numbers a and b, a − b = a + ( − b) This means that the equation (1) can be rewritten: 5 + (− 3) + 2 = 4 (4) (3)

Notice also that it does not matter which order the sum is carried out. By using negative numbers we’ve eliminated the need for a seperate operation for subtraction and removed a common confusion. The same can be done with division if we use fractions: 1 a = b b So a tough division would look like this: a÷b=a× 237 ÷ 93 = (5)

237 (6) 93 . . . and you can stop there. You only need fancy long division if the context calls for a decimal. Having eliminated subtraction (replaced by additon of a negative number) and division (replaced by multiplication with a fraction), we have just halved the amount of arithmatic we need to know about, as well as removing the need to know about BEDMAS. This is a clear imrovement.


Shapes in Two Dimensions

Everything we see can be described in terms of 2D shapes of all kinds all fitted together. It follows that if we know about 2D shapes we can understand quite a bit of what we see. There are an infinite number of different types of shape and an infinite variety of each. Not helpful. What we need is some way of eliminating the need to know about all these shapes. Ideally we only want to have to know about one or two of them.


Triangles: a fundamental shape

Well, they are a good starting point. All other shapes in the universe can be subdivided into triangles. I’m going to just assert that rather than prove it - if you can come up with a shape that cannot be divided into triangles, let me know. A good example of this effect for a very complicated shape is figure(1). The left-hand picture shows a model of a thai statuette made from 10,000,000


Figure 1: . . . all shapes can be made from triangles
triangles. (Courtesy of XYZ RGB inc. provided by the Stanford 3D Scanning Repository.) It follows that it is worth going into triangles in some detail so we can avoid the work of studying all the other shapes.


When triangles are similar

Triangles are defines by their angles rather than the lengths of their sides. Not too surprising, they are called triangle s not trigon s or trilateral s. Two triangles with the same angles, but different length sides, are the same triangle in different sizes. They are called “similar”. If the small one has sides length a, b, c, and the corresponding sides of the big one are length A, B , C , then we find that: B C A = = =s (7) a a c This means that the big triangle is s times the size of the small one. Each traingle can be used as a map for the other, and if you know about one you know about all triangles with the same set of angles. This is still a lot of triangles but we are slowly getting there.


Square triangles

A square shape, generally, is any four-sided shape with all the same size angles on the inside. If it also has the same size sides, then it is an actual square – otherwise it is a rectangle. The angles in a square shape are called square angles. If we cut a square shape in half, diagonally, you end up with a triangle with one square angle. These are square triangles and they are special because all other triangles can be made from two square triangles.



The square rule

If the lengths of the sides around the square angle are a and b then this will fix the length of the long diagonal side which I will label h (for historical reasons). If you make a square out of each of the sides, then the area of the biggest square is exactly the same area is the two smaller squares together. Since the area of a square is the length of the sides multiplies by themselves, h2 = a2 + b2 (8)

. . . which I will call the square rule. Some people will know it by another name. What this means is that you only need to know two of the sides to know all of them.



The area of a square shape is the product of the lengths of the sides. A square triangle is formed by cutting one in half, so it must have half the area of it’s square shape. So we can write: ab (9) 2 . . . there is a similar rule for finding the area of the other triangles, involving bases and heights, but we don’t need to know it because all other triangles are made from two of these. A=



So far I have been able to use intuitive ideas about angles and lengths and areas. To make more progress, I need to introduce some way to measure the size of angles. We need to know this because angles are the most important part of the triangle.


The sum of angles

The first thing to notice about a triangles is that, if you put an arc on all the angles, tear them off, put all the points together, the arcs for a half-circle . . . every time! This is the same for all triangles. For square triangles, the square angle is a quarter-circle. This means that the other two angles must add up to another quarter circle. This means the other two angles make another square angle. If I label the other two (non-square) angles θ and φ (for the usual historical reasons) then: θ+φ=2 . . . I’ll call this the angle rule. This means that if you know one angle you know them both. (10)


Figure 2: . . . the angle in the distance around the unit circle


Measuring Angles

When we want to measure something we compare it to some reference or unit version. When we want to know a length (how long something is) we use a unit line. When we want to know area, we use a unit square, and if we want to know volume we use a unit cube. The number of units that fit inside the thing we have is called it’s size. So we need a geometric object that is useful to use as a unit shape for angles. The most intuitive one to use is a circle1 . To make a unit circle we need to pick a length to be equal to 1unit. I’m going to pick the radius, because that’s how we draw circles and define circles: we fix the center and the radius and the circle follows. Definition: With the radius as the unit for distance, the size of an angle is the distance around the circumference which is inside the angle. This means that to measure an angle, you put the center of your unit circle on the point, and measure the distance around the circle inside the angle. For example, if the radius is 5cm and the distance inside the angle is 4cm then the size of the angle is 2units.


Example angles

There are actually two ways of thinking about angles. And angle could be the inside of a corner, but it can also be the amount you have to turn in order to go around the corner. The first one is called an interior angle and the second one is called the exterior angle. You’ll see them in the diagram (figure ??). • The size of a complete circle is 2π . This is a little awkward because π is, well π ! But, usually, we don’t need to worry about it. In practice we don’t measure π , and where it appears in formulae we can just write the Greek letter.
1 I know: I’m adding shapes when I’m meant to be taking them away. Since circles can be understood in terms of triangles it should be possible to remove the circle later on.


Figure 3: . . . defining the unit triangles
• A square angle is a quarter circle – which is size
π 2


Special triangles

The diagram in figure


Equilateral triangles

An equilateral triangle has all it’s angles the same. This means all the lengths are the same too. Since the angles of any triangle must add up to π (a half-circle), then each angle must be π/3. The area of an equilateral triangle with sides of length x is twice that of a square triangle with sides: a = x/2, h = x and b is provided by the square rule or a trig rule.


b2 = x2 − (x/2)2 3 = x2 4 . . . by the square rule or π 3 x π = tan 2 3

(11) (12)

b = x sin

(13) (14)

... depending which triangle you use. Verify that all these end up with the same number. The area of each square-triangle is ab/2; the equilateral triangle is two of these, so it’s are is ab to give: √ 3 2 A= x (15) 2


Regular Hexagon

The regular hexagon has six sides of length x. Therefore it can be constructed from six equilateral triangles, with the same size sides. This means: • each internal angle is 2π/3 (twice those of the equilateral triangle; √ • the area is 3 3x2 (six times the triangle area)


Smooth Shapes

From the above, all you need is your numbers, two basic operations, two triangles, and the square rule. This is the tool-kit you need to understand all of classical physics and a big chunk of modern physics. It only remains to practise applying those tools.