Thursday, February 14, 2013

constants and variables

Valentine's Day 2013.

Every Valentine's Day.

In math a constant refers to something that cannot vary.  A number, say 5, is a constant.  Unless you add to it, it's going to stay a 5.  Sometimes in algebraic notation, letters that are from the beginning of the alphabet stand for constants.  a, b, and c are constants.  x, y, and z are variables.

The quadratic formula is x= -b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac over 2a.  (I thought I had remembered this, but when I checked I was hopelessly off.  An indication of how I have used my four semesters of college Calculus).   In the quadratic, or any formula, the value of the variable, in this case x, depends on the constants and the other variables in the formula.

So to take a simpler example, the y in y= 2ax, will vary depending on what the constant a is, and the variable x.  If a is 3, then when x is 2, y =12.  If  x is 5, y is then thirty.  The variable y depends on the constant a, and the independent variable x.

So what?

I have never had to apply this knowledge directly in my line of work.  However, I do think understanding certain principles like dependent and independent variables--and constants can help us.

In life, like in math, there are constants and there are variables. The variable of happiness is a function of other variables as well as constants.

How happy you are on a given day depends on variables that, well, vary from day to day.  Was it sunny, did you hit traffic on the way to work, did you eat well, exercise?  How was work? Did some knucklehead say something gratuitous that upset you? Did you get a thank you note that you had not expected from a colleague in another department?  All variables these.

But there can be constants.  If y = 2ax, then y can depend on the x, but maybe you can always count on the a--the constant.

Maybe you know, somewhere that you don't regularly tap, that you are loved, and love.  Maybe you know that you have family and friends, and romantic love that are all constants and will not vary no matter what.  If you have these kinds of constants you are very lucky indeed.  Then the x, the variables, will not matter that much.  
Maybe with love as a constant, the knucklehead at work, the bad meal, the lack of exercise, does not mean a whole lot, because your formula is rooted in a powerful constant that, like all constants, will never vary.

Happy Valentines Day.


  1. Great stuff from the Sage of Waltham. Nice message for today!

  2. Thanks, Craig, I'd tell you to "seize the day" but the fact is you always do.

  3. A nice message on Valentines Day and true for some very lucky people. For most of us, I'm afraid, love of our parents, children, march madness, and pizza are a constant. Romantic love is a constant too. A constant struggle.