Numbers in My Head

I think I would like to study how different people process numbers.

I have a hypothesis that some people are good at math, not only because of their intelligence, but because numbers arrange themselves in nice orderly patterns in that person’s brain.

Numbers don’t arrange themselves in orderly patterns in my brain.

They do in my brother Ben’s brain. He can reason in his head what 876 x 81 is. He can easily remember how old Moses was when he died. Accordingly and naturally, he loves math.

I, on the other hand, have a history of hating math. As I grew older I learned to like and understand the concepts. Still, even though I knew exactly how the problems were supposed to be worked and why they worked, I often got the answers wrong.

I think I loved geometry because the shapes and patterns were much more orderly in my head than numbers were.

This is why I think I process shapes and textures easier than I process numbers:

Sometimes, as a cashier, someone will owe me forty cents. When this happens they often hand me a quarter, a dime, and a nickle. Do a quarter, dime, and nickle add up to forty cents?

I mean, three dimes is  thirty cents.  Ten and ten and ten. That adds up quickly in my head and I can toss the coins in the cash register and send the customer on their way. But twenty-five and ten and five?

To my brother Ben, those three numbers would add up to forty in and instant. To me they don’t. I have to stop, and think, twenty-five and ten is thirty five, and then five more is forty, okay, and meanwhile the customer is waiting and I am not quite sure I didn’t accidentally count the nickle twice.

Soon, in order to save time, I simply memorized the fact that a dime, nickle, and quarter is forty. That way, when someone hands me one of each, I don’t even think of the numbers. I think of the coins themselves, and know that one of each is forty.

Is that not interesting to you? Maybe not.

Oh well.

I find it interesting. How do you process numbers? Do they add up in orderly even patters in your head?

8 responses to “Numbers in My Head

  1. Oh YES! It makes absolute perfect sense! I know the concepts (though I have yet to like them) but somehow I still come up with the wrong answer. Problems requiring multiple steps (like 876×81) will never be answered in my head because by the time I have the answer for 8×7, I have forgotten what 8×6 is and where I carried the four and how does that add to 876. Sigh. Thank you for making sense of my brain.


  2. I was NEVER good at math! No matter how perfectly I did the problem, I often ended up with the wrong answer. As I got older it got a little better. 🙂 I to am a cashier and have learned to memorize that 25 cents plus a dime plus a nickel add up to be 40 cents. 🙂 Or that fact that it takes 1 of everything, a quarter, dime, nickel, and penny, to make 41 cents. So I just grap 1 of everything and I know right away I have it! 🙂 Memorization is great!


  3. Well I can’t multiply numbers in my head like Ben either but I love numbers. I love playing with them and working with them. I love algebra and how you can fit numbers into formulas and they behave. I love doing the daily sudoku. And to me the numbers from one to ten have personalities. 8 is the nice big brother. 7 and 9 are mean. 2 is a cute little girl.


  4. Numbers are NOT orderly in my head. I like math in moderation, but the numbers don’t stay there. I remember events in detail, but not the dates. However, if I envision the numbers, like they were on a page, I remember them better. Yeah. Right-brained = me. 🙂 I agree with your mom; numbers have personalities! Seven always seemed a little evil to me. And all even numbers seem a lot more friendly than the odd ones.


  5. I hate numbers. They move on the page. Every time. You think you can predict what they’ll do, but you can’t. I hate them. So much so that I don’t even look at them long enough to see personalities in them.
    Ironically, I was a store clerk for many years. I can count money really fast, but I was completely reliant on the computer to make change. I can do it now, only barely, inch by inch.


  6. WOW! I have a piece of paper that says I know how to teach math. Like Mom, I love Algebra and Sudoku and the manipulation of numbers. I never really enjoyed Geometry though. Counting change? I never thought about it before. I pair things up when I add and sometimes it takes a while. A quarter, dime and nickel get added by me in the following way; a quarter is 25 and a nickel is 5 so that is 30 and a dime is 10 more so they equal 40. I don’t add sequentially, I look for things that add to 10 or some other round number. Thanks for making me aware of how others think about numbers. This should help me be a better teacher.


  7. 7 is not mean or evil!=) 7 is the cool guy, who tries to stay away from 6 without being rude. but 9 is definitely mean. and proud. =)


  8. I got behind in math in 4th grade, when I went to three schools in two states in one year. At the beginning of 5th grade my teacher realized I had a problem and offered to tutor me privately after school. I am SOOOO grateful for her help! She taught me a lot of “tricks” that I still use to this day for basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. BUT higher math has always been a struggle. I barely made it through high school algebra and am just thankful I avoided having to take a math class in college (they allowed me to take a computer class instead) because I am convinced I would have flunked and then where would I be?! 🙂
    On the other hand, I haven’t had to use higher math much in my adult life, and when I do, I go to the expert: my husband, who actually ENJOYS math.
    Meanwhile I do just fine with my basic skills. In fact, I found it is an advantage in some instances. A number of years back a friend was finishing her masters degree in psychology and had to administer a battery of tests to a certain number of people for one of her classes. I actually scored better in the math segment than my husband and another math whiz friend. The reason? They over-analyzed the problem, while I just whipped through using those “tricks” my teacher had taught me years before. I answered correctly and within seconds. SCORE! hahahaha
    I think we all learn coping mechanisms in areas where we struggle. You’ve done a good job of figuring out what you need to do when it comes to coins.


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