## Wednesday, 18 May 2011

### Non-Vedic Maths: An Introduction

In the past I have repeatedly been confronted with people who promote Vedic Mathematics. Vedic Maths is a system of mathematical procedures that is supposed to help you master mathematics. The people promoting this system claim that it is based on the old Indian Vedic Sutras which date back over 4000 years. A little study of the subject reveals a slightly different story. Vedic mathematics was first presented by an Indian mathematician called Bharati Krishna Tirthaji Maharaja, in the early part 1900s.

He claimed to have found uncovered the system by intensely studying the old Vedas. However, most scholars, that are not directly involved in promoting the system, agree that the Vedas do not actually contain any of the "Vedic mathematics" sutras. It is, therefore, much more likely that a Tirthaji invented the methods himself, or even copied them from other sources. Another argument against the origin from the Vedas is that the techniques described in Vedic maths heavily rely on the decimal number system. But this system was not invented until much later, after the Vedas were written down.

The Vedic maths system claims to provide calculation strategies which are creative and useful. But they don't really promote a deeper understanding of mathematics. All that these methods really do, is to provide the student with some shortcuts for performing standard calculations in their head. It is interesting to note that the mathematics behind the system is not very sophisticated and was certainly known at the time that a Tirthaji developed these methods.

So, quite clearly, Vedic maths does not date back to Vedic times and cannot be extracted from the Vedas. It is a modern invention that uses the claim of dating back to ancient times in order to promote itself. But all this doesn't answer the crucial question, is the Vedic maths system useful? As I said before, the methods provided do not really promote analytical thinking and, in todays world of computers and pocket calculators, they are not needed in everyday life, and they will not help the student in their future job. To make matters worse, the Vedic mathematics system does not explain why or how the techniques work. So the student is left with learning the methods by heart and repeat blindly. If you believe that education should involve more than pure repetition of facts, and you don't want your children to grow up being parrots, then avoid the Vedic maths system. For two more passionate articles against the system, you can read The Fraud of Vedic Maths or Stop this Fraud on our Children!

Arithmetic shortcuts do have their use however, and that is to impress your friends. If you can find the result of a complex product or sum before your friends can get out their iPhones and start the calculator app, then they will be truly impressed. And if you can still pull this feat after a few pints in the pub, you will be considered the maths genius for the rest of your life. For this reason alone, I will start a series of posts under the heading "Non-Vedic Maths". This series will present mathematical  parlour tricks and shortcuts for everyday calculations to impress your friends. I will also go the extra mile and explain why the techniques work. But be warned: learning these methods will not help you in any other way, and you will most certainly be branded a geek by everyone around you.

Read on for the first technique.