World’s Fastest 'Human Calculator' From India Eradicating Math-Phobia
11:00 24.12.2022 (Updated: 12:23 17.01.2023)
© Photo : Twitter/ @bhanuprakashjn
Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash was just five when he met with an accident that rendered him bedridden. It was his parents who introduced him to mathematical puzzles.
Known as the "World's Fastest Human Calculator", 23-year-old math wizard Neelakantha Bhanu Prakash from Hyderabad, India leaves people awestruck with his fastest calculating prowess and ability to solve puzzles within a fraction of a second.
From bagging 50 Limca Book of Records awards for his mathematics calculations to getting featured in the 'Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2022' list for his education start-up 'Bhanzu', Prakash has carved a niche for himself in the world of mathematics. He now helps hundreds of thousands of people from around the world tackle math-phobia.
Prakash tells Sputnik about his love of math and why a lot of people suffer from math-phobia, due to which they turn to calculators instead of making 'easy' mental calculations.
Sputnik: When did the Maths bug bite you?
Prakash: When I was five years old, I met with an accident that rendered me bedridden for a year. My parents introduced me to Maths puzzles. It was a rather fun way of interacting with mathematics, right from finding solutions to certain situations or solving problems through logical thinking.
I incubated my learning and interest in mathematics over time by going to championships, etc. I grew into an individual who loves mathematics for what it offers, in terms of how you can train your brain, and how you can keep it energized into mathematics being a tool to understand the world around you.
Sputnik: How would you define Maths, and what does it mean to you?
Prakash: Mathematics for me has been a true sporting experience and I call myself a mental athlete. I try to challenge myself with more mathematical problems and how I can solve things quicker. That gives an adrenaline rush.
It's a truly human experience to understand the intrinsic Maths elements linked to science, technology, engineering, social sciences, people interaction, and the way businesses work.
Sputnik: What prompted you to start the Maths education start-up ‘Bhanzu’?
Prakash: After I started winning championships, my only mission has been to inspire millions of people, including children and adults, to pick up mathematics in a fun way. Every three out of four children across the world are scared of Math.
I decided to share my experience, my learnings, and ways of doing Math with others so that they can also experience the joy of doing calculations.
So, I founded Bhanzu, a social project which we ran for government schools back in the day. But today, we are a full-fledged start-up, which teaches hundreds of thousands of students from across the world to find their love for mathematics, become math-confident, and apply math in the world around them.
Sputnik: A lot of people have Maths phobia due to which they opt for a calculator as they find it easier and faster than making mental calculations. What's the reason for this?
Prakash: We have made Maths the worst-ever subject and dehumanized it a lot by just stressing the outcome of mathematics rather than the experience or joy of learning it.
I wouldn't blame the generation or the people for being scared of mathematics, as much as I would blame the math education system and the landscape itself in schools.
People are scared of Maths because they've been introduced to mathematics as a scary subject that they need to master. And there's only one way, either you master it, or you're bad at it.
Learning mathematics is not about being good at solving problems or remembering a bunch of formulas. Being good at mathematics is to be someone who understands logical reasoning, and incrementally builds on it.
The narrations around what math education is, and what it doesn't, have drastically been polarized towards problem solvers rather than someone who actually goes out there and innovates and understands things quantitatively.
So, I think it's more of the environment or the ethos, which is built around magnification, which makes people hate it than the subject itself.
For instance, if you put two chocolates on one side and one chocolate on the other in front of a baby, it would walk or crawl toward the two chocolates. That's because the baby interestingly knows that it too is bigger than one. So, learning mathematics is more human instinct. People, in general, are very curious.
But by creating barriers of exams, outcomes, stringent formulae, and educational programmes, you have taken the creativity out of it, you don't contextualize it, and this makes the people scared of it.
Sputnik: Is mathematics just a way of developing cognitive ability and strengthening mental health?
Prakash: Mathematics is a lot of things. I think doing arithmetic and quick calculations is a way of developing your cognitive abilities.
Your logical ability is something in which you can see a direct correlation. Maths also has functional outcomes like it’s directly feeding into your career and whatever things you'd want to master. Mathematics lets you dig those wells to get water right.
The effect of learning mathematics, and inventing a number system to count beyond and operations to do arithmetic, understanding shapes to build structures, is a part of human evolution.
For me, mathematics is what human beings have created for themselves to evolve better and quicker and make their life simple.
Sputnik: What are some of the interesting methods one can use to calculate fast?
Prakash: The ability to calculate is like understanding your brain as a central processing unit (CPU) that has an algorithm to solve. But how do you use its infrastructure, which is its ability to visualize, compute and activate your working memory? These are how cognitive abilities directly correspond to how you do quick calculations.
If I give you a bunch of tricks or shortcuts to do a calculation quicker, I'm not really making your brain think more and putting it at a challenge.
Mental calculation is like running a race. Where you push your mental abilities, stamina, ability, and your muscle to reach that 100-metre sprint. It’s like instead of running the 100-metre race, I'll use a car or a bike to get there.
The idea is to actually run, which means that a mathematical problem is your challenge, the amount of effort you need to put in to get to its solution. The best way to practice mental math is to actually start looking at mathematical quantities around you.
If you make a conscious effort to actually do one addition per day, you will actually be a much quicker person in terms of how you think over a month.
So, I would suggest people who are interested in picking up mental calculation as a way to engage their brain, is to pick up one activity, which is rather mundane, and do a certain amount of calculations in their mind to keep it running. It's like your gym.
Sputnik: How did you practice Maths in daily life?
Prakash: When I go past a bunch of cars, I try to add the car numbers in my head. The nature of how quickly you can calculate actually gives the outcomes of sharpening your cognitive ability. So, there are no quick shortcut tricks, methods, or hacks to do calculations quicker. There are definitely methods and regimes, which can help you incline to that.
But the essence of being quicker at calculations should not be about the outcome, it should be more about the process. Because of the outcome, you can always get it in the calculator, the process you can't. That's one of the easiest ways.
If you're not a student, but a working professional, and you want to give your mind to a certain activity every week, make sure you do a bunch of mental calculations in your thought process.
And if you incorporate that, I think you'll see a significant jump in your activity in the way you can do multiple things.
Sputnik: India has given the world many veteran mathematicians such as Srinivasa Ramanujan and Shakuntala Devi. How do you look at their contribution and success in this field?
Prakash: Srinivasa Ramanujan, and Shakuntala Devi are among a bunch of other phenomenal mathematicians across the globe who have pushed human boundaries.
We celebrate Srinivasa Ramanujan as The Man Who Knew Infinity, and we celebrate National Mathematics Day to remember him. He has not only taken India but the entire world by surprise with what they've contributed in such less time.
Shakuntala Devi, on the other hand, was an individual who put mathematics at the center of conversation for millions of people across the world, not by her scholarly nature, but by her ability to perform and make people go awestruck with oh, how is this possible? She advocated at large that mathematics has nothing to do with one's gender or social status.
When you look back on that, you understand that people who truly understand mathematics and its intricacies created phenomenal outcomes.