5 Things You Won't Believe Math Can Predict

#2. How New Drugs Will Affect People


One reason why it takes so long for new drugs to hit the market is that you have to test the shit out of them -- for instance, Viagra was created in 1989, but didn't come to market until almost a decade later. You just can't predict how a drug is going to react with the insanely complex pile of chemical reactions that make up the human body; you can only test it and hope for the best. What cures cancer in mice may give a human accidental superpowers. You just don't know until you try.

But imagine if we could take everything your body does, from regulating blood to fighting infections and more, and turn all of those into math equations. Theoretically, we could run human trials on new drugs without actually having to dig up volunteers willing find out firsthand if the new flu vaccine causes them to start pissing peanut butter.

"Damn you, Flintstones vitamins."

Mathematician David Eddy has laboriously gathered all the human medical data that he could and created a theoretical math person that he calls Archimedes. Of course, he needed to see whether it would react like a real human being, so he recreated a real trial for a diabetes drug. When the results came out, it was revealed that Eddy's program, a soulless black box full of hidden equations, was able to predict two of the principal findings from the study exactly. Which means that he was literally able to reduce an expensive and risky seven-year trial to numbers and bypass the whole "feed people drugs and see what happens to them" process.

And in case you're protesting that people can't be replaced by math so easily, Eddy didn't forget the human element. His Archimedes program took into account factors such as age and blood pressure, as well as fickle human flaws, such as the tendency for people to forget their pills once in a while.

"... Shit."

Of course, this doesn't mean that we'll be replacing human trials with computers anytime soon, because putting our health in the hands of HAL 9000 is still kind of frightening, and the equation doesn't work well enough to completely replace tests on real people. But, as it stands, Eddy's work is at the very least a supplementary tool for researchers to cut down the cost and risk factor of expensive human trials. And if the occasional person still develops Hulk powers from a routine trial, then more power to them.


#1. How to Keep a Crowd of People from Trampling Each Other


OK, imagine the most chaotic situation involving humans possible. You're probably thinking of a riot, or a big panicked crowd in a screaming stampede. You'll see horrific stories on the news of people being trampled every few years, like the 1979 Who concert tragedy, the Hillsborough football disaster of 1989, and more recently, the 2010 Love Parade concert in Germany that failed to live up to its name in a terrible way. How the hell is math going to help you understand the mindless insanity of a mob?

But some math geeks who study crowd dynamics did an intensive investigation of the Love Parade tragedy and found that the culprit wasn't really panic and stampeding at all, but something they're calling crowd quakes. And they are very predictable.

They're usually caused by the first three chords of an Ataris song.

When people are packed into a certain density ("about seven persons per square meter," according to the study), they no longer act as individual, sentient human beings, but as a fluid, or particles in a compressed gas. Remember, when the place is packed that tight, you are in the crowd, but you can't see the crowd -- all you're looking at is the Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt of the fat guy six inches in front of you. You are going to move in the direction you are shoved. A guy bumps into you from behind, so you hug the guy in front of you. He edges up, and this series of gentle pushes multiplies until somebody at the front of the crowd is literally being suffocated.

That's what it's all about: pressure. If you build pressure in a container of steam, it tries to escape. If you invade the personal space of thousands of humans, they try to do the same. So managing a crowd is the same as managing steam: You do the math about how many "valves" you need and where to put them to decrease the pressure. Other suggestions include altering the shape of the "container" -- keeping the flow of traffic circular, and going in one direction. When the crowd tries to pass through itself going in opposite directions, that's when you exceed the critical density at which horrible things happen.

Like being smashed up against this dude's sweaty nacho balls.

So, yeah, it's kind of insulting to know that science calculates our behavior similar to how it would calculate the ability of poop to move through a sewer line. But we suppose it's fine as long as it gets us out of the goddamned concert alive.

For more ways to hone your psychic abilities, check out 7 Bizarre Trends That Predict an Economic Collapse and 6 Eerily Specific Inventions Predicted in Science Fiction.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Past Box Office Hits That Prove January Movies Suck.

And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how to get a degree from the Xavier School For Gifted Youngsters.

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