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A Double Negative Makes a Positive: How Math 170 Diagnosed Me With Coronavirus


Photo with edits by Becky Weisberg / The Daily Pennsylvanian

When that random senior in my group project last semester told me (during the one meeting he actually showed up to) that Math 170 was ‘just Roman numerals and that’s it’, I knew it was the class for me. Sure, math scared me - mostly because I couldn’t even count the number of times I told my engineering friends that their math classes scared me. However, I knew it was time to push myself beyond my comfort zone.

I loved the class. I was fascinated by the realization that the division symbol (÷) was just a fraction with two dots instead of numbers! I was invigorated by our discussion of the abacus and it’s fun little colorful beads! But then, as I was watching the recorded lecture on 1.75x speed (The hundredth’s place!! How exciting!), I heard something horrifying:

“A double negative equals a positive.”

My heart began to race as I entered my birthdate into the SHS website.

I...II… - two negative tests. I counted again with tally marks to make sure.

|...||… - two negative tests. I had coronavirus.

However, I didn’t despair for long. Just like every great mathematician, my brilliant idea came to me in the darkest of times: if a double negative = a positive, then perhaps a double positive = a negative.

I ran out of my room, TI-84 in hand, and went straight to Houston. (Well, not straight...I got lost for half an hour between 36th and 34th Streets due to the city of Philadelphia’s blatant disregard for the counting rules which govern our world.) I asked each student with a red OpenPass to French kiss me, but nobody agreed once they found out I was positive. I settled for sticking some used swabs up my nose, calculating that my probability of contracting the virus this way was approximately 69/420.

I am still awaiting my most recent test results, but I feel confident. Math used to scare me, and it may have even threatened my health, but it has also provided me with the essential Formal Reasoning™ skills that saved my life.