You have a co-op interview, or a midterm/final to write early in the morning, but your alarm clock decided to sleep in itself and you woke up 1 hour later than you should. Then you missed the bus and had to wait another 10 minutes. You dashed to your next bus, as you needed to change buses. All of sudden, another man, ran into you at full speed at a 90-degree angle. You lost your balance and stumbled. Apologies were exchanged and you barely made it to board the next bus. Then the bus stops at every stop and your anxiety grew. You arrived at your destination 30 minutes late. At this time, all you can think of is "What if?".
This may be the most frequently asked question in all of history — "What if?". "What if I was on time for that interview?"; "what if I knew how to answer that question in the midterm?" (This question may arise very often these weeks.) "What if I sent this article to mathNEWS before that guy did?"; and of course, "what if the Flames had won Game 6 of the final?" (I am writing this shortly after Tampa won the Stanley Cup.)
History is full of "What ifs". Just imagine what would have happened if Texas remained independent — we may not have such a fascination with JFK. The Grassy Knoll would be nothing more than a patch of grass in a Dallas plaza. Would Dallas even be a big city today? What if your parents never met? Would you be here reading this article?
There probably are a few of you who have loved math ever since you can count. Some of you are drawn to math because one or more of your math teachers inspired you to take this path. Imagine is: what would you be taking right now if a teacher scared you away from math at a young age? It just shows that sometimes a seemingly insignificant decision can change the course one takes greatly.
Even in UW, some relatively minor events may end up monumental. Had the hiring committee not recruited Ralph Stanton (the man who established the Math Faculty), Mathies may still be Artsies today, being laughed at by engineers and physics students. Many are taking the pink tie for granted today (me included), but what if Dr. Stanton was not around UW? People would look at someone wearing a pink tie with weird glances. While we still have the Natural Log, hanging a log outside the MC just isn't the same. Another question may arise — would the MC building even be around if Mathematics is only a department and not a faculty.
Now we move on to one of the most important "What if" questions — what if a few energetic, forward-thinking, creative mathies did not meet in January 1973, would you be holding a copy of mathNEWS at this moment? (To be fair, someone else could have created mathNEWS at a later date, but would this publication have such a loyal readership and be enjoyed by people from as far as Iran? Of course, we will never know, but we can , of course, imagine.)