Urban Legends as examples of folk theories and cognitive models

Urban Legends Reference Pages: College (The Unsolvable Math Problem)

This legend combines one of the ultimate academic wish-fulfillment fantasies — a student not only proves himself the smartest one in his class, but also bests his professor and every other scholar in his field of study — with a "positive thinking" motif which turns up in other urban legends: when people are free to pursue goals unfettered by presumed limitations on what they can accomplish, they just may manage some extraordinary feats through the combined application of native talent and hard work. And this particular version is all the more interesting for being completely true!

An interesting analysis of an urban legend of a student who solves an unsolvable math problem by accident. These legends are both formative and illustrative of our models for the world. Even though many of them are 'urban legends' we use them to interpret 'real' events around us. I have written a number of articles in Czech trying to show how these images and stories work in our interpretations of various societal problems, such as political debates or national identity. But of course, people like Geertz and Goffman have done that a long time ago and in more detail.

(There is, as always, a note of caution in order here. Realization that these stories are integral to our reasoning has led many people to posit extreme relativist and nihilist views which are not warranted - there is nothing mystical about this and it does not invalidate the other traditionally recognized aspects of human rationality.)