The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image


Attending a bachata class for the second time in Barcelona, the instructor went around hugging the students. He was approaching me with arms wide open, saying “un abrazo”. Before I could protest, I was in his grip. I am generally uncomfortable with hugging members of any gender, a hairy Catalan bloke would certainly not be on the top of my “Must Hug” list.

Hug me not, ugly monster.

Hug me not, ugly monster.

Among all forms of human interaction, hugging is the most ill-defined. Greeting one another is well-defined: you part your lips, squeeze out voices in the general direction of the person being greeted, and that is that. Fighting is well-defined: you inflict pain on your opponent by applying your fist at a rapid speed at sensitive parts of your opponent. Hugging, however, has all sorts of open problems. Trying to understand why and how people hug, I identified the following parameters to hugging:

  1. Duration.
  2. Strength.
  3. Proximity of various body parts.
  4. Acts accompanying hugging.

Duration would be on atomic scale if it was up to me to decide. It is not up to me to decide, but I fairly consistently underestimate the intended duration of the hug, trying to quit the grip way sooner than I should. The least the hugger should do is to whisper in my ear that hugging will be over in two seconds, or something along those lines.

The strength parameter is totally confusing. Some people just love bear hugs and will not do without exercising their muscle power while you are struggling in their obnoxious embrace. Others will sort of fake the whole hugging business, barely coming in contact with you, yet they require the hug. The distribution between the two extremes is not normal, it is more like a mixture of Gaussians. Nobody will ever learn a good approximation of the exact probabilistic model.

Incorrect hip angle

The angle at the hip is much larger then 180 degrees for space-incompatible huggers

The proximity of various body parts is also subject to personal preferences, which show an enormous variety. Of notable interest, bits of the body lower than the hips might require more space than the upper parts which are more involved in the act of hugging. The difference in space requirements leads to genuinely awkward angles at the hip. Given enough hugs of the awkward angle type, and you might develop problems in your hip joint.

Compounding the problem, there are several acts that may accompany a hug. There might be kisses on the cheek, tapping on the shoulder, and variations thereof. You got to be quick in reciprocating the events, otherwise you will come across clumsy or plain retarded.

At some point I thought I had a magical solution to prevent hugging at least by fellow gendermates. It is very unlikely that you are able to
shake hands and hug simultaneously. So I extended my arm well in advance if I suspected a hug coming. This worked quite well until one fine day I found my hand squashed between two muscular chests. Perhaps one of those chests was less muscular than the other, but in any case, I took note of the danger and stopped using the prevention mechanism.

One of the greatest thing about Asia is that people are less keen on hugging. Japanese people especially mastered the art of not hugging. A visit to the Meguro Parasitological Museum in Tokyo should be compulsory to all huggers, kiss-on-the-cheekers, and squash-my-hand-between-chestsers. You get tapeworms just by looking at other people hugging. Japan should put more effort into exporting non-hugging, that would boost the stalled Japanese economy.

Various parasites at the Meguro Parasitological Museum

The dangers of hugging: these parasites spread by jumping huggers.

Provided that hugging is inevitable, give me 48 hours notice so that I have time to come up with a closed-form analytical solution to all the parameters involved. An exact description of the requested hugging is also required, with special attention to the initial conditions. If an analytical solution evades discovery, I need to run simulations. In this case, the hugging will be delayed until I can get computational time approved on the most nearby supercomputer. You will be notified when the results are in, and the requested hugging can be performed.

Marenostrum supercomputer

Supercomputing might help me solve the hugging problem.

Comments are closed.