Monday, December 1, 2008

Me and Math

I've just gotta say that I love math. I really don't hear that enough in my everyday life. It seems like many people around me, even in academia, see math as merely a means to an end, or as high school hurdle that they once stumbled over and thankfully never have to use again. Well, this is not a blog to convince anybody else to like math. Its just an expression of how much I like math.

I feel like I was introduced to math kinda by mistake. What I mean by 'math' here is the math I took after set theory. See, prior to this stuff, I pretty much hated math. I especially hated that we weren't allowed to use programming calculators on tests. See, I had somewhat of an affair with computer programming back in high school. This affair lasted until about my sophomore or junior year of college.

I always thought that math was stupid. My theory was who wants to sit and add up numbers all day? What would be the point of just using formulas that have already been discovered? I especially grew irritated when I would learn something like the Law of Sines, Law of Cosines, how to invert a matrix, or how to use row reduction to solve a system of equations. I would learn these things first by programming things into a calculator. Then I was told I couldn't use these programs on tests, which only frustrated my relationship with math. What's the point of using 20th century teaching methods to teach math to a 21st century classroom?

I remember entering college with a major in computer science. I was a pretty good programmer and this was the middle of the dot com era, when everybody was making money on the Internet. It just so happened that a computer science major at my undergrad consists of so many math classes that all I needed to have a math minor were a few classes - among these classes was set theory.

Set theory was a class that changed my life.

This class was like philosophy and debate for mathematicians, complete with paradoxes and all. But this was more structured than my debate classes in high school. In high school, we had topics like "Capital Punishment is Justified" and had to argue either the affirmative or the negative. The person who won was the person who made the better arguments or spoke more eloquently - not the one who spoke the truth (because truth here is ambiguous).

In math, its all about the truth! We assume only the basic necessities (which are agreed upon) and prove EVERYTHING else. There's no room for ambiguity and no room for errors. That's just beautiful to me.

I remember when I first proved the irrationality sqrt(2). All through middle school, I can remember being told that certain numbers are irrational, but never really understood what that meant or why it was true. When I first saw that proof, it was just an amazing sight. And the most beautiful thing is that each step followed logically from the one before it, and step one was just a statement of the assumption. There was no citing a survey, or claim that "correlation implies causation".

It was just pure beauty. And what made it more beautiful was its simplicity.

I don't often get to talk with people who share this same love of math, but when I do get such an occurrence I sit and smile.

Today, I'm smiling!


D the God Awful said...

I still hate math. But how you applied to yourself and life is awesome. I would say more, but I'm so sleepy, I'm crosseyed.

poetess58 said...

I used to LOVE math but I got bored with it in high school during senior year.Actually, I think I was distracted by my grandmother's death and I turned to my first love, writing, and saw little use for math.I have been thinking about teaching lately and even though I love writing and have an English degree I want to teach math for the exact reason that you stated. I love that it's truth is universal and sound. Truth is subjective in every other element. There's something comforting about the truth's you find in math. Interesting topic.

Thought said...


I hope that LOVE for math returns. I get kinda depressed whenever I tell somebody that I study math and their first response is always a complaint about how much they hate math.

poetess58 said...

that's one of the reasons that I want to teach it. I think too many people see it as a chore/task and never understand the theory/concepts concerning math and how it is a way of rationalizing while using numbers. People who are good at math tend to have interesting thought processes. Glad to know you love math. It is so misunderstood. I had a great math teacher, well two in particular, and they loved math and made it so interesting.

Professor Tracey said...

This is a great post. I never got the chance to gain any love for the field of math. My early education was sub-standard in math and it made my experience with math a struggle.

You keep expressing these views, it's important. As a professor, I love to hear anyone express passion for something they study. Learning is not just a means to an end, but opportunity to learn, think, and challenge yourself.

I'm working on a post about brother bloggers and I'm going to add this post as a link in that post, if that's okay with you.

Thought said...

@Professor Tracey

Its perfectly fine for you to link to this post.

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