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11 April 2015 @ 02:04 pm
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A PBS commercial for Nova (for next week's episode, called "The Great Math Mystery") just asked, "Is math an invention, or a discovery?" and my brain so does not understand how to wrap itself around how you would even begin to answer that question.

Of course, I am someone who took an extraordinarily long time to understand that 2+3 was the same as 3+2 as a child, and would break out in, I don't know, panic itching when my mother made me do timed math practice sheets at the kitchen table, in addition to being really spatially challenged - those puzzles where you had to figure out which set of six identical squares would fold up to make a cube? Bane of my existence - so this is not especially surprising. It sounds like an interesting episode, but I am not sure that even Nova would be able to explain this to me in a way that would let me get anything out of it. :)
Spackle: dr horrible: status non quospacklegeek on April 12th, 2015 02:58 am (UTC)
Oh, math. Maths. Mathematics. The bane of my middle school and high school academic existence, and nearly of college, too.

Literally, I shed so many tears over algebra I cannot think of 10th grade anymore without remembering that angst.

In the past couple of months though I've begun to wish that someone would teach me math again, in a way that makes sense. My own anxiety stemmed largely from the fact that math class felt like wading through a language for which I had no lasting vocabulary while operating under the constant threat of terrible failure. Bleh.

I surprised myself recently with the realization that I wished I'd stuck with it long enough to get to calculus. That seems way more interesting, theoretically, than algebra.

Perhaps I will check out that episode! :)
tempestsarekind: posner plus bookstempestsarekind on April 12th, 2015 03:41 pm (UTC)
One of the best decisions I ever made was going to a college with no core requirements, so I never had to take math at the college level. :) I had pretty much hit my absolute limit on comprehension with the beginnings of trigonometry in 11th grade - I even bought myself one of those "teach yourself trig" books and met with my teacher, only to wind up more confused than I was when I started! So I was glad to stop flinging myself against that particular brick wall.

I felt similarly, I think: I couldn't "speak" math either, and I didn't understand what anything I was supposed to do was even for - I might be able to duplicate the steps in order to get through a test, but I didn't understand why I was doing it! The only year I really understood math was the year we did geometry, because at least I could wrap my mind around finding the degree of an angle or the volume of a cylinder. (This is also why biology made far more sense to me than chemistry or physics, I suppose.)
Enlevéenleve on April 14th, 2015 11:14 pm (UTC)
The question that Nova asked is something that people even highly trained in math struggle with. Is mathematics completely invented by people? Or is it something like a truth that would exist without people? There's some philosophy mixed up in it too, including a view of math akin to Plato's forms.

I used to think that math was something that was true about the universe, and that it was something that people discovered, but over time I have come around to think it is something that is invented by humans.

I also used to think that, as in many science fiction stories about first contact with aliens, we would be able to communicate with them by using math, starting with prime numbers. But over time, I've come to think that expecting aliens to come up with a mathematical system almost the same as a human mathematical system may not be likely, if we ever meet aliens.

I think that the way math is typically taught often doesn't get across what the concepts behind the procedures are. When a person doesn't understand under those conditions, I think it is probably a mismatch between teacher and teaching method and student, not anything innate about the student.