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01 October 2004 @ 04:03 am
On Math  
Math should not be something you are proud to be incapable of doing.

I work as an engineer, so I use a lot of math every day - calculus, trig, linear algebra, combinatorics - the works. But for "everyday" math, knowing basic statistics and algebra is just plain expected in every job I've had, from office work to food service. I echo the sentiments of reading Innumeracy - math skills are critical when making complex choices that involve numbers. Reading statistics in the paper, applying for a loan, or planning a budget all require math, and the less comfortable you are with it, the more likely you are to screw it up.

What I never understood was why math became the subject everybody loved to hate. I rarely heard people ask why we have to learn history or English. All of these subjects promote critical thinking, which is why you're in school in the first place.

(This was originally a response to this question, but it's late and I'm not fleshing it out more til I can think straight)

In poker news, I came in second in the tourney tonight. Now I'm going to collapse.
lyght on October 2nd, 2004 05:32 am (UTC)
Since technically I can't post there...I'll blab here.
I'd like to also point out that much of higher mathematics -- or, if you don't want to go there, high school geometry -- is about putting together coherent logical arguments to prove assertions. I was a math core at Mac, and the logic bit is probably at least as important, if not more so, that the ability to do calculations in my job as a biologist. Going beyond data analysis (which for me is cake), I also have to be able to suggest ideas as to why I should be allowed to research something or why I got the results I did and back up those ideas logically. Without that ability? No grant money.

Logic can be applied to a good number of professions, of course. Want to be a repair technician? Gotta be able to logically work through the possible causes of a problem. Want to be a lawyer? Your entire life is about logical persuasion. In any number of social interactions in the business world, you're going to need to back up your beliefs as to what is the best course of action with a combination of hard evidence and logic.
ninja in the shadows: coatseiryu_16 on October 2nd, 2004 10:52 am (UTC)
I disagree. Well, I should say I agree about the math, but I disagree with the sentiment that people don't ask why we have to learn English. Or I should say that even though people don't ask this question directly (as they might with math), it still comes up. After reaching a required proficency of reading, people start to get SCARED of English. I've known people terrified of writing essays, or reading critical papers. To many people, it's enough to read - not even attempt to spell or punctuate correctly - and all else is a waste of time.

Writing essays can help people learn how to properly shape a discussion, to organize points, and then to see how other people shape THEIR points and arguements. Reading more complex literature helps people gain a knowledge of subtext and how emotional impact is created (and how much would THAT have helped the world realize how full of shit and vinegar Dubya was, and the language of victimhood he creates?). Even learning the basics of spelling and punctuation allows one to more clearly state what they are trying to express, craft it for maximum desired impact, and even play with the basics of language.

I don't know. I think it's learning in general that people are afraid of. Humans are lazy, hairless apes who most often only want to do the bare minimum. Sad but true.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 2nd, 2004 11:37 am (UTC)
I don't think people are as vehement about not learning English as they are about not learning math - that's just my experience.

I've never met somebody who is proud they can't form a coherent sentence or write an essay (or rather, I didn't vote for him). I know people who are scared about it - that's not the same as accepting that they will suck at it for the rest of their lives and going about their business as if there was nothing they could do about it.

I have met people who are proud that they can't spell, but those aren't people I feel comfortable making friends. All of these people were Americans - all the international students I knew in Math/CS were fanatics about spelling things correctly and using good grammar. These things only makes me feel sadder for America, a land where spelling isn't important: people's pets are.

Since you were an English major, I hope to God these weren't people you took classes with. I know people who would take discrete mathematics because they weren't good at multi-variate calculus - that's a little different than someone who only knows 1, 2, and "more than 2" as numbers.

There is a general trend toward being afraid of learning - functional illiteracy and functional innumeracy are both big problems, but it's the lack of critical thinking in general that's pissing me off.
like a hundred billion hot dogshalf_double on October 4th, 2004 08:46 am (UTC)
or rather, I didn't vote for him
Thank you. I was just about to say that. I love when we're on the same wavelength.

I always disliked math because I was no good at it. I didn't understand it. Sure, I could get a passable grade in my classes, but that was because I had example sets at the end of the chapter that I could substitute numbers in. I had no idea what I was doing. A big part of the problem was that my school's math teachers were somewhat less than stellar.

The other part of the problem was that, as Teen Talk Barbie so eloquently stated, "Math is hard." I know you don't think that, but keep in mind that you are uncannily intelligent. No, it shouldn't be something a person is proud of being incapable of, but it is, for me, something that it's understandable if you're not a whiz in.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 4th, 2004 09:01 am (UTC)
Not everybody has to be a whiz at it, definitely. You have all the math skills you will likely ever need, and you made an effort to improve yourself. I don't think I would ask for (or want) anything more - if you'd spent your time on differential equations, you might not be the same robotic lesbian I've come to know and love :-)
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 2nd, 2004 11:39 am (UTC)
To paraphrase - how many people did you hear bitch about having to take a statistics class? Compare that to the number of people who bitched about having to take a humanities class, and maybe you'll see where I'm going.
Do You Wanna Be Free or You Wanna Be Right?malcubed on October 2nd, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC)
Honestly, at Mac I'd say it was about even. Especially if you include the diversity requirements, fine arts requirements, etc.
Do You Wanna Be Free or You Wanna Be Right?malcubed on October 2nd, 2004 02:33 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of it is that Math gets all of the fear that people place on the sciences in general, as well, since math is generally the only explicit requirement most humanities/artsy people are forced to deal with, whereas sciency people have a whole range of different things to deal with and get to spread out the bitching more.
The past is prologuenemoren on October 2nd, 2004 01:04 pm (UTC)
My coworker Kolene didn't finish college. In theory (and in practice- for her son), she likes the concept of a well-rounded education. In practice, she scoffs at the value of, say, English literature, and it was these classes that kept her from finishing.
Today she doesn't read books & she considers herself a "numbers person."
Do You Wanna Be Free or You Wanna Be Right?malcubed on October 2nd, 2004 02:33 pm (UTC)
I'm reminded of Karim, who would laugh at the thought of reading fiction as a complete waste of time.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 2nd, 2004 02:35 pm (UTC)
That's funny - it reminds me of Uriah.
ninja in the shadows: scaryannieseiryu_16 on October 2nd, 2004 02:03 pm (UTC)
Actually, I heard more than a few. Since I was also either surrounded by fellow English majors OR well-rounded scientists (i.e. much of the Gamers), I'd say I also didn't hear as many English-fearing voices as currently exist.

Also, even the kids in my Superheroes course were scared about writing essays, and over half of them didn't really even have a CLUE how to do it - they were just writing down either opinion papers or general observations about the work. Of course, since they were all badass and sharp as Dr. Hobo Jones's scalpel, they picked it up rather quickly, but the thing is, they hadn't been taught it, didn't really seem too keen on learning it, and were still scared of doing it.

Ten pages of math problems, to most, seem like a chore and a pain and a bother, and may invoke a little fear. A ten-page paper, to many, is terror incarnate.

But yeah. Trend toward being afraid of learning - and the lack of critical thinking in BOTH English and Math - is an alarming one.
though she be but little, she is fiercehilabeans on October 2nd, 2004 04:45 pm (UTC)
You know what I think scares people about math, and fosters the attitude you're complaining about? Math deals with concrete concepts. There is only one right answer. You want to solve F=ma for a? (Yes, I like physics.) The answer is a=F/m. You can't even make a case for a=Fm or a=m/F. 2+2? 4 (no matter what the Party says). Those answers are simply wrong, no ifs, ands, or buts. And many people today are frightened of being wrong. That fear probably also relates to the blatant disregard for grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, and spelling that we see so often today: those are hard-and-fast rules.

I don't dislike math; in fact, I think algebra is downright fun, and I'm good at it. But once I had my requirements for entering college done in high school, I didn't bother with calculus my senior year. Why? Because I'm very good at bullshitting my way through classes when I don't have the time or the inclination to work hard. And while you can bullshit your way through English classes to your heart's content as long as you follow a few basic rules (don't argue, I've done it), and throw in some bullshit instead of real work in almost any other subject, there is absolutely no room for that in math, and I think that, combined with the fear of being wrong, is what people hate about it.
King of the Voidabaddonx99 on October 2nd, 2004 08:14 pm (UTC)
Funny, that's what I loved about math and computer science courses. There's no way to bullshit, you either got it right or you didn't, and your grade isn't as subject to the passing whims of the teacher on what they feel is "correct".

Plus, there's that satisfaction that you get when you work through a difficult problem and find the right answer, like you've done something.
though she be but little, she is fiercehilabeans on October 2nd, 2004 09:11 pm (UTC)
I agree, actually. While my laziness and bullshitting ability were points I used to support my ideas, my main reasons for preferring English are that I like to read, I'm better at it, I enjoy it more, it tries my patience less, there's enough logic in it to keep me stimulated, and there's more room for creativity. It's a matter of personal preference. I'm just putting forth a theory; I neither dislike math nor am proud of an inability to do it (since that's an inability I fortunately lack), so I can only guess at what's behind the mindset.

Then again, those people who are proud of sucking at math are probably so lost to logical thought that they couldn't give you a reasonable explanation, either. I do what I can.
atelierlune on October 3rd, 2004 10:06 am (UTC)
I hated math coming up because it just didn't make sense to me. I don't know if I've always just been fundamentally unsound or what, but the way things go (or went) together in math just never came naturally. But, of course, that was never an excuse. I still took math straight through high school even when I didn't have to and right away in college again. Of course, I don't like dragging my rear end through a subject that's like mixing oil and water to me. I highly respect you and other peoples' loves of it. I just don't know why.
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 3rd, 2004 09:59 pm (UTC)
I've always liked math. There are a lot of fun things that can be done with it, and it shows up in nature quite a lot. I'm not a math genius by any stretch of the imagination though - the highest math class I took was Calculus, which I had to work my ass off to get that B that I earned.

While I'll admit that I've questioned why I had to know mathmatical concepts, I agree with you that being good at math is in general is something that is really quite essential in life. Mainly the reasons why I question why I needed to know mathmatical concepts is because I was taking Calculus, which I know I'm not going to use in the real world.

And I know all the arguments that it teaches you think logically and all that crap, but I don't think that matters for me because I already think logically. I always have thought logically, I suspect it's why I'm good at computers - because they work rather logically, and if they don't work, there is usually a logical reason for it.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 7th, 2004 10:09 pm (UTC)
In my experience, computers and mathematics are the same thing, only mathematics is a broader field.

How you come to logical thought is your own adventure, but being able to speak the language of the math logical people (as opposed to the music or history logical people) is also useful.
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 7th, 2004 10:12 pm (UTC)
I disagree about computers and mathematics being the same thing. Computers do involve math in some instances, but unless you're programming, it's easy to use computers every day without using math at all, or only very little. And even if you do program on computers, you still don't use much math. Algebra is all that's really needed to program, and a little bit of geometry at times. It's useful to be able to think about the things that are discussed in higher mathematics, classes like calculus and the like, but they aren't used at all in the computer field.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 8th, 2004 11:29 am (UTC)
Having not been a "normal" computer user for about 10 years, I would agree that math is not necessarily all that useful to the average user.

Having been a programmer for 6 years, I can tell you that I've used all of my higher mathematics in the course of my programming career. I don't use all of it every day, but every part of mathematics informs decisions in programming. Basic calculus is necessary for understanding algorithm design; combinatorics is necessary for space and time considerations in programming; number theory is necessary for asymptotic analysis; set and category theory inform object-oriented programming; algebra is the standard language of operators in most programming languages; geometry and vector math can be required for graphics applications; the list goes on and on.
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 8th, 2004 09:25 pm (UTC)
Most of what you said about math being useful to programmers makes sense to me. However, I'm still not sure how Calculus specifically is necessary for algorithm design. Could you explain that? Thanks.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 8th, 2004 10:50 pm (UTC)
Calculus is not exactly necessary, but it can help to drive the understanding of big -0, -Θ, and -ω complexity arguments (especially logarithmic ones). I found it useful to know differentiation and integration when determining complexity classes for graph and combinatorial algorithms, as well as some recursive relations. Calculus becomes just another tool in the box - just knowing differentiation and integration help to determine how long an algorithm will run, and how to determine average and worst cases for running times. Most of the hard-core applications of calculus to algorithm design are in random and stochastic algorithms, which may be too esoteric to be useful in the daily life of the "average" programmer (Lord knows I haven't used more than a few in my time).

I know some people that can do the same kind of analysis with algebraic number theory - after a certain point, every branch of mathematics converges as a different way to describe the same thing. Knuth makes roughly the same argument over and over in The Art of Computer Programming - many of his proofs rely on calculus, but they can also be proven (sometimes more elegantly) with other math.

It's pretty late, so I hope I didn't ramble too much,
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 8th, 2004 10:59 pm (UTC)
Thanks, that explains it pretty well. You definitely did not ramble too much, or at all in my opinion. It's good to hear why it's useful from someone who has actually programmed for a while. I don't call myself a programmer because the only programming I've done is in classes, and I don't think that counts.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 9th, 2004 12:09 am (UTC)
Are you considering it for the long haul, or is it more of a hobby? Or both?
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 9th, 2004 12:13 am (UTC)
I'm honestly not sure. I'm considering it for the long haul, as a career, but I'm going to take more classes before I decide for sure whether or not I want do be a programmer. I've already thought of a couple different things I could use programming skills for on the internet as a hobby, contributing to LiveJournal being one thing I could do.

I'm going to major in Computer Information Systems at Chico State, which is heavily oriented towards programming, although it does include a business minor in it. Once I'm there and have taken a few more programming classes, I am going to find out whether or not I want to be a programmer.
Hoc Est Qui Sumusdiscoflamingo on October 9th, 2004 12:21 am (UTC)
Programming is a pretty broad field now - database programming, web programming, desktop applications, custom server design, embedded systems (which is what I do right now) . . . cripes is there a whole lot.

Even if you don't want to do programming, the degree is a good foot-in-the-door - most middle-aged people have a sort of reverent awe for computer people, and the critical thinking skills are easy to demonstrate. It might be a little different out West, but it's really useful when job-hunting in the Midwest.
Nightwalkerhalfawake on October 9th, 2004 01:09 am (UTC)
You're right, it's a very broad field. Web Programming is what I have my eye on right now since I love the internet and already know a fair amount about HTML and making websites, I think it'd be a perfect fit for my knowledge and interests.

I'm sure the degree will be useful, even if it isn't as useful as it might be where you are. I'm glad the CIS degree I'm going for has a business minor included because I think that business minor will be just as important as the computer science emphasis that the major has in getting me a job.