[extropy-chat] Maths ability (was: Fight for Evolution?)

ben benboc at lineone.net
Sat Mar 4 11:41:50 UTC 2006

Amara Graps wrote:

> Pete Bertine pkbertine at hotmail.com :

>> My love of reading and writing was all consuming and I poured over 
>> advanced theory in physics from an early age, trying to make sense 
>> of the math. Again, sadly, I possessed no aptitude for mathematics.
> "aptitude.." ? Did you try?
> I failed calculus twice when I was 17 and 18. On the third time, with
> a good teacher, I got As and Bs. Again for differential equations 
> and partial differential equations, I failed in the beginning. Again
> with hard work and a good teacher I got As.
> Sorry, but I don't buy the argument that one can't do math. You 
> didn't try.

Amara, i'm a good example of someone with a low aptitude for maths. I
*want* to understand it, and have tried on countless occasions, but i
just don't seem to get it. i can work out percentages and even do a
little trigonometry, but only by dint of memorising the procedures. I
don't UNDERSTAND them, and you have no idea how much frustration that
causes me sometimes. As a kid, it was differentiation that finally made
me throw the towel in. Totally baffling. Believe me, i'd love to
understand maths, it's not laziness, it's something else. As a kid i've
been in tears of frustration at not understanding it.

I regard this as my own personal disability, as i can see how easy it
seems to many others, like yourself and Spike. You'll probably laugh (or
cry) at this, but i still don't know the answer to (-1) - (-1). I can
get several answers to this. I've been told the rules before, but
i don't understand the why of it (if you subtract, is that going to the
left, i.e. more negative, or is it going towards zero?).

That's the kind of confusion that has held me back in maths. I assume
it's a similar thing with others like Pete. Perhaps it's a result of bad
early education (nobody actually told me what squared and cubed really
mean, i just suddenly realised it one day. A real "DOH!" moment!),
perhaps i'm just stupid, maybe it's a genetic thing, but i wish i could
overcome it.

It takes more than 'just trying' for some people, believe me, i know.

Anyone can memorize a bunch of rules, sure, that's how i got through a
maths exam - eventually, after realising that was the only strategy
that was going to work (got a B, which is more an indictment of the exam
system than a testament to my ability) - but that's not enough, is it?

I can multiply any number by 11 in my head (any number at all, as long
as its not too big to keep it in my head), but it's just a trick. I
don't really understand the method. That's not maths, is it? Anyone can
learn the tricks. It's the understanding that's important.

But i haven't given up hope, and still try different learning strategies
when i find time for it. One day, one day i will understand complex
numbers. And what the hell they're for! It's just that i might need to
re-wire my brain to do it.


(PS, i'm chuckling at the image of Pete 'pouring' over physics. He's
obviously been in tears as well)

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