[extropy-chat] Maths ability

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Sat Mar 4 18:35:59 UTC 2006

Eliezer wrote

> I'm not laughing, Ben.  I've met other people who, no matter how hard 
> they truly and honestly try, will never be comfortable with algebra; who 
> will never understand the fundamental theorem of integral calculus.

This is only a *slight* exaggeration. Unbelievable effort can accomplish
relative miracles, but the gist of what Eliezer is saying is correct:

> I expect you'll get a lot of well-meaning advice from list members who 
> simply can't conceive of what it's like to be bad at math.  It is 
> theoretically possible that, as they will helpfully tell you, you've 
> just been doing it wrong.  But in all probability, you're right about 
> the brain rewiring.

Damn right.  Me, every since I was a little kid, I had a "math line"
that quickly, visually, and easily came to me that told me the answer
to many problems.  See "The Math Gene" by Keith Devlin.

Adrian writes

> A personal anecdote: for most of my K-12 years, I never understood why
> high grades were at all important...

Yeah?  Well, I *knew* Adrian when he was 13 (he's forgotten it).
Now I like teaching math to small groups of really smart kids. When I 
interviewed Adrian, he was so far ahead of anyone else I was working
with that I never invited him back. It was simply effortless for him
to manipulate great gobs of algebra with glee.

> [Ben writes]
> > 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.  [No!] It's the understanding that's
> > important. [Mostly]

> Hate to break it to you, but sometimes it *is* the tricks.  A whole lot
> of tricks.

But a lot of tricks were intuitively obvious to you when you were 13.
You got really good math genes at least from your dad LeRoy (who was
an acquaintance of mine).

> Of course, that depends on where exactly you draw the line
> between "tricks" and true understanding.  Perhaps it might
> be more accurate to say, sometimes it seems like nothing
> more than a collection of tricks.

With emphasis on *seems*, of course.

Also, everyone keep in mind that there is of course a *correlation*
between IQ and math ability, or chess ability (which I have studied
all my life, some student of mine were masters and grandmasters).
These *talents* are greatly helped by high IQ, but they're something
definitely extra.


More information about the extropy-chat mailing list