[extropy-chat] Maths ability

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Sun Mar 5 18:49:23 UTC 2006

ben writes

> --- Lee Corbin <lcorbin at tsoft.com> wrote:
> >> 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.
> What?!
> I'm not sure if i understand what you mean. Are you saying that you (and
> Adrian) have some kind of intuition about maths, and answers spring out
> at you in the way that, say, spelling mistakes in a sentence can?

Absolutely. Devlin probably has an on-line exegesis, or the reviews
of his books probably do.  What I am specifically referring to is
a number-line or number-form. When you close your eyes can you "see"
a line that perhaps goes from left to right with the numbers on it?
There are so many interesting things about number forms I could go
into, starting with my absolute shock at age 16 when I realized that
I had them for days of the week, colors, history, the year (it's
circular with January at the top and goes clockwise), and that other
people did *not* have or need them. I can hardly think without 'em.

If you ask me what 46 plus 9 is, I *must* see a region on a circle
at about the 4 o'clock position where the numbers are laid out, and
I just have a feel for about how big the answer should be. Fifty-
something. Then in 3rd grade I learned verbally that the last digit
should be a "5". If you tell me a day, or a date, I will not remember
it unless I take the (very quick) moment to put it on the line.

Now I have been studying since I was a teenager the difference between
my friends who were good at chess but not at math and vice-versa, and
those of us who were *naturally* good at both things. As I said at
the time, I would swear that I use exactly the same neurons for both.

See Devlin's writings for the most current info, or the book "The 
Number Sense" by Stanislas Dehaene.

> If so, i find that idea deeply weird.

I still do.

> Anyway, this is getting a little bit off track. My point was not to ask 
> for help with maths (!) but to point out that 'try harder' is not really 
> much use to someone who has difficulty with it. It's like telling a 
> depressed person to just pull themselves together.

It depends on how important it is to you. I'm pretty much convinced
these days that anyone with above normal intelligence can do anything
if they work long enough and hard enough, but then I have to say that
I have some pretty draconian ideas in mind. If you *HAD* to become
very good at doing definite integrals in math, you *could* do it. But
I shudder to think of the work and the extremes you might have to go

Short of that, I agree with you.

> Actually, it's quite possible that having people that are inherently 
> innumerate could be a good thing. Diversity and all that.

Most of call *for* diversity are bull;  this is probably no exception :-)
We all should and later will be vastly better at lots of things.


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