[extropy-chat] Maths ability

Samantha Atkins sjatkins at mac.com
Mon Mar 6 02:50:32 UTC 2006

I could be wrong but I think there are times when kid's brains seize  
up over something new to learn that somehow goes against the grain.   
For me it was "imaginary numbers".  I was really good at math (the  
more abstract the better) but my brain rebelled that any of my  
blessed numbers could be "imaginary".  I had to do some serious on  
the spot meditation/psychological rewiring to get past this seizing  
up.  I somehow knew that if I did not that I wouldn't trust math ever  
again or my ability to understand it.  It was real work to get past  
that little brain glitch.  I suspect that a lot of people hit those  
in various subjects and never get past them.

- samantha

On Mar 4, 2006, at 9:37 AM, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> ben wrote:
>> 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?).
>> 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.
> 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.  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.  A fast, powerful nonhuman intelligence is  
> going to
> have to do some gradual, subtle neural tinkering before your mind  
> wakes
> up to complex numbers.  (I would not advise that you try doing it to
> yourself.)
> When you're born richer than other people, you can, if that makes you
> feel guilty, give away the money.  When you're born smart - well, you
> can't give one IQ point to fifty people.  I'm glad I don't have that
> choice to make.  It would be too cruel.  You can use talent or  
> waste it,
> but you can't give it away.  The only thing I can offer you is that  
> I'll
> go on using my own mathematical abilities to work toward the day  
> when it
> all starts making sense to you.
> -- 
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                          http://singinst.org/
> Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
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