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You hate math. I get it. But, you probably are basing your intense dislike of math on an extremely limited sense of what math entails. You’ve been taught that math is numbers and calculating. Memorizing difficult formulas and solving word problems about trains going in different directions for no particular reason except to torture you. But, math is much, much more. Math is about beauty. And symmetry. The glorious patterns of nature and movement. Math can enrich your understanding of dance, music, art, and design. But, to appreciate this feature of mathematics you will need to go far beyond the textbook. Not “far beyond” in the sense of advanced mathematics but “far beyond” in the sense of venturing away from the mechanics of mathematics to the underlying point. There are some excellent resources to help deepen your understanding and appreciation of mathematics. Let’s look at a few. A Strange Wilderness: If you’re especially mathphobic but want to try to overcome this why not start with a history of some interesting mathematicians. Amir Aczel’s book A Strange Wilderness is a good place to start. We often forget that mathematics was developed by real people and these people had real lives and real stories. And, real reasons for developing mathematics in the way they did. Finding out about this history can help humanize the numbers. One to Nine: Do you think numbers are boring. Why not take an indepth look at “the inner life” of them. In Andrew Hodges’s book One to Nine, he devotes a chapter to each of the numbers 1–9. Each has an interesting story to tell and can enhance your appreciation for numbers. Symmetry/Why Beauty is Truth: Some basic concepts are critical to an understanding of mathematics but these often get lost in a sea of formulas and word problems in standard textbooks. These two books by Marcus Sautoy and Ian Stewart illustrate the importance of the concept of symmetry and show very well that mathematics can be beautiful and help us understand the notion of what beauty really is. Everyday Calculus: You’ve heard that math is all around you but have you ever really understood what that means or whether it is true? If not, then this book by Oscar Fernandez may prove enlightening. Through numerous examples, he illustrates how our life is suffused with the mathematics of calculus and how an understanding of the concepts of calculus can enhance our understanding of daily life. By doing so we can also improve our understanding of calculus. Innumeracy: This has to stand as a classic text for making the argument that math literacy is important to everyday life. In it, John Allen Paulos argues that a good sense of numbers, probability, and statistics are crucial for understanding the world around us. He provides real examples and a real motivation to understand that mathematics is not just an esoteric subject to study and forget but an important tool to use to solve problems and understand world events. Like most other subjects offered in school, math has been made boring and irrelevant. It does not need to be this way. But, unless you get away from the textbook and the overemphasis on calculating you may never discover the real utility and beauty that lies behind the numbers.
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KEVIN J. BROWNEPhilosopher / Educator These blog posts contain links to products on Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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April 2023
