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A Mathematician’s Lament

The first thing to understand is that mathematics is an art. The difference between math and the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.

I say about 90% of the population hates math. As a person who belong in a field that’s a branch of mathematics, it’s really hard to find a person that appreciates what I do.

It’s easy for a musician to find a person who appreciates what they do for what it is, instead of how useful it is. When it comes to mathematician, it’s next to impossible to find a non-mathematicians to respect what you do for what it is.

Part of the problem is that nobody has the faintest idea what it is that mathematicians do.

Nobody enjoys music because it’s useful. Nobody spends hours to learn how to read because it’ll be useful when it comes to reading a manual to operate a DVD player, rather to be mused by the wonderful words of Shakespeare.

As soon as you make something “useful” then “fun” of the subject gets trashed out the door. Who teaches music so that the child will become a TV commercial jingle composer?

Yet people perceive and teach math as an useful tool, and therefore as a consequence people hate it. Yes, it is true that it is a useful tool, like music is useful in selling Pizza Bagel Bites, but that’s not why I enjoy math.

In a wonderful essay, “A Mathematician’s Lament”, Paul Lockhart paints a beautiful illustration of aforementioned idea: how math is an art, how the current education system is destroying it, and how it ought to be taught.

If you ever thought to yourself that “I hate math” or “I’m not a math person”, do yourself a favor and please read this essay.

It’s actually a fun read, I swear!

Download the essay

of course, all the quotes above are from the essay

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eungyu said,

March 13, 2008 @ 1:43 pm

i still remember my first calculus exposure, how i felt as i discovered the concept of ‘limits’. it was just as exciting as listening to a masterpiece.

Timothy Kim said,

March 14, 2008 @ 9:56 am

My first cathartic mathematical moment that I can remember was when I saw that sin and cos functions can be parametrized to form a circle.