Monday, January 20, 2014

Math: I Don't Always Get You, But I Still Love You

SO THERE COMES A POINT sometimes, were I just have to put up my hands in surrender, and admit that I have no idea what in the world is going on. It can hurt my pride a bit, but it needs to be said.

So, while I was off searching for my 'weekend filler' posts I've been putting up all weekend over at the Indie Writers Monthly blog I stumbled upon something that made me stop and, well, spend a few minutes pondering.

I found this post over at Sploid about the sum of all positive real numbers being -(1/12). You know,, 1+2+3+4+5... Now, that is counterintuitive, I mean, I can't think of a logical means in which adding up all numbers would equal that. But that doesn't really bother me much, you can't get a handle on many concepts if you can't deal with a bit of counter intuitivity in your life. I watched the video below and was ready to move on, they'd tried to explain, but I didn't quite grasp, but I had decided to just shrug my shoulders and not to put any of my brain power to the thing.

Then, towards the end (around the final 2 mins of the video), physicist Tony Padilla just starts talking about the difference between a 'really big number' and infinity. He ends up making a very passionate case for the beauty of math. Even if you skip the first 6 mins or so, I encourage everyone to watch the last 2.

The reason that this moved me so, it because that I've never come across this before, and I've not been able to wrap my head around. Now, there are tons of things that I struggle with. When I was in college, one of the times anyway, when I was determined to be a biologist, I spent a few semesters doing nothing aside from taking math courses.

Now, I was never a guy who especially loved math. I was always pretty good at it, but didn't enjoy it very much. And much like writing, if you don't practice it all the time, you tend to not be able to really excel. So I figured I'd do it all in one go I suppose. Anyway, I was struggling with something and was having to have a one on one with the calc prof, and while we were in her office, and she explained the concept to me half a dozen times, I finally sorta got it.


And I asked her, is there stuff that you struggled with like this, things that you just don't get? And she told me that while she was in grad school that she did deal with stuff that was so abstract that she was only able to get through it using only her determination, and that it was really beyond her ability to comprehend.

We talked for a bit, and she tried to explain to me some of the things that blew her mind. It all went over my head. But regardless, that made me think of Salieri's curse in the movie about Mozart, Amadeus. Where he was one of the few men alive that was gifted enough musically to realize the depths of Mozart's genius.

The same thing came up again in Good Will Hunting, where Matt Damon's prof at MIT (well, Matt Damon's character's prof) mentioned that there were only a handful of people on earth that could tell the difference between the two of them (the prof being the lesser mathematical talent), but that he was saddened that he was one of those people.

Now I came to grips with my limitations a long time ago. It doesn't bother me as much that I don't understand as much as it used to. I'm a guy who can't tell the difference between Will Hunting and his math prof, but I'm still curious. So, if you, like me, want a detailed explanation of the proofs... see the vid below. But be warned, it is very mathy.

But still awesome.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I did all right in math but not a favorite subject. I do use it at my job though, so glad I was able to absorb enough in college to get by.

M.J. Fifield said...

Math has forever been my nemesis. Just thinking about the Quadratic Formula is enough to make me break out in hives. I definitely couldn't tell the difference between Will Hunting and the Professor.

Tony Laplume said...

There's a good metaphor in there for any number of others concepts. Sometimes I know I read differently than other people because I really do read differently, and think differently...Often you're encouraged to try and think of everyone in the same terms, and so you try to explain away differences between them. But in the end, we really do have differences. And sometimes it's awesome to think about, and's not. But I guess that's life.

Briane P said...

I'm not gonna watch it, although I appreciate the invite. First, I sort of hate watching videos on the Internet. I don't know why. I get really bored. I watch MOVIES, sure, and TV shows, but most videos... pleh.

Second, when I hear that counterintuitive math stuff I get really angry and start trying to prove people wrong even though my math abilities are roughly 8th grade level, and it leads to no good: just a bunch of angry, misspelled hate mail sent to the MIT mathematics department, and another page in my FBI profile.

Sarah Allen said...

Wow, that is awesome! But yeah, there's a reason I was an english major...

Sarah Allen
(From Sarah, with Joy)

Andrew Leon said...

Another set of videos from you I will have to come back and watch later. :/
Today was not my day to watch videos because my kids are out of school, and it just doesn't work when they're around. Plus I didn't really sleep last night, so I don't have any head space for it.

I'm one of those math people, though. I just got tired of it. You can usually tell the difference between people in whether they can understand that "infinity" is not just another number and that "infinity" comes in different sizes.

Jay Noel said...

What's neat about math is that it's an absolute truth. Probably the only real absolute truth that exists.

Everything else is subjective.

A Beer For The Shower said...

I'm one of those ignorant ignoramuses who was always good enough to pass math, but hated every moment of it. I don't see beauty in numbers, but I will admit that numbers do come up in writing. And in comedy. Like the magic number of 3 - things are always funny in threes. No more, no less. Don't ask me why, but it's never failed us.

Heather Holden said...

Math has always been one of my least favorite subjects. I have no idea how I ever managed to pass any of my classes on it! XD

Cindy said...

I never appreciated math until after high school..for some reason. Anyway, will check out the videos!

Christine Rains said...

I was really good at math until they added letters into it. My brain refused to deal with it. I love science, though, and wished I had more of a mind for grasping formulas and equations.

Milo James Fowler said...

Very cool -- in a mathy way. I used to like math before I started teaching it, grading avalanches of homework. SO glad my principal allowed me to start a creative writing elective instead. Now I grade avalanches of essays, stories, and poems.