Wednesday, March 18, 2009

There Is No Escaping The Influence, And The Virtues, Of Math

A while back, I highlighted a Washington Post article that asked "Where's the algebra?", where the author actually questioned where mathematics that we learn in schools are actually applied and useful. I believe I and several other bloggers have sufficiently "ridicule" and replied to such a question with ample examples on where the algebra is.

This more recent article, without specifically addressing that question, actually answers it in a more general form. The writer took on the theme introduced by Wigner on the "unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics". I had mentioned about this Wigner article in an earlier blog entry, so you should read it to get a clue on what is meant here, if you haven't already.

The problem, of course, is that most people, particularly when they're in school, don't see how math is relevant to their lives. In an ironic way, this may be a direct result of its unreasonable effectiveness.

Although math historically grew out of practical needs, such as the need to measure land or to calculate financial transactions, it soon reached an impressive level of abstraction, a level that seemed to divorce it from the real world.

This abstraction makes math a difficult study, and also leads many students to wonder why they must study such formal fare. But abstraction is also math's virtue, for by refusing to restrict itself to any particular study, it becomes applicable to everything.


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