Why don’t people appreciate math?

“It saddens me that educated people don’t even know that my subject exists.” – Paul Halmos

Why is it that so many people have no idea what mathematics is really about?  Why is it that the general public views math as boring and ugly?  Because most people view mathematicians as human calculators, computing gigantic multiplication problems in their heads.  While, in some rare cases, this is certainly true, I have learned from some brilliant mathematicians who couldn’t even master their times tables.

What the general public doesn’t realize is that mathematics is so much more than computation.   It is about discovering patterns and relationships between ideas.  In many cases, there is something beautiful when a mathematical idea makes a clever connection between two concepts, especially when it is unexpected.

Recently, in an OP-ED piece in the New York Times, Manil Suri attempts to explain what mathematics is about and why it is something to appreciate, much in the same way one appreciates art or music.  As he puts it in his piece,  “you can appreciate art without acquiring the ability to paint, or enjoy a symphony without being able to read music.  Math also deserves to be enjoyed for its own sake, without being constantly subjected to the question, ‘When will I use this?'”

Click here to read his article titled “How to Fall in Love with Math.”  You will not be disappointed.

One Response to Why don’t people appreciate math?

  1. Thomas Heye says:

    Hi. That’s not a great surprise to me. Just look at one of those Bourbaki-style textbooks: I guess anyone has a notion of an angle; but yet it must first be ‘defined’ … I remember one book about group theory — it contained *fourteen* pages, just filled with notation (and where it was first introduced). But do you find anything *why* something is defined this way or that? Mostly not. So who should be interested in such a thing? Whow many people today still know how Napir came to logarithms?

    So imho it is sort of wishful thinking to get appreciation ‘for nothing’. For example, I derived the formula for the n-th Fibonacci number using matrices / eigenvalues. But when I tried to do it differently, I noticed how much harder that is. So I can appreciate now what Euler (probably) has done to find that formula.

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