Why mathematics is not to be feared

The common response of mathematics from people is either they’re useless at it, hate it or are just plain afraid. Another thing people confuse is mathematics and arithmetic. Well believe it or not arithmetic is not that important (just as long as you know the numbers from 1 to a 100, and know your basic multiplication tables) as that is what calculators are for.

Real mathematics is algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, groups, proof and so and so forth (it is a huge list of topics and an even bigger list of sub-topics). Now I believe, academically speaking, that virtually anyone can learn maths up to A-level standard (or the 12th grade for you Americans), with just simply practice.

But why study mathematics? Firstly it is empowering, as mathematics is its own unique language and governments, businesses, politicians use facts and figures to inform you. An important branch of maths is statistics, and to even basically understand statistics just gives you a feel for numbers, figures and all that is quantifiable. Mathematics is one of the ultimate forms of knowledge, and to properly study it is to sharpen up your brain.

A second reason for studying maths is to teach your brain new skills; with lots of practice put into it, logic skills, memory, concentration and guesstimation all improve. However the math itself is totally unyielding and unforgiving, it is the Borg of all academic subjects. This puts off people, but with determination and deferred gratification (put in all the pain today for a reward tomorrow, a very useful skill to have), ones practice always generates results. That does not make maths any easier but it focuses you on how to break down a problem and make it as simple as possible.

Finally another reason for studying maths is that most of the good jobs out there: engineering, finance, law (yes even law since in America graduates must pass calc 101 or something), science, meteorology, computing and many other types of jobs require mathematical skills from higher education (A level and higher). Many people pick soft subject degrees like English, history, music, film studies and all sorts, and right now for today most employers who provide high-paying jobs want to see a degree more meatier (plus a person’s ability to work, work with others, follow orders, show initiative, common sense and all the other in-job skills) like the sciences, ICT, engineering or mathematics (there are others), all of which require knowledge of maths (A level and higher).

For the ambitious, getting some maths under your belt is one step to getting the degree you need to get where you want to go…

Of course there are certain crazies and diehards (I’m one of them) out there who study the maths for the fun of it, and for the constant challenges that arise. Hell you Star Trek guys go on about Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, well maths is that and more! The number line that goes on forever, how a function can be continuous with each incremental infinitesimal point, proving an entire set of elements or numbers that belong to some other set, defining multidimensional spaces (above 3D), and so on… Mathematics will never be finished as a subject, and that is a good thing.

Before I end this, there are a few questions I have for you the reader:

1. What is the difference between speed and velocity?

2. Are prime numbers infinite?

3. A person travels one kilometre, stops then travels half that distance again, stops then travels half of that distance again and so on, to infinity. How far did the person walk?

If you can answer these questions then you have some skill with mathematics. If not I will give you the answer to all three questions with the next post tomorrow!

Hopefully this post will enlighten you a little about maths!