Math — Friend or Foe?

Pop Quiz time:

You struggle through a calculus exam and get a passing but lacklustre mark.  This is a subject for which you do not have much interest and, not coincidentally, have never historically done very well.

Is your poor performance the result of:

  1. Lack of interest (and therefore motivation) in seeking to comprehend the minutiae of mathematics, algebraic notation, differential and integral calculus?
  2. Mathematics being an essentially reactionary academic discipline, useful for designing weaponry or potentially repressive computer technology, but not with any obvious humanistic or socially positive uses.

Watch humanity’s best minds struggle with the answer here (hat tip to Bob Tarantino).

I’ll give you a hint:  The ancient Greeks and Indians had a handle on calculus concepts long before they thought anything like DRM software would be invented.

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3 Responses
  1. Nathan B. says:

    I’m afraid I didn’t even pass that high school calculus test. Outstanding background for your blog, by the way! I also really like the new overall look.

  2. Josh Gould says:

    Okay, at least it’s a bit heartening that most of the people there don’t seem to be taking this all that seriously (“End the oppressive burden of thought!”).
    I may have to show this to some of my department friends tomorrow…
    (And for the record, I spent some three hours today guiding first-years through a calc tutorial…)

  3. Chris Taylor says:

    I kind of feel sorry for the guy, to be honest. The idea of pigeon-holing every little aspect of existence into “reactionary” and “progressive” buckets (or good and bad, or liberal and conservative, and so on) strikes me incredibly fruitless.
    There’s lots of stuff out there in the world that is value-neutral and is worthy entirely on its own terms and merits.