Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Taming The Math Monster

The Math Monster

Got any ideas about the mythology of the 'parabola' or a dazzling grasp of the complex arabesque of calculus? If not then probably we are on the same page. Image my consternation when I chanced upon the hideous math monster presented with delectable phrases in the Op-ed section of the New York Times. Don’t believe me? Eh? Look at this:

The beloved math-geek, Steven Strogatz, makes the breathtakingly ugly mathematical splendors look so easy in his article. Take an X and now take a Y and then do some mumbo jumbo brain tricks and you will know exactly what y = 4 – x2 is. That is exactly how Steven's simple math loving trick sounded to my math-hating ears. I read the whole article with great interest and even though initially I felt like having P.H.Nerd from one of the world's top geekological institute, I lost my interest half way and started yawning. Then, because of my natural urge to delve into the unknown (which in this case refers to the [un] holy world of numbers) I decided to read the article again from start to finish. And lo! Would you believe it, I actually thought that things he was saying made good sense to my un-mathematical brain. I loved the intelligent analogy that Strogatz pointed out between common household tools (hammer, nails, etc.) and intrinsic mathematical problems, especially the one where he says that the number 4 in the equation y = 4 – x2 acts as a nail for hanging a picture on a wall. I love hanging pictures on the wall. Strogatz's words made so much sense that way, but don’t expect me to tell you how they made sense to me, they just did. May be it is the simplicity of his approach that made the highly technical problems seems easy to approach. In a world where people are running after ways of making simple look outrageously difficult and unapproachable, Strogatz's simple, all-for-dummies approach seem to work just the right way. And talking about the right way, what is exactly the right way of knowing things? Learning to understand simpler aspects of nature in an unnaturally difficult way or learning the same thing in a simplified over- the-counter manner? If you ask me I would say that since it is the end that matters the most, we should grab the option of learning difficult things the simpler way. That would not only abate innate fears about a subject or a language, but also make the subject look strikingly attractive. Learning is supposed to be a natural, spontaneous process and the more we make it look difficult and unobtainable, the more the process would seem elusive to you.

I remember in my childhood I had the innate fear about mathematics;I never could do well in that subject because I was always told that math is a guy-friendly subject that is too difficult to grab. My teachers, my parents all forced me to spend hours on this subject and I hated every bit of that ordeal. Therefore, naturally, the kind of natural love that I harbor for English never arose for mathematics. To me it always remained a dull and drab world of obscure numbers that I needed to learn halfheartedly to pass the examinations. I now feel that if I had somebody like Strogatz as my teacher may be I would have done well in math or at least have harbored an amicable feeling for the subject.

Now that I have discernable pattern in front of my eyes as to how to defragment my brain and add some happy-numerical experiences, I would definitely take a chance. I don’t have any teacher to please anymore, so I guess I can now rear some real mathspertice. With power tool at hand I know I can nail down the problem once and for all.

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