Guest Post: Math With Purpose

Chris Allen is a new addition to the AcerPlacer family. He is working towards a degree in engineering at Weber State University.

Often times the study of math is derided as a secondary subject, essentially a means to another subject such as physics or engineering. We sometimes see our math classes as merely an object to overcome to get to another goal. It’s somewhat rare for a student to stop and really consider, “Why even all the fuss about these?” In an age that we can simply take 15 seconds and look up a formula for anything we could ever want then magically we get an output that’s presumably correct, why bother with learning these archaic methods that can be thousands of years old (read: out of date)? Sure, the people who program the black boxes that feed us the right answers should/need to know this stuff, but I don’t.

The answer to that lies in part simply to build an intuition for when the black box might be feeding us a helping of bovine excrement. Take the story of an engineer who was running analysis on a trailer. This was a completely enclosed trailer and no part stuck outside of the trailer’s base. After putting a model of the trailer into the computer, it gave the center of mass about 3 feet outside of the trailer, which is physically impossible. However, this engineer trusted the computer all the way to the next project meeting, much to the engineer’s embarrassment.

Building this intuition for how the math outputs should look like is only part of what we learn as we learn different methods and approaches in math. The real gold in a strong mathematical education is not expecting 2+2=4, but by teaching us a diverse way of thinking about the world around us. How we can use a few basic rules and a bit of thinking out side of the box to solve nearly any puzzle. It’s a field that, despite appearances, creativity in mathematics is the most rewarded attribute.

We sometimes are told it’s important to learn math because it teaches us how to think, or some might say that that it teaches us different ways to think. But looking at the vast diversity in the mathematical fields of thought, I think the real reason why we should all study mathematics is that it teaches and reminds us that we can think.

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