The beauty of numbers and the elements of math

17 Jun

Most people really hate numbers and math, but there’s some real good shit in the nuts and bolts of it all.
These columns might present a different way of thinking for people who were taught in the “standard” way… or by a teacher who just didn’t know how to make the subject really available for consumption.

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/series/steven_strogatz_on_the_elements_of_math/index.html

From the author:
I have a friend who gets a tremendous kick out of science, even though he’s an artist. Whenever we get together all he wants to do is chat about the latest thing in evolution or quantum mechanics. But when it comes to math, he feels at sea, and it saddens him. The strange symbols keep him out. He says he doesn’t even know how to pronounce them.
In fact, his alienation runs a lot deeper. He’s not sure what mathematicians do all day, or what they mean when they say a proof is elegant. Sometimes we joke that I just should sit him down and teach him everything, starting with 1 + 1 = 2 and going as far as we can.
Crazy as it sounds, over the next several weeks I’m going to try to do something close to that. I’ll be writing about the elements of mathematics, from pre-school to grad school, for anyone out there who’d like to have a second chance at the subject — but this time from an adult perspective. It’s not intended to be remedial. The goal is to give you a better feeling for what math is all about and why it’s so enthralling to those who get it.

On to the articles:

From Fish to Infinity
A debut column on math features an introduction to numbers, from upsides (they’re efficient) to down (they’re ethereal).

Rock Groups
Treating numbers concretely — think rocks, for instance — can make calculations less baffling.


The Enemy of my Enemy
The disturbing concept of subtraction, and how we deal with the fact that negative numbers are so . . . negative.

Division and its DiscontentsThis week, division — where many students hit the mathematical wall — is made less confusing.

The Joy of X
The series moves on to high school math, specifically algebra and formulas.

Finding Your RootsComplex numbers, a hybrid of the imaginary and the real, are the pinnacle of number systems.

Square Dancing
Geometry, intuition and the long road from Pythagoras to Einstein.

Think Globally
Differential geometry can show us the shortest route between two points.

Power ToolsIn math, the function of functions is to transform.

Take it to the LimitArchimedes recognized the power of the infinite, and in the process laid the groundwork for calculus.


Change We Can Believe In
Differential calculus can show you the best path from A to B, and Michael Jordan’s dunks can help explain why that is.

It Slices, It Dices
The integral, perhaps mathematics’ most graceful sign, is a foundation of calculus.

Chances Are
The improbable thrills of probability theory.

Group Think
Group theory, one of the most versatile parts of math, bridges the arts and sciences.

Hilbert Hotel
An exploration of infinity as this math series, not being infinite, comes to an end.

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