Thursday, November 05, 2009

Essays On Math

Recently I read two essays on math. Two very different perspectives - one by PhD in literature , Mark Slouka and the other by a mathematician , Paul Lockhart. The former considers the consequences of math and science trumping frivolous subjects like literature in our education system. The later laments the way math is taught in schools. Both perspectives stand on their own are excellent on their own merits when you read them together, the convergences are fascinating. Slouka says :

The humanities, done right, are the crucible within which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do but how to be.

Lockhart says of math present day math education :

In fact, if I had to design a mechanism for the express purpose of destroying a child’s natural
curiosity and love of pattern-making, I couldn’t possibly do as good a job as is currently being done— I simply wouldn’t have the imagination to come up with the kind of senseless, soul- crushing ideas that constitute contemporary mathematics education.

Neither art nor math is winning when they treated as fundamentally different things, meant to serve different objectives. If they did converge as Lockhart suggests - because math is an art form too - then they may both benefit. He quotes G.H Hardy :

A mathematician, like a painter or poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas.

No comments: