No matter whether math is your favorite subject or your least, whether it’s easy or hard, at some point every person asks, “Why do I need to learn this crazy stuff?” The traditional answers of “because it’s on the final!” or “it’s a big part of the SAT!” or “to learn logical thinking” always felt unconvincing to me, even though I love math. It seems like many people get through life just fine without it. What’s the big deal?
I have many reasons why I think math is valuable and useful, but today I just want to mention two reasons that are underappreciated and I think will surprise you.
Some of the best lessons from math come on the most difficult problems. You may have to check a reference first, then do a smaller but similar problem, then perhaps try more than one method, and sometimes even walk away from the problem and come back later. All that time you need to maintain a focus on the goal, and remain calm. You need patience, and faith in yourself. Oh yeah, these are the same skills you’ll need to do anything in your life that’s difficult! In modern parlance, it’s mindfulness. Doing math can be almost meditative, and it is practice for leading a good and successful life. Whether your goal is to go to the Olympics, to graduate Summa Cum Laude, make a billion, or raise a healthy and happy family, math can help you.
All true and good, but here is another view. Do you need any reason to listen to music? No, it just makes us feel good and makes our lives better. We don’t usually listen to music in order to achieve something else, we listen because it makes life worth living. Reading a novel is similar, it makes life better. Admiring and appreciating great works of art: the same. Just like music or literature can make your little portion of the Universe calm and orderly, appreciating math can do the same. Humans have been exploring math, making math, playing with math for as long as we’ve been here, and appreciating the rich legacy that our ancestors and predecessors have left for us helps us to be better humans.
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