Another Mathematics Rant

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What do you need maths for? Why do we study calculus, trigonometry, Pythagoras’ theorem and all that stuff?

Have you ever looked at a bridge? Let’s say the Forth Bridge in Edinburgh.

Here’s a picture:

Forth Rail Bridge

See all those little triangles? Why do bridges use triangles? Because they are the rigid and most stable of shapes. How can we calculate that, besides by expensive and dangerous trial and error? Mathematics. Without understanding Maths, engineers wouldn’t be able to build bridges like this.

They also wouldn’t be able to build tall buildings. Have you ever seen the inside of a sky scraper? The girders are made of triangles. Because they’re more secure than square/rectangle shapes.

Other shapes that are interesting – that number ‘Pi’, the one that gave you headaches for the area and perimeter of circles and spheres? Why on earth would we need to know that?

How many circles and spheres can you think of? Wheels, cogs, discs, cans, towers, soccer balls, wrecking balls, jeez, I could go on… The size of these things and their relation to other things quite literally makes modern life carry on. Actually thinking about it, the theory of circles and their related physics also makes the world go around…

Earth From Space

Every think of that?

When boats sail, planes fly, satellites orbit, somebody needs to know how to calculate all of those distances and relations and things. You like your satnav? Isn’t GPS great? It wouldn’t work if someone mucked up those calculations.

And on to calculus. Equations. Statistics.

What do you think informs medical science? It’s not just about recognising the results in a lab – it’s about being able to analyse the data. Work out probabilities. Being able to produce those findings in a graph which can be understood by people without than understanding. I guarantee you the scientists doing the research are more able mathematicians than the bankers funding their projects. How do you convince the money-men to give you more cash to continue the work you’re doing on curing a cancer without being able to analyse numbers, make them behave and using them to prove your point persuasively?

The most common response I have heard to my rants on this subject is: But why do we all have to do it in high school when not all of us are going to do these jobs?

It’s because everyone should be given the chance to.

Not all of you will get to college. It’s a sad but true fact.

But the vast vast majority of you will get to some form of high school. You will have access to education at that time and place for free and THAT is the time to examine and experiment and decide whether or not you are capable of understanding mathematics and the basics of theoretical physics.

We need more maths capable people in this world. We need inventors and scientists and engineers and creators and innovators who understand the literal rules of how our physical world works. The point behind understanding mathematics is so that we are not reinventing the wheel every time someone has a new bright idea. Knowing how maths and physics dominate this world’s reality can be a spring board to some pretty awesome stuff.

That sort of knowledge and potential should be explored when people are young and their brains are unfolding and – most importantly – when education is free and universal.

That’s why you need to look at trig and calculus and Pythagoras in high school. For everyone whose brain gets bent, there will be another person who is lit up and inspired. They might invent your new gadget, your new car, a new modern convenience which revolutionises life. They might change your world forever. You might hate it. But they might love it. So pay attention, work your hardest and if it really is all Greek to you, shut up and sit tight and hope that one of your classmates might change the world as a result of everything they’re hearing sat in that exact same room as you right now.

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