A short look at my personal experiences with math, why I'm starting with arithmetic, and a glimpse of what this series will cover.
Today, I start learning everything. And I'm going to start with arithmetic, cause, like I said, I'm starting at the very beginning. What I want to do is just start over again and learn math at my own pace, taking time to stop and smell the mathematical roses. And this time, I want to have fun with it! I want to explore and play and see if I can enjoy math for a change. You know, like Vi Hart does it? Oh, I could marry that girl.
Unfortunately, because of school, I always hated math. When I think of math class, I think of memorizing formulas, boring teachers, and being bored out of my mind.
So, instead, I want to just learn math the way I wish I could've learned it in the first place. I'm not gonna focus on boring algorithms like how to do long division; no, I want to just focus on the fundamental concepts behind it all. I want to understand this stuff for a change!
And I don't have all it figured out yet, but I do know I want to start out by examining how the brain understands math in the first place, and that's mostly because I have a bunch of really cool books on neuroscience and numerical cognition.
And in addition to that... Get it? In addition? ;) In addition to that, I also want to review all the fundamental operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division... all that basic stuff that you have to know if you're gonna take over the world.
But first, I have so many questions that I need to answer, like what is the difference between the commutative property and the assocative property? What is an irrational number? What is a number? How old are we when we first start to understand humbers? And how many animals can understand numbers? And which came first: the abstract concept of numbers, or the numerals we use to represent those numbers? And why is a negative times a negative equal to a positive? And is math really invented, or is it discovered?
(Attempting to build a house of cards and failing miserably.) I know arithmetic might not be the most exciting thing to start with, but you need to have a solid foundation before... you need to have... a solid... founda-shhhhhi — OK, new metaphor. This is what I'm not going to do with the foundation of my mathematical understanding. (Throwing the deck of cards in the air, starting a game of 52 pickup.)
Of course, you don't have to be good at arithmetic to do more advanced math. For example, when I took calculus, I had no problem with the calculus part. Limits and derivatives, piece of cake! But when it came down to simple arithmetic... I had a lot of, um, brain farts, let's call them. Oopsies. I was so slow, I didn't even finish my first college calculus exams, and, um, yeah... That didn't work out too well. But at least I know enough math to know that 55% is a failing grade.
I would love to work my way back up to calculus again, but I want to make sure I do it by understanding why everything works rather than just memorizing how it works. So I have my work cut out for me. But I hope you join me, and learn math with me, and send me all your questions about arithmetic and math in general and I'll see if I can find the answers. There's a good chance they might be right behind me.
- Flute Concerto in G Major, K. 212 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, from Musopen.org
- Doodling in Math: Spirals, Fibonacci, and Being a Plant [Part 3 of 3] by Vi Hart
- Old photo of math teacher by foundphotoslj on Flickr (no longer online)
- Video game sound effect by Daniel Hjerth (sapht on FreeSound.org)