A reader sent me a link to this, thinking that it would be of interest to me, and he was absolutely right. I actually needed to let it sit overnight before writing anything because it made me so angry.
I’ve come to realize that probably one reason I struggled with algebra,
geometry et.al., was that it seemed to me that these were basically
reactionary academic disciplines, useful for designing weaponry or
potentially repressive computer technology, but not with any obvious
humanistic or social positive uses.
If I’m wrong about this, I’d appreciate it if people could show me how this
discipline can have progressive uses.
I also feel this could be useful in developing better ways of teaching
higher mathematics if such uses could be found.
Leaving aside the incredible irony of an alleged “progressive” participating in a discussion with a community of people he would never
have been able to reach without the products of that “reactionary” discipline, I have one basic response to this kind of babble.
That’s it: just “Math is”. Math is a way of describing things using
rules. It’s unavoidable. It’s a fundamental part of how we understand
the world. Whether you know it or not, you’re constantly using math
in everything you do, every day. Even speech necessarily involves math – because communication is the exchange of information; but the sounds that you make with your voice don’t have any intrinsic connection to the
meaning that you are attempting to communicate. Your brain goes through a process of receiving those sounds, translating them from sound waves to nerve signals, identifying patterns in the nerve signals that correspond to particular phonemes, identifying phoneme patterns to recognize particular words, and then using your knowledge and inference rules, determines the meaning of the sequence of words you hear. That’s math.
But even ignoring the basic math wired into our brains… If you take
away math, you wouldn’t have your car. Or your house. Because both of them are built from components that required manufacturing processes that could not have been designed without math. The vaccines that have virtually eradicated
many common diseases – without which, many (most?) of us would not be alive
today – they would never have been developed without math. Your telephone could not exist without math. Virtually nothing that we see, touch, or interact with in the course of our lives could exist without someone who knew math being involved in producing it.
But our progressive friend either doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care about any of this. And that’s the part that makes me truly angry. So much of modern discourse, particularly in the left wing (which is where I
fit, politically), has been taken over by post-modernist deconstructionist gibberish, where people babble about “microfascism” and “reactionary thought” – where these nonsense labels are enough to utterly invalidate their targets in the eyes of the people who apply them.
It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. Math is. And it will continue to be, and it will continue to be the best tool for understanding our
world, no matter what your political viewpoint. Math isn’t reactionary. It isn’t conservative. It isn’t liberal. It isn’t good or evil. It isn’t democratic or fascistic or communist or capitalist. It just is. And you’ll be able to understand the world better if you make the effort to understand it.