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Learning to Appreciate Math

Math is a difficult and frustrating subject for many of us.  For some it’s difficult to do at all, let alone understand.  For others, such as myself, understanding how to do the problems we’re given in class is easy but understanding the application in real life scenarios seems impossible and confusing.  “When am I ever going to use this?” we mutter to ourselves as we struggle through unrealistic story problems.  But perhaps this isn’t the right way to look at the subject of mathematics.  Perhaps to better appreciate math we need to take our vision of it outside of the classroom.

When you see a painting, do you need to be an artist yourself to appreciate it?  Or, say you’re listening to music.  Do you need to be able to read or write music yourself to love the song?  Clearly the answer to each of these questions is no.  The same philosophy goes for appreciating mathematics.  Math is in everything!  It can be applied to politics, sports, predicting natural disasters, even making movies.

Recently I watched a brief clip in the special features for the Pixar movie Brave.  In it the animators described the amount of math that went into the landscape alone.  They had to use formulas to get the shades of the moss exactly right, as well as the size and softness of it.  Can you imagine?  Every movie or TV show you’ve ever watched that includes special effects is utilizing math.  Disney movies and Harry Potter would be nothing without the skills of a mathematician.  That is incredible!  Makes you a little more grateful for the subject, doesn’t it?

In a more serious area, math also makes it possible for us to understand the world around us.  Why do some things float and others do not?  Can you effectively predict what will float and what will not without actually putting it in the water?  How can you build a skyscraper that won’t fall over?  How long does it take a car to come to a complete stop if it’s going 60 miles an hour?  Even if a person has hard time figuring these problems out themselves, we can definitely appreciate those who can and the math work that goes into its discovery as this knowledge protects us and provides for a safer environment.  Can you imagine if people just built boats without any idea what would keep it afloat?  Or if they built a building that could fall over at any moment?  Math allows civilization to progress effectively and safely.

If it still seems ridiculous to you, spend some time talking to someone who does love math.  There’s something uplifting about listening to passionate people talk about what they’re passionate about.  Mathematicians love what they do.  Take time to talk to your math teacher or your uncle the accountant and ask them why they love math so much.  Even if you have a hard time grasping the concepts yourself, you can learn to appreciate the art of math by looking through the eyes of someone who does understand and love it.

We don’t need to understand math to appreciate and enjoy it.  Math plays a critical role in our society, both in providing a safe environment as well as in entertainment such as movies.  For some it’s even seen as fun.  Learning to appreciate math will make classes more bearable and perhaps even enjoyable.  Instead of thinking “when will I ever use this?” try thinking of it this way, “what has math done for me?”  The answers are limitless.