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Krister Löfgren

Coming back to mathematics

2 min read

The good Christian should beware of mathematicians and all those who make empty prophecies. The danger already exists that the mathematicians have made a covenant with the devil to darken the spirit and to confine man in the bonds of Hell

― St. Augustine

Trying to come back to mathematics many, many years after failing hard at the subject in school, is... interesting. While life in grades, say 8-9, was pure frustration and the mathematics lessons the crème de la crème of uninteresting lessons, I've lately found it to be interesting, at times almost thrilling and I enjoy catching up with all that's been lost (or never learned, to begin with).

The stumbling block I find most frustrating is the language of mathematics; to decipher the notation, the syntax and all the symbols that seemed so arcane before I actually took my time to learn about them.

The younger me would have agreed wholeheartedly with grumpy old Schopenhauer, who spat on mathematics and called arithmetic "the lowest activity of the spirit" (because even a soulless machine can perform arithmetic).

What if amazing resources like Khan Academy had been available when I was a teenager? Would it have changed things, or is learning for some individuals (like me) all about motivation (which I tend to believe), not so much the actual way it is taught? You can change tutors, the content, the pedagogical method and all that all you want but if you cannot motivate the student then all is fleeting knowledge, something never entirely understood, merely digested because some curriculum stated it as something needed.

At the moment I'm quite fond of the meditative quality the sort of simple mathematics I do has. Bertrand Russell gave words to it, and the younger me would've been shocked to know I'd write this so many, many years into the future:

Remote from human passions, remote even from the pitiful facts of nature, the generations have gradually created an ordered cosmos, where pure thought can dwell as in its natural home and where one, at least, of our nobler impulses can escape from the dreary exile of the actual world.