Tuesday, November 23, 2010

When it comes to maths, I've forgotten more than I ever knew

Years ago, I actually studied maths for a while at school and uni. I can't say that I was particularly good at it, but I did rather enjoy it. I found it a wonderfully pointless activity; if someone had pointed out an obvious and simple way to use maths to make breakfast, say, I think I would have been disappointed and given it up immediately.

Not that I was particularly good at it, and I don't remember much of it now anyway- really when I think about maths now it's to remember how much of it I've forgotten. I didn't mind geometry (something about parallel triangles and what happens when AB meets CD via DF and BS but somehow gets confused with LM and PX, causing us all to turn on the telly and watch QA). Calculus was fun (well, I thought the name was fun, and that's all I know about it now), and of course algebra, which was all about saying a + b = a + b was laughably simple (but then so was I). There was integration (not sure), induction (no idea), statistics (nine tenths of the time I have no idea what people were talking about after they said 'nine tenths of the time') and trigonometry (do mathematicians ever run out of triangles? Apparently not). I can tell you a little bit about pi - the ratio of a circles circumference to its diameter, or something like that - and I can tell you a little less about logarithms, which are things that mathematicians use to do something else (I don't know what). To this day, I do know what the square root of two was (and presumably still is) to ten digits, but I can't tell you why.

And then, of course, there is e. I can't really tell you anymore than that, e is just e. I don't know where e comes from, I don't know what you do to get e, I don't know what you do once you get e, I don't know why you would want e in the first place, I certainly don't know what e is equal to. I did know, or at least I think I knew, once. I certainly remember doing a lot of things with it. Maybe even then I didn't care much, really: I just thought e was really cool. Whatever it was, in all its mysterious ineffable numinous intangibility.

So basically this is a blog post about something I once knew a little bit about but know even less about now. They say Socrates, the man who decided that no-one was sure about anything, was the wisest man in the world. Well, when it comes to maths, I think I've forgotten more than I ever knew. Does that make me a genius, or something?


Mitzi G Burger said...

My favourite part of maths was "the angle of inclination" - for its various double entendre possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Conic sections in Calculus has the "Latus Rectum", which is always good for a laugh.

Not being able to remember logs and e is actually pretty much the same thing (exponential function is the inverse of the natural logarithmn), so you're one better off than you thought you were.

TimT said...

I suspected as much anon. Now if only I could be able to tell what you were talking about with inverse of the natural log I'd be.... only a little less ignorant about maths.

brokenbiro said...

Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?... He had to work it out in logs.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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