Is Math too Abstract?

One of the things that puts young people off studying maths is that it is too abstract. Maths is hard to grasp for many because it appears too theoretical. Math appears to inhabit a parallel universe to the everyday world, and this puts many people off.

For others this is the attraction of mathematics – it is a world that has its own immutable laws and its own internally coherent logic. Math seems neater and more precise than the real world.

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However, this characterization as math being distinct, separate and autonomous from nature is a very much mistaken one. Math obviously originated as a means of dealing with amounts. This is the common way to present math problems to kids – you have 10 apples and 5 peopleĀ  – how many apples can each person eat? From this example it can be seen that math allows us to symbolize amounts of actual things in numbers and make calculations. The next step is to substitute unknown amounts for letters (algebra) and to use math equations to work out the unknown quantity.

Math is fundamental to the world we live in. Math is the foundation behind scientific equations. These equations allow engineers to turn science into technology that can benefit our lives. The same is true for medicine. We wouldn’t have any of the life saving drugs we do have without maths and chemistry.

Man’s greatest achievement has been to make models of the world and through understanding these models to manipulate reality. These models whether computer simulations, scientific theories or chemical equations are based on maths and cannot exist without math. It is not wrong to describe math as abstract, but it is very wrong to consider math as separate and irrelevant to reality. Indeed for anyone living in a city what they see out of their window in the product of math and applied math.

Further interest:

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