Few of us are gifted with strong mathematical talent. But then, few of us are gifted with musical talent or mathematical talent or literary talent. So how come we can enjoy music or art or writing, even though we don’t have much talent for these activities ourselves, but we can’t similarly enjoy mathematics just for the sheer pleasure of it?
I believe that most of us can, and at a level that is more than just superficial, as the popularity of books like Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Last Theorem and The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets indicates. But many more could. It’s mainly a matter of learning the language.
But there’s the rub. I am no expert, but anecdotal evidence (e.g. http://www.ted.com/conversations/16890/why_does_everyone_hate_math.html) suggests that a major reason why people don’t catch on to the language of mathematics is that they don’t connect with maths emotionally (as they do with music or art or literature), or even on the plane of real life. Most efforts to make maths more “interesting” have concentrated on real life applications, as in the gag sign above. I believe that this is a mistake. It is on the emotional plane that we need to help people connect, because that is what grabs real mathematicians, and could also grab most of us – if only we would let it.
In tomorrow’s post I will offer a few suggestions as to how we might go about it.