On Friday we rocked out to Tool’s Lateralus for a while before math class.
Even though there was a flood in our building,
and now we had the baseboards and 2 feet of wallboard removed in my classroom and in others.
Sound travels much better than usual.
No one came down the hallway to complain to me for making too much noise.
I did close the doors just in case.
I was sad to turn the video off, but it’s long.
We missed a day Monday, and we had to start class.
Back to business as usual.
I remember one day,
I played that video in linear algebra,
where we also studied the Fibonacci Sequence.
A young man turned to me and with incredulity in his voice asked,
“Where in the hell did you find that?”
I had to laugh, because everyone sends me math things,
but my magic is to know when to use them.
Even when no one reacts, I know that sitting in my classroom
some student is listening and thinking.
Maybe this little bit of inspiration is enough to take them in a direction
that neither of us ever imagined.
One thing we forget in math class
while we are doing calculations,
trying to remember which angle is which on the unit circle,
Is that all of this math and the fact that it works out the way it does,
in such neat little packages,
all of these are miracles, one right after the other.
That we can understand this at all,
that means each of us is also a miracle.
It took thousands of years before calculus was invented,
and we’ve forgotten all the intermediate steps,
all the times someone tried something and it didn’t work out,
all that got thrown away like scratch paper.
All we see is the final result, the neat little packages,
and we dare to think, “how boring.”
Stop before you say that.
Be amazed for a moment that we figured this out at all.
Charles Darwin wrote in his autobiography: “I have deeply regretted that I did not proceed far enough at least to understand something of the great leading principles of mathematics, for men thus endowed seem to have an extra sense.” Mathematics is not about studying boring and useless equations: It is about accessing a new way of thinking and understanding reality at a deeper level. It endows us with an extra sense and enables humanity to keep pushing the boundaries of the unknown.