Lies Boomers Were Taught II
Cat/Inkjet Meme

Letter: More Math Musing


Apropos of last week’s My First Love, I received this from my college friend and classmate Daniel Dern:

“BTW, I, too loved math up through  high school. Until calculus, which I managed to do, but didn't care about, and, having survived, partly thanks to frosh year's Pass/Fail, IIRC, 18.02 (I'd high-school placed out of .01, which, in retrospect, might have been a mistake, but I doubt would have changed anything), realized in the first month of, mmm, 18.034? -- Differential, or whatever, the next calc/math class in the series, that I didn't care to be learning it and didn't want to be doing it as part of a job/living/career.

“Even listening to one of my classmates joyously talk about esoteric group theory didn't move me.

“I’d say, ‘It just didn't add up to me,’ but that would be irrational, I guess.”

Which reminds me of a chat I had with my freshman advisor while I was flunking 18.02 (second term calculus). Prof. Sinskey told me the phenomenon Daniel and I experienced is not unusual, even among MIT Students. “At each increasing level of abstraction, a certain percentage of the population ‘drops out’ of math. There are drops of interest/ability between arithmetic, algebra, trig and calculus (at the stages of differentiation and integration both). The largest drop is between mathematics and algebra. Only the best abstract thinkers make it to the top.” A group which, apparently, did not include me.


Robert E. Malchman

That's what happened to me. I took 18.011 (six weeks of 18.01 review, since I'd had AB and BC calculus in high school, not that I did well in the latter), then 18.021, which I literally passed by one point on the final (sweet, sweet Pass/Fail!). I was a bull-headed teenager, so I tried 18.03 (with G-C. Rota), and wisely dropped it on or before Drop Day.

Simply put, I loved math, but it stopped loving me. I stopped being able to "see it" at multivariable calculus, and I was not one of those, unlike the ones who went on, who could do it without seeing it, or could actually see it, which blows my mind.

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