Do the Math

Is mathematics really an abstract academic subject? Actually, it’s all around us.

Do the Math

Is mathematics really an abstract academic subject? Actually, it’s all around us.

Gripping the handles of your shopping cart, you walk down the aisles of Shoprite and make your way to the cash register. Your purchases are taken out, one by one, and zapped with the billing machine. But before you can pay, you need to complete one small task.

“New regulations,” the cashier tells you. “Here is the graph of the items on your bill, along with the best-fit line. We need you to find the slope of that line before we can take your payment.”

Amazon is no better. They give you a function f(x) and ask you to find the derivative before proceeding. “To prove you’re a human,” they say.

The hiring process, too, calls for many mathematical manipulations to prove you can do the job. “You cannot write for us,” the New York Times says, “unless you can find us sin(θ).” They believe that mathematical ability is the sine of a good writer.

Of course, this weird nightmarish world is not what reality is like. Not everything requires that level of math; you don’t need to find the slope of a line to purchase from Shoprite. What I’d like to say, however, is that mathematics does play a bigger role in your life than most people think.

That’s a controversial statement, no doubt. In our generation, when a student hears the word “math,” they’re most likely to ramble a novel on how it’s useless, boring, difficult, and a waste of their time. On the contrary, I think it has a substantial impact on our world that not many people take the time to realize or even think about.

Let’s assume someone had issued an online survey to the public on their opinions about mathematics, technology, engineering, and everything in that kind of realm, asking about if it plays an impact in the world. And let’s say it was issued to an unbiased, random population. There is most likely going to be a group of people saying that these things play no universal impact on our world, and we would most likely live in the same way without it.

Keep in mind, though, that you’re saying this on some device that uses — well — technology.

Math is all around us. You see it everywhere: from the phone you constantly use, to the thought-process saving you from wasting your budget on a pair of shoes. People don’t realize it, but we wouldn’t cease to survive, let alone live a day, without this prominent art piece in our world.

“But why?” you may ask. Most people — students, especially — would probably think as follows:

What are the specifics? Why do I need to know algebraic equations, unless I want to pursue a career in math? Why would I need to learn geometry if I want to become a writer? Math really has no point in this situation.

One answer is that, well, why single out math? People never ask questions like “What are the real-life applications of music?” or “What are the real-life applications of reading good books?” So why should mathematics be treated any different?

Be that as it may, the truth is that mathematics does have lots of real-world applications. In fact, it’s hard to find a place where it doesn’t.

I’m going to start with an example: Linear functions. You know, those lines on a graph connecting one point to another; the ones between which you have to find the distance or the point of intersection.

Why in the world is this important for our futures? Linear functions have no significance as we move on further into our life.

Linear functions are based on a dependent variable and an independent variable’s relationship, in the form of y = f(x) = ax + b. Broadening this statement further, let’s discuss the actual applications linear functions have in the real world.

Creating a business requires linear functions to calculate the profits, costs, revenue, and even losses. Even if you aren’t interested in starting up or participating in a business, your finance plays a fundamental role with linear functions.

If you cannot balance your finance, you could be in debt for quite a long time. Economics recognizes the interaction between people and value, so it also relates to more complex linear functions.

These are more “math” related professions. Let us take sinusoidal functions; the wavy trigonometric ones.

Sinusoidals include the sine or cosine functions — in general, they can be produced with a horizontal shift, vertical shift, compressing, and elongating a certain function. So? Let’s get to the main point: the impact. If you draw out a sinusoidal function, you end up with something like the following:

(Image from Varsity Tutors)

To most people, this probably looks extremely complicated and confusing. However, let us pay attention to the waves of the function. These waves our similar to the sound waves in our world. They’re the music you might be listening to now; the way you communicate with others; the way you sense the world around you.

Your conscious brain may not have known it, but your ears are processing sinusoidal waves all the time.

If you play an instrument, you would know firsthand about these vibrations. For piano players, as an example, the equation y = sin(2π 440)* is the wave-shaped figure produced when simply playing the note A (the first note above middle C). Similarly, each note has a different equation of sine, and therefore a different graph.

Chords can produce even more complicated sine functions — more of adding the individual equations of each “note” into one. And so the list goes on and on.

What profession does this help with? Everyone who plays any instrument, including your voice, knows this in one way or another. People who make instruments — such as string-operated luthiers, to take a random example — need to understand sinusoidal functions too, so they can produce the correct pitch and vibrations for their strings.

Linear and sinusoidal functions aren’t very specific aspects of the math world. I could have picked any other two, and they’d still have some relevance somewhere.

Any mathematical topic has a relation to some job in science, math, engineering, writing, geography, and more. Even cash registers must know basic arithmetic. Whatever you learn, it’s only taught to you because your mentor (instructor) knows it will positively impact your life later on.

To put it simply, math is omnipresent. Looking at the time — requires math. Going shopping — requires math. Baking a new recipe for your grandmother’s birthday — that requires math as well.

One may not realise it at first, but the simple mathematical concepts you learn earlier on in your education can actually play a prominent role for you today. Math not only generates knowledge in the real world, but it also builds your problem-solving skills. At some point in time, everyone must have the analytical and computational mindset to be able to adjust to their environment.

And what’s more, practicing math at random moments can also help your brain.

A study conducted by Dr. Tanya Evans of Standford University proved that children who had learned math were able to access certain regions in their brain easier and had more grey matter in said regions than students who had performed more poorly in math — which is a good thing, because more grey matter = better comprehension.

What’s more, children who were better at math were better at cognitive tasks, including decision-making and attention spans. Though this is more theoretical, there is a proven correlation between educated students and higher cognitive thinking skills.

And preferably, math's universal concepts shouldn’t be relatively complex to others because it truly is not. Knowing the effect math can have on our population puts it in a whole new perspective.

Hopefully, by now, you have established that math is important in an all-embracing concept.

Math is important. Without it, you may not even be able to read this article.

The key takeaway I would like everyone to get out of this is to appreciate mathematics more. I’m not implying that you need to love math, just that you should perhaps look out for the good parts without letting the bad parts intimidate you. Embrace it, learn from it.

No matter how annoying, dreadful, or hard it gets, keep it going. Appreciate those who have taught it to you because mathematics will get you somewhere in life.

And, who knows? You might even have a profession in it ten years from now.