Edward Frenkel: Let's Stop Hating Math

People hate mathematics because they fear and don't understand it. Mathematician Edward Frenkel envisions a world where that's no longer an issue.

Edward Frenkel: What is it that distinguishes us from, you know, cavemen? I would say it's the level of abstraction that we can reach. And, you know, to give a simple example, it used to be that there was barter trading so you would exchange, you know, wheat for meat or something like this. But then eventually there was an abstract idea, the idea of money. You know, it's like a piece of paper but this piece of paper actually signifies a certain value and you can exchange it for goods and services. So that's the next level of abstraction. But now we are dealing with an even higher level of abstraction because I don't actually see money that much. I see a piece of plastic, credit cards. I swipe my credit card.

So suddenly that's the next level of abstraction. So this credit card somehow has become this abstract entity which carries money -- which itself carries certain wealth, right. And now we're going even deeper. Now money could be nothing but a line of code which appears in a Bitcoin ledger. So that's the kind of progression, that's the kind of, you know, evolution that I'm talking about. Evolution of abstraction. And so abstraction is king in this brave new world and the key to abstraction is mathematics.

And I do believe that we will have a better freer society when we have less math ignorance and we have more understanding of mathematics. And, of course, I'm not saying that everyone should become a mathematician. On the contrary.

But what I would -- what I dream of is a society in which if mathematics is brought up people don't run away from it -- don't say, "Oh my gosh, this is terrible. I hate mathematics. I don't want to talk about it. I'm scared. I'm frightened." And I understand why people are scared and frightened. It's not their fault. It's because of how mathematics is taught in our schools. But it's a very unfortunate situation when you can't even begin a conversation about mathematics without people saying, "Oh my gosh. I don't want to talk about it." And it's kind of strange because no one would ever say, "I hate literature" or "I hate art" or "I hate music." At least intelligent people would never say that. It's kind of shameful to say that.

 

Mathematician Edward Frenkel knows why so many people hate mathematics. It's simple really: the way math is taught is so draconian and ineffective that students can't help but fear it. But Frenkel believes that someday we can bring the world of equations and algorithms back down to a place of popular understanding.

The 4 types of thinking talents: Analytic, procedural, relational and innovative

Understanding thinking talents in yourself and others can build strong teams and help avoid burnout.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Do you have a self-actualized personality? Maslow revisited

Rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for.

Personal Growth

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.

Keep reading Show less