By Clara Thulin, 2nd Year BSc Mathematics
There are many concrete, factual and more or less objective reasons why people choose to study maths. However, there is a big difference between studying maths, and loving maths. In this post, I wish to shed some light on the more philosophical aspects by sharing some of the reasons why I love mathematics.
- The real-life applications are countless
I often link lecture content or maths I’ve learnt elsewhere to my everyday life. Not in a way where I can apply it in the kitchen or when making a budget, but I use it to reason things like social scenarios and political problems. Maths gives us a way to understand real world concepts like patterns and inequalities, and we use the world to understand maths. It is all connected. Mathematics has brought me to people who share my interest and my ambitions and to people who have challenged my way of thinking. New topics, specific theorems and the history of maths have also impacted and developed my ways of thinking. Maths is all about thinking, and when you develop your way of seeing maths, you also develop your ways of viewing and tackling other matters. Studying maths is an invitation to explore abstract thinking and one’s intuition, to learn about the world and all that it entails.
- Maths is inclusive
No one has escaped hearing that mathematics is a universal language. While people can disagree on things like politics, the disagreements in maths are non controversial. Maths in its most fundamental form is inclusive, even though the world might not always be. It welcomes a conversation that everyone can join in on. Maths is not specific to a background or identity. It’s for all. I look forward to seeing this inclusivity implemented more and more in society, making maths a more diverse and accessible science. There is value in an exchange, and inclusion is crucial to its development.
- The epiphanies are unparalleled
Nobody learns maths without encountering challenges. If someone claims that maths is easy, they haven’t learnt maths. We are all just scratching the surface. Knowing that there is so much more to learn is part of the beauty of life and the beauty of mathematics. It’s an opportunity to participate in its development and consequently improve its applications. Struggling to solve a maths problem can be frustrating, but my short term motivation is the gratification that comes from finally solving it. The epiphanies achieved when realising how things are connected or understanding why something happens or works are incredible. The feeling cannot be simulated without the initial struggle or hours of brain work.
- It encourages free thinking
I have picked up on the difference between how maths is presented at school and at university. In school we are given a method and we are then expected to solve stereotyped problems. Thinking inside the box is encouraged, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that studying maths means learning fixed content. This is far from the truth. University prepares its students for a career, and instead promotes outside-the-box thinking, say mathematical thinking. It’s almost unfair to compare school maths with the maths taught at university. Although there are no current reasons to believe that most undergraduate content is incorrect, there are parts that are open to some debate. As the maths gets more advanced, the room for development gets larger. Mathematics as a whole encourages free thinking as there might be a neater way to get the same result, more connections to make and there are always new ideas to be discovered. It is never too early to question and to think outside the box. A student might spot something a professor didn’t, and there are many ways that an undergraduate’s skills can be useful even in areas like academic research.
- Maths is its own kind of art
To me, maths is both an art and a science. Starting from a simple fact that paves the way for new facts, which in turn can be traced back to the starting point — its logical, it’s satisfying and it’s art. I find that looking at maths beyond my understanding can sometimes be even more beautiful than looking at something I do understand. It holds a mystery. Going back to my first reason, it can also be comforting knowing how little we, as humans, actually know. There are certainly those who know significantly more than I do, but they in turn, no matter who they are, often confidently say they know nothing at all. This bigger picture of maths and human existence sounds pretty poetic to me, but however subjective of an art maths may be, its conclusions are objective.