Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Born un-mathematical

  1. Dec 19, 2003 #1
    Hey I'm new here!

    I go to secondary high and I dropped maths this second year because my self-confidence is so low when it comes to maths. I lved algebra, but I nearly failed on many of the tests and longer examinations. I see there are so many intelligent people here, compared to me, and I will not be able to join the discussions or answer any questions - which I would be glad to do if I could.

    My problem is that I love maths, but no matter how hard I worked I got average grades and below that, except on algebra where I did very well. I NEED to buy a few good books on mathematics. And I am also interested in rocket science. I need to revive my memory of what maths was like!:) All recommendations are welcome!

    And then I have a last question: Are there many men/boys in this forum?
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 19, 2003 #2
    I recommend persistence.

    It took me a few tries to get the hang of calculus but once I did freshman and sophomore mathematics was a breeze.

    It took a few tries to get the hang of mathematical reasoning but now that I have abstract algebra was a breeze.

    Of course, everyone here is ready to help if necessary.

  4. Dec 19, 2003 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I too loved math in HS, and I had trouble with exams, although apparently not as much as you. My problem was slips of the pencil in doing problems. I would miscopy a digit or whatever and get the wrong answer. This was long before calculators and there was a lot of copying from log tables and sine and cosine tables.

    What I did was read popular books on math to keep my interest and understanding up, and gradually as I got older I was able to force myself to check and recheck everything before I submite it. Part of my problem was that I was too eager to do all the problems and had been too hasty in leaving one and going to the next. Fixing that helped and I was able to do well on the tests in college.

    Whatever you do, if you love math, don't label yourself "born unmathematical". Don't blame math either. Blame the school if you must, or your age, which will change, but don't give up on yourself.

    And do follow the topics that interest you here. Not everything winds up in math.

    ( edit:heh - had to edit some typos. Proves what I said. Maybe I'm "born fumblefingered"?)
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2003
  5. Dec 20, 2003 #4
    Men? On a science related forum on the internet? Don't be silly! ;)
  6. Dec 20, 2003 #5
    Thank you all for the support. I am going to buy a couple of books when I, hopefully, get money for Christmas.

    SelfAdjoint, what did you read? Would any of that be of interest for me do you think?

    The reason I asked if there were men/boys in here was only because I think mathematicians, physicists and other science-men are...yummy!
  7. Dec 20, 2003 #6
    my karate teacher always had us spar with blackbelts first. they basically always kicked our butts but we learned real quick. i think that that is one way to go about it: participate with the more advanced students and see where it goes.

    in math in particular, it is often useful to attend a colloqium you won't understand. i was fortunate enough to attend a few at the ucla math for the next century (millenium?) and i did understand very little of these masters. i am but a disciple, as hilbert would put it. the thing is you can at least learn some new words and if any of it looks interesting, visit a math-dictionary and look up the words. indeed, you can spend hours just on mathworld, for example. look up one word you don't understand and look up all the links and all the links linked to in those links, etc. you can really get a grip on things, if not a real good understanding, rather quickly that way.

    math is not different from any pursuit like music or writing or whatever: you must be persistent and it will be a process like two steps forward and one step back (there are always setbacks even for the best people).

    i believe being born unmathematical is extremely rare.

    btw, i've only been very interested in math for about 12 years. i was terrible at long division and now i'm coming up with ways to divide infinite sets. i hated algebra and got a D in it and now i like abstract algebra. give yourself 12 years of doing what i said above and i bet you'll be just fine. one of my friends didn't know much math and he was at the precalculus level and decided to take set theory at the same time. well, that's not recommended because of the potential damage that might do to your self-esteem, but it is possible. what i might do if i were you is take a proof course meant for those transferring from lower division (first 2 years of college) to upper divison. i bet that if you understand that 10%, it will make your algebra look like a cake walk.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2003
  8. Dec 20, 2003 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    Three books that I treasured were Mathematics, Queen and Servant of Science, by E.T. Bell, Mathematics for the Million, whose author I can't remember, and The Einstein Theory of Relativity, by Lillian R. Lieber. I don't know if any of them are still in print. I'm sure there are others today; I recommend you go to the math shelf in a big modern book store (I hope you can get to one) and browse. The Lieber one is a little scary with lots of math notation, but if you grit your teeth you find it isn't so bad, and she takes you by the hand and you actually learn some real relativity.

    <edit> I heartily endorse phoenixthoth's suggestion of going a little over your head. Since you're blue about your math interaction with the normal program it will boost your pride to see that you can actually grasp some of the harder stuff. Morale is important.
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2003
  9. Dec 21, 2003 #8
    Thank you, selfAdjoint!
  10. Dec 21, 2003 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Gold Member
    Dearly Missed

    I was Christmas browsing in Barnes & Noble today and I saw a wonderful suggestion for you. It's called What is Quantum Mechanics, a Physics Adventure, and it's apparently by a collaboration of authors called Transnation TEX. It's in large format paperback and is aimed at high school level people who like this stuff. It is an honest presentation, and does do the math but it spends an enormous amount of time and effort motivating the math, and the unfamiliar physics. The presentation is , well, cute, which could put some people off. But I remember my own experience with Lieber's Relativity book which also uses cute. I think I took the cuteness as an author's guarantee that if I had trouble, it wasn't my fault but hers, since she wouldn't have gone to all that trouble if she was expecting her reader to be one of the elite few. Which is very liberating.
  11. Dec 28, 2003 #10
    The TI-83 brought me into the world of mathematics.

    I remember in high school we were finding zeros of polynomials and I had no idea what we were doing, I used basic calc in physics and math while everyone else had a fancy graphing calc. I dismissed their advantage.

    When I got a free TI-83, seeing equations graphed, intersections, and zeros etc allowed me grasp math much better.
  12. Dec 29, 2003 #11
    Hi Thallium,

    You wrote:
    Well, mathematicians spend their time by trying to solve unsolved problems, wishing to solve them, and then hoping to find more unsolved problems that have to be solved.

    Why do you think mathematicians have the motivation to find and solve problems? (which is not an easy task)

    I'd like to know what do you think.
  13. Dec 30, 2003 #12
    I did not 'discover' mathematics until I was around 12. It was during that year that during a strange session in class I managed to outsmart all my other classmates into solving what I later discovered to be a simplification of the famous Gauss problem (1 + 2 + ... + 1000). My teacher was a little astounded as I had not shown any real mathematical prowess until then, and I was subsequently recruited into the math team. The preparation for a math competition required that I delved a whole year ahead into the mathematics I was supposed to be learning. It was when I started learning all these mathematics on my own and at my own pace (the teacher was too lazy to train the math team) that I discovered how fun mathematics really was. So you really shouldn't put down yourself as it is never really too late to gain a liking, and subsequently some ability in it.

    Learning mathematics from the textbook on my own helped me a lot. Perhaps, you should try it yourself and not wait for the teacher. Of course, you should try familiarizing yourself with broad parts of mathematics. I found 'amateur' mathematical books for the layman such as Simon Singh's The Code Book and Fermat's Last Theorem spurred my interest in mathematics to higher levels.

    I also enjoy working on monthly mathematical problems available on the internet. Here's an excellent website that I visit from time to time: www.nrich.maths.org.uk.
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2003
  14. Dec 31, 2003 #13
    I think they are motivated because they believe in themselves and they are eager to seek the truth. That is what I am supposed to be. I have looked at the math on Mathworld and there are so many words I don't understand which I cannot find any explanation to. Perhaps that is so because I am Norwegian and therefore I may not have the necessary vocabulary that en english student would have required.
  15. Dec 31, 2003 #14
    Alas! my friend. My mind is incapable of absorbing maths except I am, or was quite good at algebra which I grew a liking for long before secondary high. Algebra is so fascinating!
  16. Dec 31, 2003 #15
  17. Jan 1, 2004 #16
    I have had a brief look at both, but what am I supposed to understand with this? Am I supposed to be inspired?

    Because there are so many difficult words that I cannot find in the dictionary, especially on the first link.
  18. Jan 2, 2004 #17
    Hi Thallium,

    Both websites are interesting point of views on Mathematics, 50 years from now (the year 2050).
  19. Jan 2, 2004 #18
    I noticed that. I have not immersed in it so well yet. I'll get back to you when I have had a better look.
  20. Jan 3, 2004 #19
    I was once extremely Apathetic. I didn't care and I would fail all my classes barely etching by to pass. I did have a great imagination at that time and I still do. My imagination lead me to a quest. Somewhat like a quest for Knowledge. I then went in to my High School Library for the first time since ive been going there. I was in Geometry class at the time. So I knew that my relatives before me were somewhat successfull and smart in some particulars areas in Science. I wanted to know what they knew and ponder what they pondered and perhaps go farther then them in the fields of a particular science. My Uncle was a Geologist who was fascinated by Planes in fact he built his own Air-Plane as a hobby. He then used it for his job as Geologist for a Company. The man was very Adventerous and Creative. He was my favorite Uncle who had National Geographic Magazines sent to my house and Highlighter Magazines which contain thinking puzzles for kids when I was a kid. Everytime I would visit him he would have something new that he built, and he would give me a 20 dollar bill.

    Anyways, As I was in the library and I took a visit to the Science Section. I found a book called "Einsteins Theory of Relativity" by Max Born. I begin to read the book with little known knowledge of it, only knowing that it was about Physics. In the book every page had Mathematical Models explaining the Phenomena of a particular subject. The words were big in use and it would constantly throw Mathematical works into your eyes. I had a hard time understanding what it was talking about. I then checked the book and begin to read it and try my hardest to comprehend the knowledge that it contained. I actually then begin to understand exactly what it was talking about, having read certain paragraphs and studied the Mathematical Formulas repeatedly and knowing it was about Physics eased my understanding. I had the book checked out for about almost the whole school year. Due to this book I found beauty and Art in Mathematics and my Philosophy of Mathematics developed which basically means my understanding of Mathematics developed. My grades in Geometry increased from 50 to 90 at the end of the Semester. Since I had failed the first semester I would have needed to pass the Second Semester definately. I passed the Second Semester with a 90.

    During the Summer I expanded my knowledge and I bought books about Mathematics and Theoretical Physics such as "The Elegant Universe" and I even bought the book that I had Checked out in the Library for a very long time. I even learned a little bit of Calculus particularly on how to Differentiate but I didn't learn it fully. Today I own lots of books, and continue to read those books and studie them as well use them for reference. Throughout that summer thats all I did was think, read and learn. I even had a few Scientific Ideas that I had thought up though I knew I was still kind of primitive in the Areas of Mathematics to formulate my own Mathematical Structure of my Scientific ideas.

    After the Summer ended I would go back to school, with the Mathematical Class of AlgebraII, Chemistry, and Computer Science. I made STRAIGHT A's in every class that year. In AlgebraII I made 95 to 100 on every report card grade. In Chemistry I made 91 to 94 on every repord card. In Computer Science I made 95 and up on every report card. I had a particular easy teacher in Computer Science but I think I took it well.

    So now im in what I claim to be Primitive classes of Mathemaitcs because they wont allow me to advance to higher honors classes since I have to have certain classes before I move up to higher classes. Also due to my Apathetic History they are not convinced that I can make it in a less primitive class of Mathematics and Physics.

    Its not hard to do what I did at all. If you want it and love it, you can do extremely good.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2004
  21. Jan 3, 2004 #20
    Well, you are a genious. I am not. I am afraid of not being intelligent. I am afraid of taking an IQ-test. Everyday I go thinking: "I must do something intelligent, I must do something intelligent". And that is burning me out because whatever I do or say, it is not intelligent. And that also lowers my motivation to try to understand maths.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook