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Is it possible to actually train your brain

  1. Jan 26, 2012 #1
    Hi all :) I was thinking earlier about if people are born a genius or they become a genius due to the way they think. I consider the hardest thing in the world to learn is math / physics and almost every genius or extremely smart people always excel in these fields.

    I am terrible at maths and I mean really bad i'm 23 and still struggle with fractions, percentages and other basic math and I usually have problems working sums out in my head. If you said add 7 and 16 I would'nt be able to do it i'd have to count on my fingers or write it down but upon witing it down I see that I can add 14 to 7 to make 21 and then just add on the extra 2 to make 23.

    Anyway I was thinking about going to my library and getting some GCSE math books out and really trying to train my brain to think in a different way.

    My math teacher used to always say to me that i'm working the equation out correctly but I don't really understand what's going on and when she changes something around in the sum I can't do it and this is because I don't actually truely understand it.

    I'd love to be smart at math but i'm wondering if I can train my brain to accept numbers, remember the rules behind the equations and think more like a mathematician :(
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2012 #2


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    It's a combination of training and innate ability. Some people are just better "wired" to learn mathematics. But don't try to judge yourself prematurely. How long have you really been working at it?
  4. Jan 26, 2012 #3
    I have never had an intrest in math but now I am at University i'm studying computer science and I am noticing my lack of math skills really starting to take affect when i'm trying to code algorithms for my programs.

    Also included in my course is quite a few math modules but not only that I actually feel like learning math now, I want to were as before I had no intrest in it.

    I have only been considering the idea of teaching myself math the last couple of days but I have to chose wisely because if I spend too much time learning math i'll fall behind in other subjects.
  5. Jan 26, 2012 #4


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    Not doing it is probably the reason you don't understand it easily. If you don't practice at something it isn't easy to do and understand. I'd recommend doing a little bit of math every day. Not alot, and not hard math, but do some simple stuff and keep at it and see if you get better. You could try that brain quiz app on the smartphones or whatever it is.
  6. Jan 26, 2012 #5
    Micromass' recommended the book "Basic Mathematics" by Serge Lang. I've also seen the book "Principles of Mathematics" by Allendoerfer and Oakley been recommended on here.

    I've tried using the Lang book. I found it to be very good upon first inspection and I think this will serve you much better than a typical GCSE Mathematics book. I used GCSE books in the past and frankly, I don't think they're all that good. I mean, it serves its purpose, in preparing one for the GCSE Mathematics exam for, say the OCR or Edexcel boards, but since you're just looking to learn math, I think the Lang book would be better. There's a preview available on Google Books, which you can look into.

    I'm currently learning from Euler's Elements of Algebra, as per mathwonk's recommendation, and it's a very concise yet thorough text. It is challenging but if understanding of math is what you're looking for, then you'll get it there. Ever wondered why -2 x -2 = 4? You'll find the answer there!

    Good luck.


    Since you're already at uni doing a CS degree, I take it you did well in A-Level Maths or well in your foundation course, if you took one? In that case, then you really would be wasting your time with a GCSE Maths book. Just skip straight to Euler, Lang or another book which you think would serve you well. I don't have a problem reading from my computer, so I'm using that to study the Euler book. :-)
  7. Jan 26, 2012 #6
    Thanks i'll look into them, and no I haven't got any A-Levels and I left school with just 3 GCSE's which are of such a bad grade they are not worth talking about. I made it into uni by doing an Access to HE course which quite frankly is terribly easy and does not prepare you enough for a uni course.

    I'll check into those books
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2012
  8. Jan 26, 2012 #7


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    Given the short time and your interest, I think you have good chance to "train your brain". Get fanatical about it while you can!
  9. Jan 26, 2012 #8


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    Training your brain is called learning. Sadly, something schools don't seem to teach well, and therefore students don't learn well, is how to study.

    I'm puzzled by your approach to addition when you write down the numbers. If you need to add 16 + 7, why would you first add 14 + 7 and add another 2? You've done an extra step of mental subtraction to go from 16 to 14, then re-add the 2. It's as if you're trying to take a mental shortcut that actually makes it harder by adding steps. That could be part of what's hindering you. Maybe try going back to the foundations and see if you just slept through some of the basics as a child that you've substituted a convoluted approach that you worked out on your own rather than having formally learned the easier way to figure out the problem.
  10. Jan 26, 2012 #9

    Do you add 16 + 7 directly?

    I don't remember doing too much drilling with arithmetic - at least, not as much as my cousins from England, who I remember brought their "Kumon math" homework with them to do over the holidays - so maybe I am weak in that area. :\

    I have a friend who, if I'm not mistaken, does the process in a similar way to me. When adding 16+7, this is what goes on in my head: "16 + 4 = 20 and 7-4 = 3, so I should add that 3 to 20, meaning that 16 + 7 = 23. I don't take too much time to do it.

    Heck, even for 6 + 7, this is what I do, i.e, use "known results" and work my way from there. So, "6 + 6 = 12 and I need to figure out 6 + 7. 7 - 6 = 1. So, I add 1 to 12. Answer = 13."


    Also: while I can see how the OP would have decided to go down the "14 + 7" route (7 x 3 = 21) and add the 2 from 16 - 2 = 14, I think I'd have been more inclined to go with the way I showed above. I think it's pretty interesting. Maybe it's how things got wired in our brains as we learned those. For all you know, everyone could be doing this differently!
  11. Jan 26, 2012 #10


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    If it helps, you may want to go back and try to "memorize" addition of 1 through 9. As long as you have that you can easily add smaller numbers in your head. For 16+7 i go 6+7 = 13 +10 = 23. Tens are easy to add.
  12. Jan 26, 2012 #11
    The first step is to rememeber my 0 - 9 addition and times tables because I still lack in my times tables a lot.

    As for the what I was saying about not being able to grasp the concept of an equation thats the same but just written different here is an example I found.

    If you said what is 2/5 as a percentage I wouldn't know how to do that.... first glance before I googled the answer was 20% but after googling I found it was 40%

    But nevertheless lets say after some thinking I came out with 40%. If you then said ok what is 8/20 I would be totally lost again even though it's the exact same answer. I fail to notice patterns easily :( my brain sucks but I really will try to study for patterns in numbers because I really think this is a big part to working out equations off the top of your head.

    the 2/5 and 8/20 are fractions
  13. Jan 26, 2012 #12
    My math teacher in elementary school taught me to shift one of the numbers to the closest ten first, so 16+4 =20, having used up 4 out of 7, I am left with a 3 and 20+3 = 23.
  14. Jan 26, 2012 #13
    Drakkith's method works best for me.

    Also, it is just plain useful to be able to do 0 - 9 addition in your head instantly (without almost thinking about it) rather than "counting" them in your head or on your fingers. This is something you can train you brain to instantly recognize (just like you instantly know 2+3=5).

    I guess after that it's just about adding tens in your head in the same way you add 0 - 9 (39+44 sort of translates to 3+4=7 (remember it's tens) then 9+4=13. Add your two results 70+13=83).
  15. Jan 26, 2012 #14


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    Exactly! That's how I was taught. You just memorize the addition and multiplication tables for 0 to 9, and then everything else can be figured out based on that.

    I talked to my boyfriend with elementary school age children, and apparently, they've come up with yet another new way to screw up math learning for another generation of kids. His son is being taught a method like ths thread mentions where they round up, add the rounded numbers, then subtract the difference. It makes it ridiculously complicated to do simple addition. I could understand teaching kids to estimate the answer just to check that their final answer makes sense, but not to learn basic addition. He taught his son the "normal" way of doing addition, and the teachers think the kid's a math whiz. Sheesh! I wonder if we're going to see a lot of people struggling with basic math in the near future if this is how they're being taught in school.
  16. Jan 26, 2012 #15
    Can you share with me the "normal" way to learn basic math? Which rules to do you I mean if I said 37 + 18 do you instantly know that through memory or do you calculate it, if so, what is your process.
  17. Jan 26, 2012 #16


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    Good grief. I'm like you and drakith, I know 6+7 =13, so the answer is 23. It's so automatic, it's instantaneous. Why make it harder than it needs to be?
  18. Jan 26, 2012 #17


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    Bah, numbers. That's what computers and calculators are for. The good stuff is abstract mathematics. Operations and functions.
  19. Jan 26, 2012 #18
    Which comes from nailing the underlining basics.
  20. Jan 26, 2012 #19
    The good news is that you can "train your brain". The, perhaps, bad news is that it requires work, ie., practice. Some people require more work/practice than others, but I think that most anyone is potentially capable of learning and doing complex mathematics.

    For some reason that I don't know, when I was young I memorized multiplication tables through three digits. It seems to me that if one memorizes a sufficient amount of stuff, wrt anything, then one recognizes patterns, which makes higher level stuff in the same domain easier to understand ... or at least to effectively manipulate.

    I don't know what the best way to learn higher mathematics is. But it does involve work/practice and memorization just as arithmetic does.

    More good news. Afaik, you don't need to be a math whiz to be a really good programmer or software engineer/designer.
  21. Jan 26, 2012 #20

    That is true as math is mainly used for graphical programs such as games although I believe if I become smart at math I will develop a "logical thinkers" brain which will help me become a good programmer.

    People whoare good at math are always become good problem solvers and develop solutions to things that are not even math based. I desire a mathematicians brain i'm not toing to lie lol
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