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Math Nazi's

  1. Aug 15, 2011 #1
    So what do you guys think about those math elitist that think that all math that is taught should be very rigorous and contains a lot of proofs in them. They usually I notice look down a lot on those who don't use math rigorous and use proofs like engineering and sometimes physicist. Personally I can't stand them at all they give math a bad name to whoever they encounter. Just to clarify most mathematicians I've met were wonderful people and were very humble and respectful of all uses of math. I'm just talking about a small amount of them.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 15, 2011 #2


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    You seem to be painting with a broad and sloppy brush. Can you give a few concrete examples with associated contexts so that we can try to comment appropriately?
  4. Aug 15, 2011 #3
    Yes just look in the "Should Calculus be taught in High School" thread, a lot of the people there are in favor of it not being taught in high school because it's not rigourous enough. Even AP calculus isn't good enough for them and should not be given college credit. Other examples is this time when I was talking to someone trying to get there PHD in math. I told him about the math I took which is calc, multi and linear algebra and that I wanted to be a physicist. He then asked me if we did a lot of proofs in my classes and he said that I don't really know math and that physics plus engineering butcher math by making it less proof based. Even more extreme examples I see is that some believe that all math from high school should be taught using mostly proofs, sort of how the way new math worked in the 60s.
  5. Aug 15, 2011 #4
    I try to learn what I can from a different outlook than my own. I think that's the best part of anything in life. Trying to view something through someone else's eyes is a wonderful process and usually very rewarding, at least for me. Honestly, I think it's odd that you feel so angered over a different viewpoint. Aren't you being just as guilty as them, in the elitist sense, of your own point of view?
  6. Aug 15, 2011 #5
    Who cares? Someone will always try to look down on you, no matter what the issue at hand is. Smile and keep kicking their butt at whatever it is they're trying to judge you for. I never got why some people would just try to pick fights out of thin air with an ideology of all things.
    Last edited by a moderator: Aug 15, 2011
  7. Aug 15, 2011 #6
    They are entitled to there view point, the problem is that they try to force there view point on people that don't want it or need it. It's sort of like how in small town communities they aren't allowed to teach the big bang because small churches get there noses into the science education. There's nothing wrong with rigorous math and I'd like if it was taught more often but forcing everyone to take it and thinking that calculus shouldn't be taught in high school is very radical.
  8. Aug 15, 2011 #7


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    Staff: Mentor

    Small but important point. "there" --> "their"

    Why is this English Nazi reminder important? Not paying attention in school comes back at you later in your professional life....
  9. Aug 15, 2011 #8
    I admit my Grammar sucks and if I encounter people in life that judge me on Grammar it won't be a good day. However I plan to just deal with it, no matter what those nazi's says it still won't impact the magnum opus of my academic training which will hopefully be physics.
  10. Aug 15, 2011 #9


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    Unless you are an incredible savant in physics (or whatever), you will be judged on everthing that you submit. So if you make that grammatical error on your resume to me when you apply for a job, I won't bother to interview you. So please pay attention and work on every aspect of your academic and professional presentation. And encourage others to do the same.
  11. Aug 16, 2011 #10
    If I am submitting a paper that's why I get people to proof read it most authors have people proof read there stuff. Not everyone learned grammar in school sadly I was one of them, but that hasn't stopped my doing well in College level and AP English classes I just proof read my stuff a lot. Thanks a lot for the advice.
  12. Aug 16, 2011 #11


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    It's actually "nazis", not "nazi's". :smile:
  13. Aug 16, 2011 #12
    I think the problem isn't math elitists, but more the attitude that some have that NO ONE can succeed at math but them and their associates. College Confidential had a thread a while back about math majors where every several of them took graduate level math problems and gave them to the girl in question asking if she should major in math. They came to the conclusion that only they were able to hold the burden of being a math major, and because the girl couldn't do it with only AP Calc credit, she should stay away forever.

    So yes, there is math elitism, but given the complexity of the subject, there's always a little room for gloating. But when you intentionally try to discourage someone who hasn't been exposed to upper level math and use that as a gate to prevent them from even trying, then you're just kinda being a douche.
  14. Aug 16, 2011 #13
    Yes, I've actually seen that thread. It was absolute nonsense.

    Anyway, here is my take: Mathematics is built from proofs, even if the proofs now are set theoretic, proofs in Euler or Gauss's day (not really much overlap of those lifetimes, but still) required a fairly rigorous chain of clever insights.

    Physics is applied mathematics, you use mathematical tools (derived by mathematicians, or by scientists who derived new math, who I still consider mathematicians) to build mathematical frameworks to describe and reason about complex phenomena. Comparing mathematics and physics is, IMO, comparing apples to oranges. The best physicists and the best mathematicians are all brilliant, and they do different things.

    If you aren't doing proofs, you aren't doing mathematics. If you're doing proofs, you might still be doing physics, depending on your point of view. Personally, I consider Witten to be primarily a mathematician with motivations in physics, because he works (does proofs in) with the mathematics that undergirds physical theory.

    Now, I don't think that mathematics with full blown rigorous proofs is necessary for an engineer or an experimental scientist, or maybe even a lot of more theoretical scientists (of that I'm not entirely sure either way); definitely not at the undergraduate level. Why? Because it is often irrelevant to their field. Creating powerful innovations that improve the world is a team effort, and if everyone was sitting around doing proofs, we would still be in a stone age society, if that. Conversely, if we didn't have people doing complicated math, we would still be in the middle ages, with no understanding of navigation or electricity or any complex phenomena.
  15. Aug 16, 2011 #14
    Huh, what does being in favour of separating high school and post-secondary education have to do with math nazis? If you think people telling you AP Calculus shouldn't be given college credit are math nazis, then you're the one having issues, not them. You probably wouldn't be in favour of giving out 5 ten-dollar bills for a single twenty-dollar one either, now would you?
  16. Aug 16, 2011 #15
    Without mathematical rigour there is no reason to accept any physical tautology. This is not a problem for an engineer as their goal is to develop new mechanisms for societies function. The problem is for physicists who use mathematics in a "hand waving" manner, claiming that because they get the answer that agrees with experimentation it must be correct.
  17. Aug 16, 2011 #16
    That is not quite true. Witten's work has not focused upon proofs, but rather hints or clues about certain methods used in string theory which may be applied to more mathematical problems. Witten did prove the positive mass conjecture (in a simpiler manner to Yau) but most of his work has lacked the rigour which is the staple of pure mathematics. This does not mean that he lacks mathematical ability, he has that in spades, but this ability manifests itself in a form suitable for mathematical and theoretical physics. You are right though to say that he is more a mathematical physicist, than a straight out "physicist".
  18. Aug 16, 2011 #17
    He does have a fields medal, I'm pretty sure it was awarded largely because of http://intlpress.com/JDG/archive/1982/17-4-661.pdf" [Broken]. I think that qualifies him as both a mathematician and a physicist.

    ETA: For someone like Witten, it's really just a matter of semantics I suppose.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  19. Aug 16, 2011 #18
    I do not deny Witten is a mathematician, he certainly has skills which surpass mathematicians who work primarily in "purer fields" of mathematics. What i objected to was your claim that
    "if you are not doing proofs, you are not doing mathematics". Witten's paper on supersymmetry did not contain what many mathematicians would consider as proofs. Witten is an applied mathematician, that does not mean he lacks the skill for pure mathematics, rather he has a different perspective and agenda. The fields medal may be given to any mathematician, whether he works in pure or applied mathematics. It is Witten's mathematical intuition which is so valued rather than his proof construction (once more not implying he lacks this ability in the least) I suggest you rescind the claim that a mathematician must be working on proofs to qualify for his title.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  20. Aug 16, 2011 #19


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    In response to the OP I would say, Don't confuse being able to use mathematics with being able to DO mathematics. Being able to use a cell phone well is not the same as being good at electronics.

    Pure mathematics is that "Nazi" proof business. Mathematics is the study of logical implication, from axioms and definitions to theorems. Now given the large body of mathematics already accomplished by those "elitist" exemplars of rigor, we now have a very nice and large tool box for calculating and confirming solutions to many problems. Yes it is not necessary to know how to prove e.g. l'Hospital's rule in order to use it but...

    And as a matter of opinion, I think:
    --> Every driver should know the basics of how his engine works;
    --> Every appliance user should know the basics of how household electricity behaves (e.g. so as not to dry their hair in the tub), and
    --> every user of mathematical formulas should have some understanding of the axiomatic context, logic and rigor which goes into them (so again they don't "dry their hair in the tub" so to speak.)
  21. Aug 16, 2011 #20
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