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Proofs, Exercises & Mathematica - Training the same skills?

  1. Mar 25, 2012 #1
    First post on this forum, that IMO is amazing!

    I was reading the introduction of the book “A gentle introduction to the art of Mathematics” and I was wondering about what the authors wrote on whom the book is for. In particular he stated that the book is in particular for people who can easily solve exercises (i.e. computation) and want to make the next step, which is doing real maths in terms of proving stuff.

    Now – and that’s not a rhetorical question, cause I really don’t know – if somebody is pretty good at math in terms of computations and usually he can solve problems easily, but at the same time he can get stuck by tough integrals and other tough computations, is it a problem or not?
    Are making computations (like calculating integrals) and writing proofs related to the same skills?

    Considering that there is a software like “Wolfram Mathematica” around that can do the computation for him, if doing tons of basic computational exercises is important in order to make somebody starts to think like a mathematician (without doing him/her a mathematician), if somebody has already that kind of mentality, but at the same time has some minor problems in terms of computations, can he skip the problem altogether and focus on proofs (and functional forms) instead of problematic exercises?

    In other words: Is a necessary condition for writing proof doing every possible calculation without problems?

    Looking forward to your opinions!

    PS: I was not sure on which part of the forum this thread should be part of…I hope I didn’t make mistakes.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 25, 2012 #2
    In a sense, your ability to deal with things like complex integrals is a measure of your comfort level with the material, but I certainly wouldn't say that it's a prerequisite for dealing with theoretical mathematics. I have a pretty good intuition for abstract algebra, but my ability to do basic calculus borders on incompetence.
  4. Mar 26, 2012 #3
    That's interesting and you are not the first one who tells me something like this, but I tend to think it's something related to people that work on algebra and logic (others who told me the same were working on those fields as well).

    So, what about real analysis?
    I mean, is a prerequisite to prove stuff in that field being able to kill integrals or things like these?
  5. Mar 26, 2012 #4
    First, when I say thinking mathematically-- I mean thinking in terms of patterns and relationships, among other things.

    With that said, I think doing some computation helps you build up your conceptual framework of thinking mathematically (this is geared more towards Calculus II). You learn some techniques and concepts while you are doing computation-- take for example the washer method and substitution. One gives you the basic concept that its more than just variables, that these variables actually describe certain things like volume as they are manipulated. While the latter makes you face the importance of simplification. Even though, it is a whole different beast from proofs-- it has a lot to offer for thinking mathematically.
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