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Should i still do math if i am not the next Euler?

  1. May 13, 2010 #1
    How do you guys deal with the fact that even though you enjoy Mathematics or Physics, you will probably never be the next Euler, Gauss, Nash, Einstein, Feynman etc? It really puts me off reading about how talented these people were.

    Sometimes i just feel redundent. I will get frustrated when i can't understand something and i will feel stupid. The same thing occurs when i get a problem wrong, i will get quite pissed off and tell myself "fine this is it, no more maths for me" or "there goes being a math major"

    Should i still do mathematics if i don't have that Gift? Honestly i need help in deciding wether its ok and if so, how to motivate myself to continue...

    sorry if this post was a bit of a ramble
  2. jcsd
  3. May 13, 2010 #2
    My first reaction is that you may not be the next euler but you are the first pdidy.
  4. May 13, 2010 #3


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    It's a bit childish to think every professional mathematician or physicist wins prizes such as nobel,fields etc.
    Like every field there are medicore workers and there are the excellent, the reason you hear of one rather than the other is a lot of luck.
    If you like maths and physics and want to work in related work go ahead and learn it, if in the way you see that's overwhelming then change field of study.
  5. May 13, 2010 #4


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    No, there's already a pdidy who is a rap singer.
  6. May 13, 2010 #5
    Perhaps our pdidy here and the rap singer are one and the same:smile:
  7. May 13, 2010 #6
    You deal with it by sucking it up and moving on. I serioulsy doubt that any of those people you mentioned worried a whit about who they might be like. Instead, they went out and did the best they could at what they loved. Be an individual; make your own mark.
  8. May 13, 2010 #7
    You have no idea how much stupid people there are in maths and physics, people usually cope by working really hard to get a mechanical feel of the subject. You can do a lot of contributions with that but you will never revolutionize any field if you are just using old tricks. The fact that you can't be the greatest doesn't mean that you are useless.
  9. May 13, 2010 #8


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    Because I *absolutely love* figuring it out.

    Besides, being super-super-smart is just like having 4-wheel drive on your vehicle; it is only a means to get stuck in ever more remote places.

    Not that I know that first hand :wink:.
  10. May 13, 2010 #9
    This seems to be common in science fields. I forgot where I heard or read it, but someone once said that it's a major world-shift for most scientists when they discover they may not be the next Euler/Feynman/whoever and they do one of three things; drop out, spend the rest of their professional lives hiding the fact, or accepting it and moving on. Great physicists aren't super-humans who never got problems wrong or made mistakes. What distinguished them from average Joes is a combination of luck, determination, and patience with perhaps some natural talent. Einstein didn't become good at physics by cursing himself for every problem he ever missed and worrying about whether he was smarter than Newton.

    If you find yourself not understanding math to your satisfaction, the remedy is not to grind through problems in books until you memorize the procedures for doing them. The remedy is to branch out and develop your problem-solving skills and knowledge of the field as a whole. I'm not a mathematician, but I know in physics that knowing the 'how' and 'why' and thinking through the theories and equations yourself is more useful than just trying to do a zillion problems out of a college textbook. Just my two cents, take it with a grain of salt, etc.

    An no offense Klockan, but do you always run around these forums and bring people down? :/ Telling people that they're stupid and will only ever be cogs in the machine seems to be a recurring trend for you.
    Last edited: May 13, 2010
  11. May 13, 2010 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    Two orthogonal comments:

    How did Euler know he was going to be the first Euler?

    What is it with science and mathematics that provokes questions like this? You don't see it in other fields:

    "If I can't be the star pitcher for the Red Sox, why learn to play baseball?"
    "If I can't be a general - and also receive the medal of honor - why enlist in the army?"
    "If I can't be a CEO of a Fortune 100 company, why go into business?"
  12. May 13, 2010 #11
    Believe it or not, I don't find this question childish at all. I'm sure most of us had to deal with this at some point in our lives. In fact, when I'm stuck I like to allow myself to wonder how more accomplished (read: brilliant) people would think about the problem. In the end, however, I study math because, like others, I enjoy figuring out problems. I like reading about what others have discovered. And even though at this point there seems to be so much math I still don't know, I do still harbor some ambition that I might contribute something in the future, maybe through hard work.

    Vanadium's comment is also interesting. Personally, I think science and math provoke such questions because scientists and mathematicians want to contribute to the whole but don't always see how (I certainly don't at this point). This isn't always true for baseball, business, or the military.
  13. May 13, 2010 #12
    Well, I've tried to let you optimistic with my previous posts. Performing well in competitions isn't a sign you will suceed in sciences. But independent of your results, you should accept the fact that the chances you do something truly, really amazing are very little. Chances of succeding increase dramatically if you are more worried in doing a good job than receiving some kind of prize.

    Reading about somebody else's achievement is a experience of humbleness, for sure. However, you shouldn't take it as depressive: they really aren't. If I were you, I would reconsider trying a career in Math or sciences. If you can't accept you aren't in the top of the world, science won't be the best place for you. Remarkably, of all people I've met in olympiads, I can't remember a single one which wasn't humble, despite their achievements. Even the very top students are afraid of the exams (I'm surely afraid of them), and know there's always luck involved in competitions: you may be in first place, but this doesn't mean you are better than anybody else. I'm quite sure that people who receive the nobel prize also know that (even those who became arrogant when receiving it).

    Do you want a career in Math for the pleasure or for the fame?
    Think about it.
  14. May 13, 2010 #13
    Besides all of this, you'll never be the best at anything, realistically. So in light of this, do it if you enjoy it.
  15. May 13, 2010 #14
    And you seem to be too worried about making mistakes.
    If all those "great people" didn't do any mistakes, there would be nothing to study in sciences nowadays. Thinking deeply, we need new people in science because our predecessors have made mistakes. Science has a chance to grow when we find where they've gone wrong. Our sucessors will also find our mistakes.

    As 't Hofft points out, thinking we've done everything correctly is a great way of damaging science: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theoristbad.html
  16. May 13, 2010 #15


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    And will make their own mistakes.
  17. May 13, 2010 #16
    There are really two answers here... First, there is a need for mathematicians and scientists who are *not* Euler or Einstein. Science is a large body of knowledge, and many people are needed who simply carry this knowledge forward to the next generation and hopefully hand it to the *next* Euler or Einstein. Secondly, what else are you going to do? In any line of work you choose, the chances of being the very best at it are stunningly remote.
  18. May 13, 2010 #17
    Wasn't it Newton who said something about seeing farther by standing on the shoulders of giants?

    He also made a comparison of his work to being like picking up shells on a sea-shore.

    Personally, I've always felt grateful to those past geniuses for allowing me to see far, and I've always enjoyed what I do too much to worry about how good I actually am.
  19. May 13, 2010 #18


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    According to John Gribbin this comment was actually a dig at Hooke who was not exactly on Newton's favorite people list. Evidently Hooke was quite short, ie NOT a giant. So he was saying he owes nothing to Hooke.
  20. May 13, 2010 #19
    What's to understand?

    if positive on an interval then concave up on that interval
    if negative on an interval then concave down on that interval
    ...or you can think of it as the rate of change of the first deriv.

    Maybe it just wasn't explained to you properly the first time? Some profs teach by induction... i.e. they give you examples and you draw conclusions for the general case...you might be better suited for profs who give you definitions and theorems first. I prefer the latter as they are rather easy to riefy and apply.

    If you're having trouble with things like this then you should forget entirely about being the next Euler and think about whether or not you will even be able to complete a degree. You need natural talent and hard work to be great. This means taking notes and doing the homework even if you don't need to take notes or do the homework...
  21. May 13, 2010 #20
    So, construction for 40 years?

    I'm not going to sugar coat it. There are a lot of people in university that should not be there. A lot. However, if you can do the work and if you are excited/interested by it then by all means go ahead and do the work. Don't just quit because someone on the internet makes you sad.
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