1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What is advanced-level mathematics used for?

  1. May 21, 2011 #1
    I barely understand the bare basics of algebra, my math skills are abysmal. But what applications do advanced mathematics such as stochastic calculus and linear algebra have?

    Other than in physics, science, and engineering, what other things can advanced-level mathematics be used for? How about in daily life?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2011 #2
    It can enhance your abstract thinking ability.

    Not directly useful for anything in daily life.
  4. May 21, 2011 #3
    I fully disagree, how do you think barcodes were invented?

    A few uses of Linear Algebra:

    Codabar system
    Digital image compression
    Calculating life expectancy
    Modelling population growth
    Profit maximization
    Universal Product Code
    Lots more

    If you want a thorough discussion of exactly how they are used, then just open up some linear algebra books, or do a Google search.

    Higher math isn't just solving puzzles (In fact, that's not really what math is). People don't just do mathematics to improve their thinking abilities; it certainly helps, but it has many applications.

    Keep in mind that mathematics need not be applied to anything. Just because you can't use a result of mathematics (at first) for anything practical does not make it useless.
  5. May 21, 2011 #4
    There is great deal of uses in physics (also era involves some Chemistry) and engineering. In general relativity a lot of linear algebra and calculus is required. In engineering, mostly calculating some basic mechanics problem.

    Other than these, Economics uses great deal of calculus to model the market which is very important. You can search more on financial mathematics (not accounting~~boring).
  6. May 21, 2011 #5
    Also, I've heard that matrices can be used to balance out chemical reactions in chemistry. I haven't actually done that myself, but I was happy to know that there was an easier way than what I did in my first year chemistry class!
  7. May 21, 2011 #6
    Oh sure it's useful in all sorts of professions. But not daily life, and many well paid jobs don't need it either.

    But the trouble is, when you're 16 you don't quite know what you'll be doing in 10 years time, and by then it's too late to learn so easily.
  8. May 21, 2011 #7
    Everything has its applications. Of course, applications of some fields are more obvious than others.
  9. May 21, 2011 #8
    What about the use of high-level math in areas other than physics, science, and engineering?
  10. May 21, 2011 #9
    Mathematics models the natural world.
    So your question is nearly identical to ......
    What use is it to learn English ?

    Furthermore, Logic, one of the foundations of Mathematics, is the link between The Arts & The Sciences.
    All artforms (nearly) seek to communicate.
    How better to make your case than with clear precise easy to understand logic ?
    Be it painting, screenplay, poem, courtroom summation or a novel.

    Some of the very the best lawyers were good at Math.
    That is one of the reasons they excel at the Law.

    Mathematics underlies nearly everything you see around you.

    But it will not guarantee a good life.
    That is the province of religion and moral philosophy.
  11. May 21, 2011 #10
    I think balancing equations is simply simultaneous equations, I mean for rather complicated equations. Matrices are just simple forms of simultaneous equations, they just save your paper and ink. Of course there are many ways of balancing equations, but many of them might not work for all cases.

    Also, matrices are very useful in doing statistics, though I haven't learn much of statistics, I heard of something called covariant matrix that is used for complicated systems. And statistics can be applied to many areas. May be you can look more on that.
  12. May 22, 2011 #11
    This article on mathematics education (and so-called applications of math in real life) is a good read:
    http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf [Broken]

    Somewhat long, but well worth the time.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  13. May 22, 2011 #12
    How does that even matter? Just because some random CEO doesn't use his knowledge of basket-weaving doesn't make basket-weaving useless. That's a really poor argument. Why does everything have to be immediately useful in daily life, and by daily life, I assume you mean eating, breathing, sleeping, and no more.

    It seems to me that you think that if you don't use something every day, or can't use it to make lots of money, then it's useless. As said many times in this thread, mathematics is all about logical and abstract thinking; it's basically a form of creativity. Now tell me, how useless are the former?
  14. May 22, 2011 #13


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2016 Award

    When people ask me what the use is for mathematics, I always respond with the following poem by Morris Bishop:

    There's a tiresome young man in Bay Shore.
    When his fiancee cried, "I adore
    the beautiful sea".
    He replied, "I agree,
    it's pretty, but what is it for?"
  15. May 22, 2011 #14


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper
    Gold Member

  16. May 22, 2011 #15
    He never said higher math was useless in the general context, simply useless in daily life. There's nothing wrong with the validity of his statement since we take the meaning of "useless" in every day conversation as "generally useless" rather than "completely useless". However, there are few professions that are useful in daily life, such as cooking, etc. so the statement, although basically true, is misleading.
  17. May 22, 2011 #16


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Cryptography is a pretty big one.
  18. May 22, 2011 #17
    I prefer this:

    A math professor, a native Texan, was asked by one of his students: "What is mathematics good for?"
    He replied: "This question makes me sick! If you show someone the Grand Canyon for the first time, and he asks you `What's it good for?' What would you do? Well, you kick that guy off the cliff!":biggrin:
  19. May 22, 2011 #18
    Yes, I was one of those people who said that. But I think the OP was concerned about direct applications. Like when you would want to sit down with a pen and paper to write an integral or perform a matrix operation. For most people the answer would be never in their life.

    Us mathy types would think about it all the time when we hear news stories or write on internet forums, but that's not normal people. If you aren't inclined to analyze things for fun, then knowing how to integrate won't make you do it.
  20. May 23, 2011 #19
    *Computer programming
    *Genetics and other fields of biology
    *Business accounting/finance and economics

    But people other than physicists, scientists, and engineers wouldn't have any real use for any advanced maths.
  21. May 26, 2011 #20
    I believe that advanced-level mathematics (especially pure maths) is for fun and for appreciating the beauty.

    I am currently at high school and love learning math (college-level math), but find the maths at high school very dull and boring. The current education system just turns maths into a very systematic work. For example, when we learn Pythagoras Theorem, after teaching the theorem itself, we are told how to
    (1) Find the length of the hypotenuse if the sides are given
    (2) Find the length of one side when the hypotenuse and one of the sides are given
    while the teacher can just let us find the way of doing it ourselves with the original theorem. Even with the exercises provided, the questions are divided into parts about the first type of problem and second type of problem. It is just plain stupid (sorry for being a bit too rude).
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook