I’ve come to a realization over the last couple of weeks.

Math, as most of us know it, from algebra through Calculus, isn’t really for mathematicians. It’s for engineers, physicists and the like. Those subjects are all about giving those folks the tools they need to solve certain classes of problems.

This has really been driven home by my Differential Equations class (which is pretty late in the Calculus sequence). Every new technique we’ve learned has been directly related to some real-world problem involving related population models for predators and prey, voltage flow in simple circuits, physics problems involving springs, situations where different fluids are mixed in a vat, … you get the idea.

Post-calculus, once the engineers and the physicists have left the room, math is finally for the mathematicians. And the problems get more esoteric, more abstract and less formula-driven.

I’m learning to come to terms with it, but it’s like an entirely new subject altogether.

Lance BledsoeGreat insight. And don’t forget the whole field of statistics, which falls squarely under the “not really for mathematicians” heading. Paul Lockhart, author of “A Mathematician’s Lament,” compares math to art and music, noting that humans engage in all three endeavors not because there’s some practical value to be gained, but because the activities are inherently pleasing and interesting and enjoyable.

When I was in school (and even now that I’m a math teacher) I would tire of the frequent, “When are we ever gonna use this stuff in real life” questions that other kids were forever asking about different math topics. I often wanted to say, “Don’t worry about that, isn’t this cool?” But I suppose some people don’t think art or music are particularly cool, either, so they don’t study them.