Math (in Debates)


Marlfox [Cult of the Valaraukar] April 27 2010 8:37 AM EDT

I've been trying Facebook out over these past few days, and recently a post by someone from my church caught my eye:

"math is the saddest waste of human ingenuity known to man, it is completely worthless without application to human lives. So what's more important, the method, or the lives it impacts? The paintbrush, or the painting? We need to be more concerned about learning the importance of what the tools achieve rather than the tools themselves, hence the study of history, literature, and art."

And here's what I posted in return (remember, all coming from a Christian perspective, so I doubt you fellas would agree with most of my points in the first post):

"@Stephen -- my initial reaction is "umad?", but on closer inspection it seems you're assuming that math is in any way a different "brush" than literature, history and art. Math is different from the kind of knowledge it reveals to humanity, than, say, psychology, because it expands our horizons horizontally, not vertically.

It adds some depth to the understanding of the human psyche, but by-and-large math is applied to broaden our understanding of the universe as a whole, an infinitely worthy endeavor. It can be said with some force that if there was no math, there would be no civilization, and all other scientific fields would be greatly (perhaps destroyed entirely) curbed.

As a Christian, do you believe God merely created the universe (and all that is in it) without order or a system of logic? God is not an agent of chaos, he works in a constructed fashion. Math, numbers, geometry, calculus, algebra, and a host of other fields did not spontaneously appear, nor could they have been human inventions to give shape to the void.

To put it bluntly, without mathematics, our God is a Zeus, or an Odin, or any host of other dead gods, which humans invented to free themselves from the responsibility of their choices. ~David"

Second one:

"Allow me to elaborate on my comment that without math, there would be no civilization. From antiquity, there have always been mathematics in general, and geometry specifically. Building anything without it (geometry) would be an incredibly stupid affair, based entirely on line-of-sight proportions.

It is easy to point to the pyramids, the Colosseum, the Sears tower and the Empire State Building as feats of engineering and geometrical construction, but what about "niche" areas such as higher mathematics? What are they good for? As alluded to in my comment above, I believe that math is more important to our understanding of God than many other things, but let me turn from the macro to the micro, so to speak. What do higher mathematics do for the individual in specific, and society as a whole?

I would like to use (read: butcher, as I don't have the original analogy on hand) an analogy found in Bulent Atalay's (excellent) _Math and the Mona Lisa_. Let's say that the universe is an automobile, with an intricate engine, levers, buttons, and the like. And in the car are two groups of people, those who drive the car and those who want to understand how the car works. ... See More
Now, on first glance, it appears that one of these two groups is doing all the work (the one's who are driving), and that the other group is merely wasting their time instead of helping to steer the car.
Then, as time goes on, the first group swings around to this point of view. They begin to vilify the second group, doubting their contribution to the driving.
The second group, being used to such harassment, merely continue exploring the vehicle, and explaining how the drive shaft works, how the exhaust system works, etc. Finally, the first group, exasperated and annoyed at hearing about what they don't understand, hold these intellectuals at gun point, and tell them to stop investigating altogether, while the drivers begin going faster and faster, pulling on levers at random and pressing buttons maniacally.
As could be imagined, they wreck their automobile and they all die, because they didn't understand how to work their vehicle (in this case, civilization).

Now, let us think back to what other oppressive regimes have silenced the intellectuals in their respective nations, only to fall into barbarism and stagnant tyranny? Beyond the obvious examples of Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia (both of which decided to recall their scientists once it was apparent that in an arms race they would be crushed), there are larger ones (such as the Dark Ages), brought on by religion and a mistrust of "alchemists". This is where this sort of thinking leads.

Now, say we disregard all of the points I have thus far laid out, and only acknowledge that math and science as a whole _civilize_ and define us, then that is all we need to say that it is necessary for the betterment of humanity. ~David"

Thoughts? (Also, feel free to add me on Facebook ;))

QBJohnnywas April 27 2010 8:41 AM EDT

Brief thoughts here: How do you separate numbers from life? Our hearts are constantly counting out a pulse. We translate that pulse into our everyday lives. We base a counting system around how many fingers and thumbs we have, we create art that is filled with numbers and counting. Music is mathematics and mathematics can become music.

AdminQBGentlemanLoser [{END}] April 27 2010 8:43 AM EDT

Mathematics is used throughout the world as an essential tool in many fields, including natural science, engineering, medicine, and the social sciences. Applied mathematics, the branch of mathematics concerned with application of mathematical knowledge to other fields, inspires and makes use of new mathematical discoveries and sometimes leads to the development of entirely new mathematical disciplines, such as statistics and game theory. Mathematicians also engage in pure mathematics, or mathematics for its own sake, without having any application in mind, although practical applications for what began as pure mathematics are often discovered.


Mathematcis is embbeded in nearly all facets of our life. You'd be very hard pressed to claim mathematics is a waste of human ingenuity...

AdminTitan [The Sky Forge] April 27 2010 8:44 AM EDT

Even when you remove mathematics from it's everyday applications, it's still very beautiful. What it can do is really amazing.

Flamey April 27 2010 8:46 AM EDT

Sorry, this isn't debatable on CB :)

QBJohnnywas April 27 2010 8:49 AM EDT

Actually that's a good point. I think we would probably mostly gather on one side of this debate. I'm a musician and lie on the more instinctive side of CB but I know that math is a major component of life, art and everything.

Marlfox [Cult of the Valaraukar] April 27 2010 8:52 AM EDT

Okay, so I guess I'm just wondering if I covered everything...

AdminQBGentlemanLoser [{END}] April 27 2010 9:05 AM EDT

To be blunt, you don't really need to cover anything.

You'd have to be, let's say, totally withdrawn from the world, to think mathematics is a waste, in any capacity... :)

AdminTitan [The Sky Forge] April 27 2010 9:06 AM EDT

I would've just went with "UMAD!" (Which btw, is my clan tag on CoD.)

Flamey April 27 2010 9:08 AM EDT

Call him a pleb and tell him to get back under his bridge. That'll sort him.

Marlfox [Cult of the Valaraukar] April 27 2010 9:12 AM EDT

You'd have to be, let's say, totally withdrawn from the world, to think mathematics is a waste, in any capacity... :)

GL, did you, uh, read my post? I was responding to a person who thought math was a waste...

Demigod April 27 2010 9:15 AM EDT

I fear you're going to run poor Stephen away. As others said, CB will certainly fall on the pro-math side of the table, but I have a feeling Stephen was just a high school student laying out a quick rant for having to study calculus.

But more importantly: "the drivers begin going faster and faster, pulling on levers at random and pressing buttons maniacally." What the hell were they driving, an Abrams tank?

AdminQBGentlemanLoser [{END}] April 27 2010 9:18 AM EDT

GL, did you, uh, read my post? I was responding to a person who thought math was a waste...


I did. And i'm of the opinion you don't have to worry about your response to that person, or whether you'd covered everything in a rebuttal, as someone who takes a stance that "Mathematics is the saddest waste of human ingenuity" is so out of touch with the world that any sort of debate with this person is doomed to failure before it begins.

Leave him with WTFudge and move on. ;)

Marlfox [Cult of the Valaraukar] April 27 2010 10:23 AM EDT

Heh, I actually think this Stephen chap is starting college this fall.

QBsutekh137 April 27 2010 11:02 AM EDT

A quick way to sort all this out would be to ask the very simple question:

"Is mathematics an invention or a discovery?"

To me, it is at least arguable that it is a discovery, thereby making it not a "tool" at all. One cannot "waste time" on mathematics any more than one can waste time on gravity, anatomy, or contemplating the roundness of the world.

Math is. It is no more "pure" or less pure than anything else.

To put it bluntly, this Stephen fellow has presented a false dichotomy where there is, in fact, a spectrum. Math can be applied as much or as little as one wants to apply it. That's all there is to it.

AdminQBVerifex [Serenity In Chaos] April 27 2010 12:15 PM EDT

Well done trying to enlighten someone to the merits of mathematics. I find it quite hilarious that Stephen, in his attempt to discredit one of the basic mechanisms human beings have to understand the universe, has decided to use more than one sentence to make his statement. I would almost say that he is using his own brand of logic to make his point, while his logic may be flawed, he must not be aware of the impact math has already had on his own ability to think and reason. ;)

Sickone April 28 2010 5:34 AM EDT

http://discovermagazine.com/2009/nov/17-the-brain-humanity.s-other-basic-instinct-math
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