Thursday, September 5, 2019

Wisconsin Guy: "How Not To Be Wrong" by Jordan Ellenberg

NonFic Audio: How Not to Be Wrong: the power of mathematical thinking by Jordan Ellenberg,

Math guy writes mathy stuff about math.

I started this on the drive back from KS in August. I finished up listening while I walked the dog and walked back and forth from work. There was a lot of neat stuff in here where Ellenberg applied mathematical thinking and rigor to math problems and non-math problems. I took a couple notes along the way. Let me check...

1. An everyman's guide to statistics and probability and how they work in everyday life and how a mathematician's thoughts about proofs can drive strong critical and deductive thinking skills in people.
2. The topic of waste and government waste. If you can save $1,000,000 why not save $100,000? Or $10,000? Because what is the cost of reaching that deduction? Several times Ellenberg addresses how things are measured or quantified. How do you quantify aggravation or happiness? Or quantify good will when working with a customer or citizen?
3. Ellenberg knows his stuff. That is not surprising considering his enthusiasm for his work and the fact he is a PhD teaching at a major university (UW-Madison). He brings up some historical info on mathematicians and famous problems that were neat to hear.
4. "The Cult of Genius".
4.A. Throughout the book Ellenberg writes about famous math problems, their solutions, and the geniuses who remain famous decades or centuries after death. Later in the book he emphasizes the many, many, many mathematicians who are doing work and collaborating every day and gives an example of a major breakthrough that was completed after years of work but many people publishing work that was then built upon and built upon.
4.B. When gravitational waves were discovered in 2016 my brother mentioned how our father's black hole project was part of the history. Thousands of people working over years to complete multiple projects that led to a discovery.
4.C. The Big Time Genius gets all the press and praise and math students may think, "Why bother? I'll never be brilliant like that." Ellenberg points out this dynamic in a single classroom. "That one girl in the front row gets everything right, I can never be that great." Ellenberg points out that people need to work at math. The bullshit about the natural math genius is really just bullshit. One or two come along every few decades but everyone else is working, working, working. Lightning bolts of inspiration come from work not Zeus's hand. Mathematicians have to keep thinking, keep trying, and keep learning.
4. D. My wife and I have spoken about this where are children - who do very well in math - are going to run into trouble eventually and they will need to learn to not let frustration drive them off course.
5. Math is constantly evolving. Math is always changing. Advancing. Pushing new frontiers.

1. Gratuitous Housemartins references which I greatly appreciated.

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