How to Edit Your Math Pessimism



27 thoughts on “How to Edit Your Math Pessimism

  1. Pingback: Annotated
  2. I’d assume that the David Hilbert reference is a joke, but does anyone have a real example of a famous mathematician saying something like this?

    1. Re Hilbert: I know mathematicians who acknowledge that they have colleagues in their department now or with whom they were in school in the past who are superior mathematicians. I don’t know that any of them went on to become one of the greats of their era, however.

    2. I recall reading not long ago that Hilbert was “second best” in his secondary school, hence the faked quote – but I’ll see If I can find a source on that.

      1. Ah, here it is! Ellenburg’s How Not to Be Wrong, page 412 in my edition:

        “Hilbert started out as a very good but not exceptional student, by no means the brightest young mathematician in Konigsberg; that was Hermann Minkowski, two years younger.”

    1. Hell yeah, and I just found a way to decorate my room 🙂 The last one is the very example of brilliant masterpiece for me, although I probably misinterpreted it

  3. Something here struck a resonant chord that complements a dissonant chord from Greg Ashman’s recent post: how little we understand or value other people’s struggles. On the one hand, it leads us to say things like “little kids learn languages so easily” and “that was so easy for you” that deny the actual effort that went into an achievement. On the other hand, it leads us to believe that our own struggle is a sign of weakness or inability.

    1. Not sure that children learn languages easily, but statistical evidence suggests that barring unusual circumstances, any very young child can learn any language. Further, given exposure to multiple languages at an early age, kids seem to pick up several languages without any special effort.

      The comment that they do it “easily” is a matter of contrast with trying to learn a language past a certain age level, at least for those of us raised in places like the US, where there is a dominant language as well as a good deal of linguistic chauvinism. Bilingual education, which has a very long history in public schools dating back at least to 19th century Chicago, where German immigrants demanded that their children get bilingual instruction, is still politically charged here. Intriguingly, some of the people I’ve dueled with for a quarter century about mathematics education are also fiercely opposed to bilingual classes.

      Of course, some people do seem to learn new languages relatively easily. But for most of us, learning a second language as an adult is no picnic. That it comes easily to some is their good fortune. I suspect that for others who succeed, a good deal of time and effort is required.

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