Perceptions about Mathematics

“When someone asks you what you do as a mathematician, they take the most advanced training they have in mathematics and assume that you do a much harder version of that.”

This is a paraphrase of something I will attribute to Leo Goldmakher.

The idea is that if someone has only ever taken high-school math, they might think that mathematicians spend their time multiplying and dividing very large numbers; (“Are you even allowed to use calculators in your work?“). If someone has been lucky enough to take a first-year calculus course they might imagine that mathematicians solve harder and harder related rates questions. Going a step further, telling a mathematician that I study set theory often invokes brow-furrowing and questions like: “Don’t we already know everything about ordinals and cardinal arithmetic?“.

3 thoughts on “Perceptions about Mathematics”

  1. Or you have people like me (presumably a Poisson Geometer) asking you if you’ve “found all the sets” yet.


  2. I was reading something the other day that argued that a lot of people become math majors because they’re good at applying procedures, since that’s mostly what they were exposed to in K-12. It’s kind of a shock for them when they find out that they’re expected to come up with new mathematical ideas and come up with new ways of proving things in mathematics…


Comments are closed.